The fifth anniversary of the invasion brings Iraq back to the spotlight.

The fifth anniversary of the invasion brings Iraq back to the spotlight.

The fifth anniversary of the invasion brings Iraq back to the spotlight.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 20 2008 6:20 AM

Long Road Home

The New York Timesleads with a look at how the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq provided a stark contrast in the different opinions about the war between Republicans and Democrats in Washington. In a speech at the Pentagon, President Bush acknowledged that the conflict has been "longer and harder and more costly than we anticipated" but insisted that "this is a fight America can and must win." While Bush emphasized that the "surge" in troops is working and has "opened the door to a major strategic victory," Democratic leaders countered that the administration still lacks a clear strategy to get U.S. troops back home. The Los Angeles Timesleads locally but off-leads a look at the increasing tensions at the Pentagon over how quickly troops should be withdrawn from Iraq. The commanders on the ground want to keep troop levels steady for the foreseeable future, while members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are speaking up in favor of a faster withdrawal.

The Washington Postleads with the release of 11,000 pages of Sen. Hillary Clinton's schedules as first lady, which once again served to put a spotlight on the candidate's claims of experience during her years in the White House. USA Todayleads with new census data that show domestic migration in the United States has slowed during a time when the housing market has been on a downward spiral. This trend holds true even for the Sun Belt metropolitan areas, which had been experiencing huge growth. "People are becoming much more risk-averse, much more conservative about moving," one expert said. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with Tibet officials announcing that 24 people have been arrested and charged with endangering state security and other "grave crimes." In a Page One story, the paper describes how many young Tibetan activists are openly favoring confrontation with China, regardless of the Dalai Lama's opinion. Although they still revere the Dalai Lama, these young activists say they're willing to use violence to gain independence.

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The most startling statement from an administration official—not surprisingly—came from Vice President Cheney, who, with what the WP's Dana Milbank calls his "trademark ingenuity," compared the administration's task in Iraq to that of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. "He was willing to withstand the slings and arrows of the political wars in order to get there," Cheney said. When an interviewer told him that two-thirds of Americans oppose the Iraq war, Cheney's answer was succinct: "So?" He then added that "you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls."

Most Americans may think the war was not worth fighting, but yesterday provided a clear illustration of just how far the conflict has fallen in the list of concerns for regular people. Although at least 160 people were arrested in protests across the country, the crowds were relatively small. But at least for one day, the war was back at the center of the national political debate as Democrats in Congress used the opportunity to criticize the administration, and the presidential candidates traded barbs over the conflict.

Sen. Barack Obama, of course, criticized the two other presidential contenders for voting in favor of the war and also pointed to Sen. John McCain's highly publicized mistake when he declared several times Tuesday that Iran was providing support for al-Qaida in Iraq. "Maybe that is why he completely fails to understand that the war in Iraq has done more to embolden America's enemies than any strategic choice that we have made in decades," Obama said. Meanwhile, Clinton vowed to begin withdrawing troops quickly, and McCain released a statement saying that "America and our allies stand on the precipice of winning a major victory."

The fact that there's disagreement within the Pentagon on the pace of withdrawal from Iraq is hardly new, but the LAT does manage to shed some light on why the tensions have flared up once again. Gen. David Petraeus and the Joint Chiefs had agreed to put off discussions about troops cuts until this spring. But then Petraeus suggested publicly that there should be a pause in withdrawals, which many saw as an attempt by the ground commanders to circumvent the process, "effectively cutting the Joint Chiefs out of this spring's debate," says the LAT. It is also revealing to note that the Joint Chiefs are still skeptical about the "surge," noting that it hasn't led to much political progress on the ground.

In an interesting Page One piece, the WP takes a look at how even though it's been 10 years since al-Qaida declared war against the United States, intelligence agencies haven't had much luck getting high-placed informants inside the terrorist network. Key opportunities were missed earlier, and now many think that penetrating the network is practically impossible due to its heavy security. For a long time, intelligence agencies were stuck in a Cold War mentality that led them to believe informants could be bought with lots of cash, a tactic that hasn't really worked since members of al-Qaida are mostly motivated by religion. "This is a much more difficult target than the Soviets were," says a former CIA official. "These people are true believers. They're living according to their beliefs, not in the lap of luxury."

In writing about Clinton's records, the Post chooses to lead with a look at how the former first lady was sidelined after the failure of her health-care initiative, which has already been written about extensively. Still, it mustn't have been easy to choose something to focus on in records that the NYT describes as carrying "all the emotional punch of a factory-worker's timecard." Despite the Clinton campaign's assertion that the schedules illustrate how she was involved in key issues, a (redacted) list of events and times can't really shed light on what she was thinking or any influence she might have had behind the scenes. Still, they offered some interesting tidbits, such as the fact that Clinton was involved in the effort to approve NAFTA, which she now says she opposed. Ultimately, though, the schedules show she was involved in many typical activities for a first lady, which leads the WSJ to say that "she may have had a front seat to history, but was often removed from the action."

In the LAT's op-ed page, Michael Meyers, the executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, says he was disappointed by Obama's much-heralded speech about race in America. He talked about the differences between the races when "he should have presented us a pathway out of our racial boxes and a road map for new thinking about race." Meyers hoped Obama would "speak the simple truth that there is no such thing as 'race,' that we all belong to the same race—the human race." Instead of looking forward, Obama looked backward and even brought slavery into the discussion. "We can't be united as a nation if we continue to think racially and give credence to racial experiences and differences based on ethnicity, past victim status and stereotypical categories."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.