The New York Timesleads with word that there's a growing number of Bush administration officials that believe Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf won't survive the current crisis. Consequently, there have been an increasing number of discussions about Pakistan's future and how they could ensure a smooth transition to a new leader, all while making it seem as if they're not actually playing a behind-the-scenes role in the process. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a new report by the Government Accountability Office that says investigators were able to pass easily available bomb components through security checkpoints in 19 airports across the country.
The Washington Postleads with a dispatch from Iraq and reports that U.S. military officials are frustrated with the Iraqi government, which they see as the biggest obstacle to further progress in Iraq. The officials contend the government has failed to take advantage of a crucial "window of opportunity" that currently exists because of the decline in violence. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox (online) with the House passing a $50 billion bill to provide funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill directs President Bush to withdraw most troops from Iraq by the end of 2008 so it will almost certainly be blocked in the Senate. While security in Iraq improves, USA Todayleads with a look at how things are getting worse for U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, which has "seen its bloodiest year since the U.S. invasion in 2001." Instead of attacking Western troops head-on, Taliban militants are increasingly relying on roadside bombs and suicide attacks in what is characterized by one expert as a return to "guerilla warfare."
There was a time when the Bush administration feared that if Musharraf were to be forced out, he would be replaced by an Islamic extremist. But they now recognize it's more likely that he'll be pushed out by other army officers and they would probably want to appoint a civilian president. This doesn't mean the administration is giving up on current strategy, and, in fact, the administration is still holding out hope that Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte can save the power-sharing deal between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto when he arrives in Pakistan on Friday, although the odds aren't good. The NYT says there are debates going on within the administration about what message Negroponte should convey to other top officers in the army. Although the paper doesn't explicitly mention it, there are hints that Negroponte might inform Pakistan's elite generals that the United States would stand behind a new government, particularly since Musharraf's designated army successor is seen as friendly to U.S. interests.
In other news out of Pakistan, everyone reports that Musharraf told the Associated Press that he would stop wearing his army uniform by the end of the month. Of course, opposition leaders said they're skeptical. The LAT notes inside that if Musharraf gives up his army role it would "almost certainly diminish his power" and he might have trouble retaining support from other members of the military, particularly if protests increase. Meanwhile, the government continued its crackdown and arrested opposition politician and former cricket star Imran Khan soon after he came out of hiding.
At hearings yesterday, which will continue today, lawmakers were flabbergasted that investigators were able to pass so much prohibited material through airport screeners. The failure was compounded by evidence that suggests the Transportation Security Administration warned employees about the covert tests, which the agency denies. TSA officials recognized there are problems but emphasized security operations have many "layers" that go far beyond screeners.
The Post notes that the lack of initiative from Iraqi politicians to make progress in key legislation "calls into question the core rationale behind the troop buildup." Everyone seems to recognize that this has become a sort of moment of truth for Iraq since the decrease in violence won't mean anything if it isn't accompanied by political progress. As an intelligence officer says, the government and security forces "are at the point where they can make it or break it."
As the Democratic presidential hopefuls prepare for yet another debate tonight, there are hints that this one may be more interesting than usual. The NYT goes inside with a look at how all eyes will be on Sen. Hillary Clinton tonight, who will have a golden opportunity to improve her image, which took a downturn after her much-talked about performance at the last debate. Clinton faced attacks from all the other contenders and was accused of waffling on some issues, and her problems only got worse with some other recent controversies, including accusations that her campaign planted questions at campaign events.
As a good primer for the debate, the Post goes inside with a story that examines just how much the top Democratic contenders have changed since the beginning of the campaign. Sen. Barack Obama began the campaign with a call to unite Americans, but has recently stepped up his partisan rhetoric. Meanwhile, John Edwards was once a champion of poverty issues, but that word has barely escaped his lips in the last few campaign events as he has focused instead on attacking Clinton. ("He's running around like a rabid gerbil," writes the NYT's Gail Collins, "telling people he should be president because he's the angriest.") For her part, Clinton used to shy away from attacking other Democrats but has now started to engage "more seriously in a back-and-forth with rivals," says the Post.
Retired justice Sandra Day O'Connor writes an op-ed for the WSJ and notes that although voters in most states don't seem to care much about the election of judges, special interest groups are paying attention and have been pouring large sums of money into the races. "These efforts threaten the integrity of judicial selection and compromise public perception of judicial decisions," O'Connor writes. If states aren't willing to do away with partisan elections of judges, they should at least make a concerted effort to educate the voting public about the importance of judicial independence.
Remember Manuel Miranda? He was the senior aide for the Senate's GOP leadership who led an effort to obtain internal documents from the computer and networks of Democratic staff. His big defense back then was that the stealing was OK because the documents weren't password-protected. These days Miranda is "giving instruction on democratic principles to Iraqi lawyers and lawmakers," reports the WP. Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin had a simple request when he found out Miranda was showing a group of Iraqis around Capitol Hil: "Tell him to stay away from my computer."