A secret request from Israel, plus picking apart Obama's stimulus proposal.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 11 2009 6:14 AM

Israel: Help Us Bomb Iran

The New York Times leads with news that President Bush rebuffed a secret request by Israel last year for "bunker-busting" bombs, with which it planned to attack Iran's nuclear complex. The Bush administration had approved covert operations against Iran but feared more direct attacks would be counterproductive. The Los Angeles Times digs into the history of Keynesian economics, which popularized the idea of deficit spending to restore confidence in ailing economies. Obama's proposed stimulus plan would be the largest Keynesian experiment a developed nation has ever tried in peacetime. The Washington Post leads with Obama's response to congressional discontent with the plan, including contentions by the Senate Democrats he'd hoped wouldn't make a fuss. The president-elect emphasized the number of permanent jobs his package would spawn, most of which would be in the private sector.

Based on a 15-month span of interviews with administration officials and other experts, the NYT develops an inside portrait of a Bush administration prodded by Israel but hesitant to take dramatic action in Iran. The president was briefed extensively on a covert attack plan but was convinced by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that it would "probably prove ineffective, lead to the expulsion of international inspectors and drive Iran's nuclear effort further out of view." Israel's request in early 2008 for bombs and for permission to fly over Iraq grew out of a dispute over a controversial National Intelligence Estimate that suggested Iran had suspended its nuclear program—a conclusion that angered Israel and left both Bush and Gates "stunned" and "suspicious." When Israel asked for permission to take matters into its own hands, Bush still said, "Hell, no," and Israel apparently decided its plans wouldn't be effective without American assistance.

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Meanwhile, Iran has been doing a little scheming of its own, a below-the-fold story in the WP adds. Tehran uses front businesses—including many in based in Dubai—to obtain American electronics parts that would become weapons used against U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Despite intense government efforts to prevent the flow of electronics parts to Iran, illegal trafficking has become "nearly all Internet-based and increasingly sophisticated."

In a report released after yesterday's radio address, Obama's top economic advisers gloomily predicted no change in the unemployment rate by the end of 2010, the WP reports, and suggested the rate would rise as high as 9 percent without passage of the stimulus. But some Democrats don't like the plan's inclusion of a $3,000 tax credit for each job a corporation creates or saves, and Republicans don't like the hulking size of the whole thing. Republicans do like the tax credit part, however, which means getting bipartisan support could be tougher than Obama hoped.

But caution might be warranted: The Obama plan is the biggest gamble on an economic measure the country has taken since World War II, the LAT's lead essay on the return of Keynesian economics observes. Even FDR's Depression-era deficit spending wasn't nearly as "audacious" as the Obama proposal. It's a "testament to the frightening dimensions of the global economic plunge" that Obama's package has garnered so much favor with economists, and the experiment seems to have more to do with today's drama than analysis of the Keynesianism's past.

The LAT also fronts a story by reporter Paul Watson, who went into Afghanistan "embedded" with Taliban fighters in Ghazni. The "Talibs" watch coverage of the Gaza conflict on Al Jazeera television, often remarking that the images increase their resolve to fight the United States and its allies. (They see the United States as another arm of the Israeli agenda.) The fighters are quite hospitable but make no secret of their hatred of America: "We will continue our jihad. The more soldiers they send, the happier we become."

A front-page NYT story chronicles the woes of the Republican Party and the latest option the GOP—apparently not convinced that "the Twittering" is the answer—is considering to get back on its feet: electing its first black chairman. The party faces difficulties raising funds and finding well-known candidates with the rhetorical skills to challenge the Democrats, and a shot of diversity might help Republicans "avoid shrinking into a party of Southern white men in an increasingly diverse country."

A WP review takes up Barry Werth's Banquet at Delmonico's, a history of social Darwinism figureheads like Herbert Spencer, the British philosopher who "gave America the implicit assurance that it was the endpoint of human evolution." The book's argument for evolution's triumph in America is suspect given the prevalence of creation-story belief, and it is not always well explained: "If ever a book cried out for perspective and interpretation and even a dash or two of editorializing, it's this one."

Randy and Paula are moving their chairs over to make room for Kara DioGuardi, the "feisty, heartfelt and outspoken" addition to American Idol's judging panel, the NYT reports. DioGuardi, who has written songs for Celine Dion, Kelly Clarkson, and Pink, will be the first major change-up on Idol since it began in 2002—and perhaps the first major challenge to the  "perverse antagonism" from Simon's end of the table. "If he doesn't let me speak, it's going to be a problem," she warns.

David Sessions is a former Slate intern. He is currently a blogger at Politics Daily.

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