The Los Angeles Timesleads with word that senior military officials want to take the focus away from Gen. David Petraeus during the next public assessment of the Iraq war in early 2008. Although officials believe Petraeus' testimony in September got them the desired results, they are concerned that it created the perception of military leaders as politicians who are unable to give an honest assessment of the situation on the ground. "This is not Dave Petraeus' war. This is George Bush's war," one senior official said. The Washington Postand New York Timeslead with the tens of thousands of supporters who gathered to welcome former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as he returned to Pakistan from exile in Saudi Arabia. Sharif's return came less than three months after he wasn't even allowed to leave his plane during a similar attempt to break his exile. "I have come to save this country," Sharif said.
The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with Syria's announcement that its deputy foreign minister will go to Annapolis, Md., for the Middle East peace talks. The NYT describes this as a victory for the Bush administration, which can now claim there is a broad base of regional support for a new peace deal. USA Todayleads with the official start of the holiday shopping season, which saw an almost 5 percent increase in shoppers from last year, but they spent less money. Black Friday sales were particularly encouraging but analysts warn retailers will have to continue offering big discounts to get consumers into their stores.
Some Pentagon officials are worried about the "cult of personality" that surrounds Petraeus, but most seem to be concerned that the administration is simply using military leaders as a tool to get its message across. If the trend continues, officials are worried the public's trust in the military will continue to erode, particularly as Americans are bound to grow more impatient with the Iraq war. Complicating matters is that the next public assessment will probably come in March, at a time when the presidential campaign will be in full force and Pentagon leaders want to avoid seeming partisan. It's unclear exactly how they could take the focus away from Petraeus, but some hope the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, can take the spotlight, and there are suggestions that other military officials could testify about general Iraq policy and have Petraeus focus exclusively on "operational details."
Everyone notes that Sharif is considered to be Pakistan's most popular opposition leader, and his return signifies an important change in the country's political landscape. The NYT emphasizes that Sharif's return illustrates how President Pervez Musharraf is losing power. The two men are bitter enemies as it was Musharraf who deposed Sharif in a bloodless coup in 1999. Musharraf apparently tried to convince Saudi Arabia's leader to keep Sharif in exile until after the elections, but King Abdullah didn't want to continue picking sides in an internal matter.
The WSJ notes that some think Saudi Arabia wanted to take power away from former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Both the LAT and WP mention Bhutto's image as the main face of the opposition is now threatened. In what seemed to be a clear criticism of Bhutto, Sharif said he won't be making any kind of power-sharing deal with Musharraf. The two opposition leaders are apparently talking about creating an alliance, although they still haven't decided whether they will participate in the January elections.
The NYT fronts a look at how much Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been able to push the Bush administration "to a startling turnaround" on peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Since the beginning of the adminsitration, Rice has moved from a "passive participant to activist diplomat" on the issue and she's been able to bring Bush along partly because of "her extraordinarily close relationship with the president." But even though most think Rice is committed to achieving a lasting peace deal, there are doubts about whether Bush is really serious about hammering out agreements, says the LAT on Page One. Yesterday, Bush's national security adviser made it clear that the conference doesn't mean the president will do much else besides encourage Israelis and Palestinians to come up with solutions themselves.
The WP fronts word that the private security company whose guards killed two Iraqi women in early October had been involved in a previously undisclosed shooting in late June. The shooting by employees of Unity Resources Group serves as yet another example of how little oversight there is of private security companies in Iraq. RTI International, which hired Unity, first denied any knowledge of the incident but then "discovered internal reports" that described the shooting. Although the company claims it carried out an investigation, the Post interviewed four witnesses and none of them had been contacted. "Unity effectively regulates itself," says the WP.
The NYT off-leads a look at the Republican Party's efforts to get wealthy people to run for congressional seats so that personal fortunes can make up for the GOP's shortage of campaign funds. Meanwhile, in the presidential race, the Post fronts Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani stepping up the personal attacks in New Hampshire. Although there was once talk that Giuliani would skip New Hampshire, he is now aggressively trying to take votes away from Romney, and the two traded criticisms on a variety of issues as the campaigns "took a sharply negative turn," says the Post.
The LAT fronts a look at the recent push by some health officials to educate older Americans about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. With data showing that Americans continue to be sexually active later in life, many think the older population is getting overlooked by public campaigns, and the problem is made worse because many are uncomfortable talking to their doctors about issues of sexual health.
The NYT notes that many in Hollywood are getting their news about the writers' strike from Nikki Finke and her Web site Deadline Hollywood Daily, which she has been constantly updating during the past three weeks. "It's been brutal, but it's also been exhilarating because I love news," Finke said. "I love it—a scoop is better than sex."