The Washington Postleads with more leaks from the Iraq Study Group's report. Sources tell the paper the commission will recommend the withdrawal of all U.S. combat units from Iraq by early 2008. The New York Timesleads, and the Wall Street Journal tops its worldwide newsbox, with President Bush denying there will be any sort of quick pullout of troops from Iraq. His statements came at a news conference after he had a breakfast meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who said his country's forces will be able to take over much of the work in June.
The Los Angeles Timesleads with news that the Lebanese government has doubled the size of its security forces in recent months, mostly with Sunni and Christian troops. These troops, who were given weapons donated by the United Arab Emirates (a Sunni state), are meant to counter the growing influence of Iran and Hezbollah. USA Todayleads with the federal government's plan to begin the first airport screening system that takes X-ray photographs of passengers, which the ACLU calls a "virtual strip search." This new system, designed to make it easier to detect weapons and bombs, will be tested in Phoenix and another still-unnamed airport.
The proposed pullout date does not necessarily mean yesterday's reports, which said the commission would not include a "firm timetable," were wrong, because 2008 seems to be more of a goal than a set deadline. The final report will allegedly include lots of disclaimers emphasizing that U.S. commanders should have the final say on any withdrawal dates after taking into account the situation on the ground. Regardless, the withdrawal of U.S. troops would not mean the end of American presence in Iraq. There would still be plenty of advisers, trainers, and U.S. troops embedded with Iraqi units. The Post says it got these latest leaks from "sources familiar with the proposal," but, unfortunately, doesn't specify how many.
"This business about a graceful exit just simply has no realism to it whatsoever," Bush carefully noted at the news conference. Bush insisted American troops would stay in Iraq, unless the Iraqi government asks them to leave. "I can tell you that by next June our forces will be ready," Maliki said in a statement most analysts and lawmakers described as highly unrealistic. Probably as an attempt to diffuse the effects of a leaked memo that called into question Maliki's ability to govern Iraq, Bush said the Iraqi prime minister is "the right guy for Iraq, and we're going to help him." In an analysis piece inside, the NYT says, "the idea of a rapid American troop withdrawal is fast receding as a viable option."
The donation of weapons by the United Arab Emirates illustrates the broad regional implications of a possible power struggle in Lebanon. News of the increase in Lebanese security forces comes on the same day as Hezbollah has planned for a mass demonstration in Beirut. Hezbollah has urged its supporters to go to the Lebanese capital today and remain on the streets until the government collapses. In preparation for the protests, the Lebanese government has mobilized 8,000 troops into Beirut.
Calling for a protest among supporters "marks the sharpest escalation yet in a month-long crisis that may decide the direction of Lebanese politics for years ahead," says the WP. Despite the possible broad implications of today's protests, the LAT is alone in giving it Page One play.
The WP off-leads with word that administration officials are taking a hard look at whether they want to give up on the goal of forming a unified Iraqi government by stopping its outreach to alienated Sunnis and instead put its support behind Shiites and Kurds. This proposal was designed by the State Department as part of the White House effort to review the situation in Iraq. Although there are plenty of people who have spoken up against the plan within the administration, some in the State Department say the United States meddling in Iraqi politics is doing more harm than good. Of course, a big problem with this plan is that America's closest allies in the region have Sunni governments. (Slate's Fred Kaplan writes that choosing sides is "a terrible idea.")
Despite increasing pressure for the administration to go into talks with Iran and Syria to discuss Iraq, the White House and State Department continue to be against the idea. Yesterday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hinted that the United States would continue to push for sanctions against Iran, even if it can't get Russia to go along with the plan.
The Post is alone in fronting a draft report issued by a federal agency that says electronic voting machines "cannot be made secure" if they don't leave a paper trail. The National Institute of Standards and Technology's report said election officials should be able to recount the ballots by hand without the aid of a machine in order to ensure the accuracy of electronic votes. If the Election Assistance Commission adopts any of NIST's recommendations, there would still be no practical changes to voting machines until after the 2008 election. Regardless, those who have often spoken up against electronic voting felt vindicated by the report.
The WP fronts, and everyone else mentions, British officials announcing they have found traces of radiation in 12 locations around London so far. Among the sites are two hospitals, a hotel, and a car that was found in north London. The autopsy of former spy Alexander Litvinenko will be performed today and investigators hope it will help shed more light on the death. But as USAT notes, this will be no ordinary autopsy. Those performing it will have to take special precautions, because they have to start off from the assumption that all of the former spy's bodily fluids are contaminated.
Meanwhile, Irish authorities began an investigation yesterday into the sudden illness of former Russian Prime Minister Yegor T. Gaidar. Many suspect he was poisoned, although there is still no definitive proof.
Everybody mentions Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack became the first official candidate for president in 2008 when he launched his campaign yesterday.
On World AIDS Day, the WP publishes an op-ed by three advocates who say that even though many more in Africa have been receiving life-saving treatments, there are still too many people dying due to a lack of doctors, nurses, and pharmacists who can administer the drugs. In addition to providing medicine, donor countries need to make a commitment to "empower and mobilize an army of health workers" to aid in all aspects of AIDS treatment, particularly in rural areas.
Ripped from the (future) headlines … According to USAT, producers of CSI approachedhealth physicist Andrew Karam a few years ago toask him questions regarding a possible polonium-poisoning scenario. He told them it was too far-fetched.