When is a truce not a truce?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 17 2008 7:41 AM

War and Almost Peace

The New York Times leads with Russia agreeing to a revised truce with Georgia—while still refusing to withdraw from Georgian soil immediately. The Washington Post also leads with the conflict but instead takes the long view in an attempt to figure out which side started the war. The Los Angeles Times leads with Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain each discussing their faith and positions on social issues at Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church.

Chaos continues to reign in Georgia as Russia agrees to a cease-fire but refuses to leave Georgian territory. Russian officials insist the agreement doesn't preclude maintaining "peace keeping" troops in Georgia, and they say that the troops will stay as long as necessary, while refusing to define what those terms might mean. The paper also reports that the two sides may not have even agreed to the same language.

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The WP's timeline of the fighting is somewhat inconclusive, largely because each side claims that the other escalated the conflict at certain key moments. The paper does note, however, that Georgian leaders allowed themselves to be goaded into war by Russian antagonism, even though Georgia's allies advised that they stand down.

The LAT takes the same tack under the fold, but it pushes back the timeline even further, examining years of mounting tension between Russia and Georgia. Regardless of the sequence of events over the last 10 days, the LAT reports that Russia had been thinking about fighting this war for as long as three years and had been actively pursuing it since April. The paper doesn't deny, however, that Georgia also bears some responsibility for the war, especially for believing it could win.

As the world worries about Russia's intentions towards Georgia, the NYT reports that many citizens of Ukraine worry that their country may be next.

The LAT's coverage of the Saddleback forum suggests that the night was a win for both candidates, with each seeming to make inroads with the faithful, albeit in very different ways. Obama's answers tended to be more nuanced and off-the-cuff, describing his faith and values in more personal terms. McCain was more rehearsed and less revealing, sticking very close to familiar campaign rhetoric but also hewing closer to typical evangelical views. The most provocative nugget comes in the story's final paragraphs, in which each man is asked to define "rich" in terms of annual income: Obama draws the line at $250,000 a year, while McCain puts it at $5 million.

The WP reaches many of the same conclusions but takes a more inside-baseball approach to the event, spending more time detailing efforts by both campaigns to woo evangelical voters.

The NYT, meanwhile, off-leads with a bit of campaign analysis of its own, reporting on Democratic efforts to retool Obama's message ahead of the general election. While the Democratic primary was won on big ideas and inspirational language, the paper says Democratic strategists are concerned that the candidate's message of "change" may be too vague for undecided voters. Obama has responded by trying to more closely define his policy positions, but the close margins of many recent polls suggest that voters are still in a wait-and-see mood.

Under the fold, the NYT turns its focus to the McCain camp, examining the senator's response to the Sept. 11 attacks for clues to how he would govern if elected. The story says McCain began arguing for invading Iraq soon after the attacks, months before the White House began publicly making the case for war. McCain essentially argued that the best defense is a good offense. The paper concludes that while McCain has always had a hawkish bent, after 2001 he began to advocate using military force not just as an agent of retribution but as one of deterrence.

The WP off-leads with (and the other papers front) Michael Phelps winning his eighth gold medal of the 2008 Olympics on Saturday night, besting Mark Spitz's 1972 record of seven gold medals in a single Olympics. Phelps now has 14 career gold medals, five more than anyone else. The LATdescribes Phelps' moment of triumph. The NYT chronicles his journey to the Beijing games, arguing that a broken wrist he sustained last October may actually have helped propel him into the record books. And the WP wonders aloud whether he's greatest athlete ever.

Phelps also broke seven world records during the 2008 games, but he's far from alone in rewriting the record books. The NYT has a nifty online tool that lets readers see how world record times have plummeted over the years.

But don't think it's just Phelps out there making history. American Dara Torres, at age 41, managed to win her third silver medal of the Beijing games, making her the oldest swimming medalist ever. 

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt won the title of World's Fastest Man by winning the 100 meter dash without even really trying. There are rumbles that Bolt's performance may reshape the way everyone thinks about sprinting, the NYT explains.

The Justice Department is moving forward with its investigation into the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqis during an incident last September involving private security guards from Blackwater Worldwide. Six Blackwater guards have received target letters, which indicates that the department will probably indict "at least some of the men," the WP says under the fold.

The NYT writes that methadone, long a popular drug used in rehab treatment, is now a widely prescribed pain medication. Its dangers are not widely understood, however, and it is now implicated in twice as many deaths as heroin.

It's ostensibly a local story, but the NYT's take on the strange mutations of the "99¢ store" speaks volumes about what's going on in the economy right now.

Shrouded in Mystery …

A pair of Colorado researchers has convinced Oxford University to re-examine its radiocarbon dating of the Shroud of Turin, says the LAT.

Jesse Stanchak is a writer living in Washington, D.C.