The Washington Postleads with, and the Los Angeles Timesdevotes its top nonlocal spot to, a look at the rising tensions between Iraqi and U.S. officials during the negotiations over the future of American troops in Iraq. The debate has become increasingly heated as Iraqi politicians accuse the United States of attempting to keep almost 58 permanent bases in the country. Some are even publicly wondering whether Iraqis need American troops on their soil to maintain security.
USA Todayleads with warnings to businesses and federal officials that any electronic devices they take to the Summer Olympics will likely be hacked into by Chinese agents. Several national security agencies say visitors, particularly those who work for the government or technology companies, should simply expect that the Chinese will try to steal secrets or plant bugs in their laptops, PDAs, and smartphones. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with a look at how Republicans are preparing for what they expect will be huge losses in November. Analysts predict Republicans could lose 10 to 20 seats in the House and four or five in the Senate. The New York Timesleads with a dispatch from South Korea, where President Lee Myung Bak is struggling to hold on to power in the face of demonstrations that started more than a month ago after his government agreed to allow American beef into the country despite fears of mad cow disease. The complaints against Lee quickly broadened, and at least 100,000 people protested against the president in Seoul yesterday.
President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had both set a deadline of July 31 to finalize the agreement on the future of U.S. forces in Iraq to replace the U.N. mandate that expires at the end of the year. Although officials insist they're working with that deadline in mind, the two countries don't seem to be any closer to agreeing on a document. In addition to the 58 bases, Iraqis say the United States wants immunity for troops and contractors, control over Iraq's airspace, authority to detain Iraqis and not turn them over to the judicial system, and permission to conduct military operations without the approval of the government. But these demands could soon change as the Post reports that President Bush has instructed negotiators to be more flexible.
It's difficult to get a full picture of the situation since American officials aren't talking on the record about the negotiations, so most of the information comes from the Iraqi side. And while calls for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops can be interpreted as an easy way for politicians to get popular support by appearing to stand up to the Americans, thepapers note it's particularly significant that the sentiment is being expressed even by some members of Maliki's government. The LAT notes that some Iraqi politicians who were initially in favor of continued U.S. presence in their country have been gradually switching sides when confronted with what they see as unrealistic demands. "If we can't reach a fair agreement, many people think we should say, 'Goodbye, U.S. troops. We don't need you here anymore,' " one Shiite politician said. If no agreement is reached, and Iraqis don't ask for an expansion of the U.N. mandate, "U.S. troops would have no legal basis to remain in Iraq," reports the Post.
The Post and NYT front, and everyone mentions, news out of the campaign trail, where John McCain and Barack Obama clashed over their sharply different proposals to revive the U.S. economy. "The substantive contrast between the candidates is deep and stark, arguably sharper than between contenders in the last two presidential elections," one political analyst tells the Post. But the truth is that none of their main arguments or proposals are really new. The NYT highlights how, at least with respect to the economy, two candidates who never tire of telling voters that they're a break from the past are offering plans that are little more than "a classic clash" between Republican and Democratic ideals. There's really no mystery here as McCain favors tax cuts and a smaller government with a side order of populism, while Obama wants to generally redistribute income by raising taxes for the wealthy while cutting them for those who earn less. The one unique aspect about this debate is that since the economy keeps getting worse, the presumptive nominees are trying to signal that they would be open to tweaking their plans to adapt to changes.
The LAT fronts a look at how conservatives are starting to direct more criticism toward Michelle Obama. So far, the criticism mostly centers on a February remark when Obama said that "for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country." She immediately faced criticism for the remark, and "the issue has shown no signs of going away," says the LAT. (Obama's campaign quickly clarified that she merely meant to say she's particularly proud now because of all the new voters.) Of course, criticizing a candidate's wife is hardly new, but many, including some Republicans, warn that this type of sustained criticism could quickly backfire.
The NYT reports that an increasing number of Muslim women in Europe are undergoing surgery to restore their hymens before walking down the aisle. There are really no data to back up the claim, since most of the operations are done quietly, but gynecologists say more Muslim women have been asking them for "certificates of virginity" to show to family members before they get married. The debate over the practice has been particularly heated in France, where a man asked for an annulment (and immediately put most wedding-day horror stories to shame) after he "left the nuptial bed and announced to the still partying wedding guests that his bride had lied."
In an op-ed piece in the NYT, Madeleine Albright writes that the failure of the international community to pressure the Burmese government after Cyclone Nargis not only illustrates how totalitarian regimes are "alive and well" but that they're also unlikely to face pressure from neighbors to change their ways. There used to be a generally accepted belief that while sovereignty is important, there were certain moments when other countries could intervene to save lives. But after the invasion of Iraq, "[g]overnments, especially in the developing world, are now determined to preserve the principle of sovereignty," writes Albright. "Even when the human costs of doing so are high."
Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.