The New York Timesand the Washington Post's late edition lead with word that Gen. David Petraeus is apparently very reluctant to accept any sort of troop withdrawal in the near future, but, if pushed, could be willing to accept a pullback of one brigade (around 4,000 troops) "beginning in January." The Los Angeles Timesleads with a federal judge declaring that certain parts of the revised Patriot Act are unconstitutional. Specifically, the judge ruled against the FBI's use of "national security letters" to demand records from Internet providers and phone companies, which does not allow them to inform the affected customers. The judge said the FBI could demand secrecy for only a short period of time before justifying it before a court. An appeal is expected, but it's widely seen as yet another blow to the administration's strategy of fighting terrorism.
USA Todayleads with a new report that says the Transportation Security Administration isn't doing enough to prevent bombs from getting on passenger planes. The Homeland Security Department's inspector general says an ineffective system of inspecting cargo continues to put passenger planes at risk. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with German police announcing that they are investigating seven more people suspected of being involved in the alleged terror plots. The LAT fronts word that "a U.S. intelligence intercept" was key to the investigation.
The NYT says Gen. Petraeus might tell Congress next week that he's willing to consider withdrawing more troops in the months after January but only if certain conditions are met. But remember that this could hardly be considered a real withdrawal since they would merely reduce the number of American troops to their pre-"surge" levels of about 130,000. Is this really much of a concession when many have pointed to April 2008 as a date when the "surge" is simply not going to be able to be sustained anymore?
Today, the WSJ says that unless tours of duty are extended, brigades have to begin withdrawing from Iraq in April and senior military officials say "the actual drawdown is likely to begin sooner." The WP points out today that many had already expected a significant pullback in March or April, so Petraues is just saying that "it could be done a little faster." (As an aside, TP loves how the papers make it sound like Petraeus is being oh-so-conciliatory by agreeing to even consider a small withdrawal in January. Could this be part of the administration's strategy to make it seem like Bush was the one that pushed for a quicker withdrawal?)
Perhaps the saddest (and least surprising) part about all this? Looks like Congress will buy it. "General Petraeus's apparent agreement to a small withdrawal beginning early next year could fit into a narrow consensus that is beginning to emerge on Capitol Hill," says the NYT. As the WSJ and WP mention again today, Democrats and Republicans appear to be coming closer to a compromise that involves some sort of withdrawal sans timeline. The WSJ notes that, in the end, everyone benefits from the (meaningless) agreement because Democrats can say they're helping to end the war, while Republicans can tout a drawdown as a sign that Iraq has improved. Politics at its finest.
Some military leaders, including the head of Central Command, are particularly concerned about such a slow withdrawal because it would greatly reduce the number of troops available to deal with any other problems that could come up, "presumably including any future confrontation with Iran," says the NYT.
Meanwhile, the LAT fronts the testimony of Gen. James Jones, who studied Iraq's security forces and gave a little something for everybody yesterday. While saying the U.S. military should reduce its "footprint" in Iraq, Jones also warned against a "precipitous departure." As the NYT also mentions inside, this led to the interesting spectacle of two presidential candidates, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Hillary Clinton, claiming the report supported their own views of the war. "Jones's conclusions were not so much contradictory as nuanced," writes the Post's Dana Milbank. "But lawmakers don't do nuance very well."
In other Iraq news, the NYT reports that the head of Iraq's Public Integrity Commission has resigned. He says the Iraqi government has limited his ability to investigate corruption and he has faced threats because of his work. Also yesterday, fighting in Baghdad left 14 Iraqis dead and Sen. Joseph Biden met with Iraq's leaders and told them that it took "America's Founding Fathers 13 years to agree on a final draft of the Constitution," reports the LAT. "Maybe you'll do better than we did," Biden said. "But respectfully, I doubt it."
According to early morning wire reports, seven U.S. service members were killed in Iraq, including four Marines in Anbar province.
The WP'sCharles Krauthammer says that despite what Washington may think, "Iraq is being partitioned." In an understated manner, Krauthammer says that "a weak, partitioned Iraq is not the best outcome." But ultimately he doesn't seem to think this is such a bad option, as long as there is some sort of central government, because "the lines today are being drawn organically by self-identified communities and tribes." Guess a sectarian civil war is "organic"?