The New York Timesleads with word that the second-ranking commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, has recommended that the increased number of American troops stay in Iraq through February of next year. So far, the White House has resisted answering questions on how long the troops that are part of the "surge" will stay in Iraq. USA Todayleads with a memo that reveals the Pentagon doesn't have a plan to identify and treat thousands of troops who may be suffering from traumatic brain injury. The Washington Postleads with President Bush saying he will "pretty much stay out of" the I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby case until it has worked its way through the courts. There was much talk in Washington yesterday about whether Bush will pardon Libby, a topic the embattled White House seems eager to avoid.
The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with a look at how President Bush's low approval rating and an unpopular war could add up to make 2008 the worst election in 30 years to be "the candidate of the Republican establishment." Bad news for the establishment means bad news for Sen. John McCain, who has been waiting and campaigning for the last several years. A new poll shows he is currently 20 percentage points behind Rudy Giuliani. The Los Angeles Times leads locally and goes high with the return of the mother and daughter who were poisoned during a trip to Moscow. It's unclear whether the women, who emigrated from Russia 15 years ago, were intentionally poisoned. But it further illustrates how poisoning has become a popular tool in Russia's political and business circles.
Odierno provided the confidential assessment about how long troops should stay in Iraq to his superior, Gen. David H. Petraeus, and the Pentagon insists no decision has been made. The Times makes clear that despite all the hoopla, so far the "surge" is "really more of a trickle" because only two of the five brigades are actually in Iraq. The forces will continue to build up until June. Any talk of an extended stay for troops in Iraq is likely to bring more criticism from lawmakers. Although Bush and military officials often say they will take a wait-and-see approach before deciding any timelines, the truth is that these decisions need to be made months in advance, possibly before anyone can evaluate whether the increase of troops is having the desired effect.
In what looks like an emerging pattern on all the stories about treatment for injured troops, those who suffer from severe traumatic brain injury usually get great treatment. Veterans with milder cases, which are usually harder to identify, often face the most trouble upon returning from the war zone.
Becaues of appeals, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff could avoid going to jail until after the 2008 presidential elections, at which point it might be easier for Bush to issue a pardon. The Post notes that "no one knows better than Libby how politically hazardous a pardon can be." Libby was an attorney for Marc Rich, the commodities trader who was pardoned by President Bill Clinton. The NYT fronts all the pardon talk and mentions that traders at Intrade.com have so far predicted a 23 percent chance that Libby will be pardoned by the end of the year, and a 63 percent chance that it will happen before Bush leaves office.
Everybody goes inside with the continuing attacks on Shiite pilgrims in Iraq, which claimed the lives of at least 30 more people yesterday. According to the LAT'scount, 188 Shiite pilgrims have been killed in three straight days of attacks. The U.S. military announced that a roadside bomb killed three soldiers.
The Post off-leads word that House Democrats will gather today to hear details about a plan for Iraq put together by the party's leaders that would remove all troops from combat by October 2008. There is still much division among party members about the best course of action on the war, and it is unclear whether the plan will garner the necessary support.
USAT fronts a look at how new ethics rules at the House of Representatives exempt colleges and universities from the ban on paying for lawmakers' trips. Higher-education groups spent at least $75 million lobbying the federal government in 2005 and have paid for more than $900,000 on travel for lawmakers since 2000. Higher-education institutions have much at stake. Besides lobbying for things such as student aid, they also receive billions of dollars through earmarks.
The WP and NYT mention that Democrats in the Senate are preparing to subpoena five senior Justice Department officials in the continuing investigation about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. A Justice Department spokesman said they have already provided Congress with the reasons behind the dismissals and accused lawmakers of playing politics. The LAT fronts a good look at the close campaign in New Mexico that was taking place when two of the state's lawmakers contacted fired prosecutor David Iglesias.
O Captain! … Captain America is dead, the NYT and WP point out. In the latest issue of his comic, which arrived in stores yesterday, the hero is shot outside a courthouse. He was presumed dead once before, but it turned out he was trapped in some ice and came back 20 years later to continue his mission. So, some are naturally skeptical that he will actually die this time around, but the president and publisher of Marvel Entertainment insists that "he's very dead right now."