So, is the surge working or not?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
April 22 2007 5:48 AM

Surgical Procedures

The Washington Post leads with mixed indicators of progress from the first two months of the military's "surge" strategy in Iraq. The New York Times leads with Southern states' rising infant mortality rates, particularly among black mothers. The Los Angeles Times leads local, off-leading with concerns over the vulnerability of the military's spy satellite network.

The WP's examination of the surge strategy is inconclusive, asking as many questions as it answers. The paper does note that the surge plan is only 60 percent implemented at present—though it fails to do so until the 10th paragraph of the story. The paper says violence is down in Baghdad and Anbar province but is up elsewhere in the country. The paper reports suicide bombings nationwide rose 30 percent in the first six weeks of the surge. Sectarian murders in Baghdad fell from 1,200 in January to 400 in March, however. Most of the article's evidence of progress is anecdotal, however, stemming from observations made by Gen. David H. Petraeus as he flies over Baghdad in a helicopter and comments on the city from a great height. Petraeus says suicide bombings are going to be inevitable for the foreseeable future, so the troops are focusing on ways to limit damage, using checkpoints and barriers to minimize their impact.

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The WP runs a companion piece under the fold on Diyala province, the country's third most deadly region (after Baghdad and Anbar), where insurgents have begun displaying a frightening level of tactical sophistication.

In Mississippi during 2005, 17 out of every 1,000 children born to black parents died, up from 14.2 per 1,000 the year before. Meanwhile, white Mississippians lost just 6.6 kids per 1,000 in 2005, up from 6.1 the previous year. More troubling still, infant mortality rates in the state had been trending downward for 20 years. The paper blames the reversal on a combination of obesity, poverty, cuts to social programs, and, tacitly, a cultural indifference to proper neonatal care. The lack of national data for those years (so far national data is available only through 2003) makes it difficult to determine if the problem is as localized as the paper claims. The article does mention one bright spot—a charity in one of the state's poorest counties that managed to cut the mortality rate by two-thirds by busing pregnant women in to clinics to get care.

China's demonstration that it could shoot down its own weather satellite, coupled with the nation's silence as to why it felt the need to demonstrate this, has U.S. commanders feeling jumpy about the security of America's spy satellites. The military relies heavily on satellites, many stationed in low-earth orbit, for intelligence, communications, and guidance. Some commanders worry China's actions may reopen the question of militarizing space, something the United States has long eschewed. A review of the question is currently under way and may be presented as early as a June generals' meeting.

The NYT off-leads and the LAT fronts with looks at the life of Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui, focusing on attempts made by family and acquaintances to draw Cho out of his shell. The articles don't blame Cho's actions on his environment, but it does look at how Cho did and didn't fit into his family's niche in the Korean immigrant community, much like the WP did yesterday. The LAT article is especially chilling, focusing on the differences between the stoic Cho and his well-adjusted sister.

The WP off-leads with a remembrance of Reema Samaha, one of the Virginia Tech victims, whose funeral is being held tomorrow. It also fronts news that Virginia Tech authorities never considered locking down their campus after discovering the bodies of the first two victims. Some have suggested the campus should have been locked down immediately upon realizing a murder had been committed. Campus authorities insist they had no reason to think there would be further violence. They also argue that locking down a campus of 25,000 people would be impractical and possibly could have imperiled more students by penning them in with Cho.

The LAT examines Sen. Barack Obama's letter-of-the-law enforcement of a self-imposed probation on taking campaign money from lobbyists. At first glance, the story appears to echo something the WP ran last week. The WP's piece took the longer view, however, focusing on Obama's history with big-time donors as well as his current strategy. The LAT's article is more about who's giving to Obama now and what interests those donors might represent. Special attention is paid to state lobbyists (not covered by Obama's ban), lawyers, and consultants—including former Sen. Tom Daschle.

The NYT says Iraqi security officials are getting confessions out of insurgents by beating and otherwise abusing them, in defiance of both American and Iraqi law. American forces, meanwhile, are put in the uncomfortable position of having to deal with whether or not to act on the ill-gotten information

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the nation's most prominent black conservative, has a complicated relationship with his family, many of whom still live in the poor Georgia town of Pin Point where Thomas was born. It's a juicy subject but an unsatisfying read in the Washington Post, both because the comments about Thomas from his family as so restrained and because so little time is spent on why Thomas' path in life differed so much from everyone around him.

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