The Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead with the continuing debate in Washington over Iraq. USAT, WP, and WSJ emphasize that President Bush is expected to endorse the plan put forward by Gen. David Petraeus to withdraw 30,000 U.S. troops by next summer, which brought complaints from Democratic leaders and some Republicans that it was too little, too late. The NYT goes high with the hearings in the Senate, where Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker faced a more skeptical audience than the day before when they testified before the House.
The Los Angeles Timesoff-leads Washington but leads with word that U.S. military and diplomatic officials are currently in talks with members of the Mahdi Army, the Shiite group led by Muqtada Sadr. The talks "represents a drastic turnaround" for U.S. officials, who had previously called for Sadr's arrest, and seems to be a recognition of his militia's power in Baghdad. The discussions have been going on since at least early 2006 but seem to have brought the only visible result in the last week, when there's been a reduction in violence in a part of Baghdad. But officials aren't holding their breath that it will continue for too long, particularly since Mahdi Army members won't admit they're in talks with U.S. officials and Sadr has vowed never to cooperate with Americans.
In the past few days, most of the papers have been good about explaining how the planned withdrawal of 30,000 troops isn't really much of a concession since these forces would have to come home by the end of August regardless. But TP wishes the papers would be more consistent about reminding readers of this, particularly when they talk about Petraeus' proposal as a withdrawal plan. "Bush to support troop pullback," is USAT's headline, for example, giving the impression that it's actually a choice, when, in fact, the only way not to support the drawdown would be to extend tours. This seems especially important considering that, according to the Post's sources, Bush "plans to emphasize that he is in a position to order troop cuts only because of the success achieved on the ground in Iraq."
The White House confirmed Bush will give a prime-time speech Thursday night where he is expected to pretty much endorse everything that Petraeus and Crocker have been telling Congress this week. But he will also emphasize that any troop cuts depend on the conditions on the ground. At a meeting in the White House, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid complained to Bush about the modest withdrawals and warned the American people won't stand for it. "We'll be back to where we started from," Pelosi said and added that it all "sounds to me like a 10-year, at least, commitment to an open-ended presence and war."
Significantly, Petraeus and Crocker received a grilling not only from the usual suspects, including the presidential candidates, but also from Republicans. In the end, Petraeus and Crocker had to admit that any kind of stability in Iraq remains elusive and that it remains unclear when, if ever, Iraqis could achieve political reconciliation. But Petraeus said he'd be "hard-pressed" to continue with the current strategy if the situation doesn't improve by March. Everyone notes Sen. John Warner asked whether the strategy in Iraq was "making America safer." Petraeus tried to sidestep the question and then said he didn't know. Later on, he clarified and said Iraq "has very serious implications for our safety and security."
No one seems to think there are enough Republicans willing to sign on to a Democratic withdrawal plan that includes timelines, but the papers note that criticism of Bush's policy from "unexpected quarters in the GOP" (WP) gives a new opportunity to Democrats to at least push for some more modest changes. Many vulnerable Republicans are worried they can't keep on supporting an unpopular war policy if they hope to win the next election. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, for example, has never supported any of the Democratic proposals on Iraq but said she would now support "action-forcing measures."
The NYT,LAT, and WP all have dispatches from Baghdad, where reporters tried to get a sense of local opinion. Of course, there's lots of variety but a basic theme seems to be that Iraqis hate the American forces but aren't quite ready for withdrawal out of fear that it would lead to even more violence.
The NYT fronts, and the WSJ goes inside with, word that Bush is close to announcing a decision on who he will nominate as the new attorney general. It seems the leading candidate is former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, who represented the Bush campaign before the Supreme Court in 2000, which appears to be a sign the president isn't willing to choose a compromise candidate. It seems Olson moved to the top of the list after Larry Thompson, the general counsel of PepsiCo, removed himself from the running. Also on the short-list is George Terwilliger, a former deputy attorney general.
The LAT catches news, and the NYT fronts a wire story in its late editions, that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced today that he will resign. Abe had previously vowed to remain in office despite his party's electoral defeat but now seems to recognize it would have been difficult for him to govern effectively.
The NYT reports on the incredible story of a 20-year-old black woman who was held prisoner in a mobile home in West Virginia for more than a week, "where she was raped, stabbed, and tortured by at least a half-dozen people," in what officials are calling a possible hate crime. Six people have been arrested, including a mother and her son and a mother and her daughter.
The WP asked the Web site Rotten Tomatoes to come up with a list of the 10 worst summer movies, according to the critics. Lindsay Lohan was a common theme in two of them, but the worst summer movie of all was License To Wed starring Robin Williams. The Post notes that its own critic, Stephen Hunter, called the movie "highly amusing."