New York Times (subscription required for op-ed links)
David Sanger reports on the de facto grudge match between James Baker and Condi Rice over the direction of U.S. Mideast policy. No winner declared. From Baghdad, correspondents Kirk Semple and Edward Wong say the ISG report gives the U.S. a blueprint for an exit from Iraq, while enabling the U.S. to lay the blame on the warring Iraqis. Hassan Fattah reports from Amman on Jordan and Syria being overwhelmed by the influx of Iraqis, who are fleeing Iraq at the rate of 3,000 a day - roughly 2,000,000 since the war began in 2003. In a story headlined "A Turning Point for a Panel: 4 Harrowing Days in Iraq," correspondent Philip Shenon writes that ISG members were so distressed by their experience in Iraq, they felt compelled to produce quick, blunt recommendations to end the quagmire. Shenon failed to note that during those four "harrowing days," six of the seven visiting ISG members confined themselves to the relative safety and tranquility of the fortified Green Zone. Columnist Tom Friedman's headline says it all: "Set a Date and Buy Some Leverage." He's arguing again for a 10-month withdrawal timetable. In a column headed "They Told You So," Paul Krugman defends the war's original naysayers and attacks their critics. In an op-ed, Iran/Iraq expert Ken Pollack warns that the U.S. should proceed with Iran with all due caution.
The scoop of the day is buried in the paper's top Iraq story by Peter Baker and Robin Wright -- in it, the top U.S. field commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, tells the WP, "I dare say I believe if we had applied some of these principles (ISG recommendations) a little bit earlier on in our time over here, many of the issues we're facing here today might not in fact be, and we might not have the level of violence here." Walter Pincus reports (a day late) on the ISG calling on U.S. intel agencies to provide better info on Iraqi insurgency, militias. Tom Ricks reports on the ISG report's skeptics on Capitol Hill, with the choice retort quote from Lee Hamilton: "I think the Congress has been extraordinarily timid in its exercise of its constitutional responsibilities on the question of warmaking and conducting war." "At State, The News Needs No Muse" - the headline of the Al Kaman story is about State Department leaders wanting to gag most officials from commenting on the ISG report. Columnist Eugene Robinson asks whether Bush really heard -- at the end he said the president "isn't in the habit of letting mere facts get in the way of blind conviction." Columnist E.J. Dionne worrries that Bush's botched efforts have given the idea of spreading democracy around the world is a bad rap.
Los Angeles Times (registration required)
Soloman Moore provides this insightful report from Baghdad: "In areas where troops had been barred by the (Iraqi) government, they now have 'carte blanche' to stage raids with Iraqis." Most people have turned their attention away from the Saddam Hussein trial, which continues amid a ruling on his death sentence appeal, reports Molly Hennessy-Fiske. Ken Ellingwood reports on Israel's dismay over the ISG's perceived and unwelcome meddling in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Ellingwood reports on Israel's dismay over the ISG's perceived and unwelcome meddling in the Arab-Israeli conflict. LAT editorial: "At least he read it." Guess who read what. "It's still about oil in Iraq," argues Antonia Juhasz in an op-ed.
Barbara Slavin writes on page one about the woes of U.S. reserve troops - "Complaints, including firings,less pay, up 30%" December is shaping up to be one of the most deadly months for U.S. troops in Iraq, write Cesar Soriano and Matt Kelly. The weekly Friday feature on Iraq: "Green Zone's captive market good for vendors." Two interesting nuggets here. The most popular item at the market: a $15 beach towel that reads," Caution: Stay 100 meters back or you will be shot" in English and Arabic." The vendors are risking their lives because they're obvious targets of insurgents who target "collaborators." USAT editorial: "With military options limited, it's time for Plan B: Diplomacy." Anti-Defamation League Director Abe Foxman provides an op-ed: "Keep Focus on Iraq, don't blame regional insecurity on impasse in Arab-Israeli conflict."."
Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
U.S. military commanders are moving ahead with plans to beef up their training of Iraqi security forces, report Greg Jaffe and Neil King, Jr. In his Wonder Land column Daniel Henninger says the Iraq Study Group's primary purpose wasn't saving Iraq from catastrophe but saving the political system of the United States from catastrophe. Shelby Steele provides this op-ed: The most confusing thing about the Iraq war has been the American government's utter failure to define what victory would be in this war.
Christian Science Monitor says: "Arab world welcomes Iraq Study Group report," while Israel doesn't, write Dan Murphy and Josh Mitnick from Cairo and Tel Aviv. Op-ed contributor Robert Zelnick, a Boston University professor, says the ISG's report "will ultimately be judged on the degree to which two key (if lofty) proposals succeed." CSM editorial: "Let U.S. now speak with one voice on Iraq."
That's a wrap.
The closest thing to a hard news exclusive comes in a page one WP report saying the U.S. Administration has narrowed its likely military options in Iraq to three: a short-term surge in troop strength, narrowing the fight to al Qaeda, aligning with the Shia and giving up (or turning on) on the Sunni. The WP correspondents: Robin Wright and Peter Baker.
The weakest journalism comes in coverage of the spot news story of the day (Friday): conflicting accounts of the results of a U.S. airstrike targeting terrorists outside of Baghdad. The U.S. insists it hit its targets and no one else, while locals say children and women were among those killed. We get conflicting claims but no ground truth reporting, presumably because it's too dangerous for journalists to venture so far from the relative safety of their de facto news green zones in Baghdad. Here are the NYTand WP stories. Inexplicably, the LAT and WSJ appear to ignore the story altogether (USAT and CSM are dark today).
The quote of the day comes from moderate Republican Oregon Senator Gordon Smith, who's turned against the Iraq war and is quoted in Tom Ricks's WP article as saying on the Senate floor: "I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs day after day.... That is absurd. It may even be criminal. I cannot support that anymore."
The rest of what's in the papers.
New York Times
Iraqi leaders are near agreement on an oil revenue sharing deal, Edward Wong reports. Bush plans to have a new Iraq plan before Christmas, write Jim Rutenberg and Carl Hulse. The U.S. Iraq financial watchdog agency has new life after being nearly snuffed out, writes James Glanz. Abu Ghraib torture victims are fighting for the right to sue Rumsfeld, reports Paul von Zielbauer. David Cloud provides a clever opening graph in his report on Rumsfeld's final Pentagon town hall meeting: "As Donald H. Rumsfeld might say, you change strategy in Iraq with the defense secretary you have, not the one you might like." Columnist Maureen Dowd provides a witty, biting anti-Bush diatribe. (sub. req.)
Ann Scott Tyson writes about Rumsfeld's Pentagon town hall meeting.
Los Angeles Times
Wall Street Journal
In a report headlined "How Syria May Hold Key to Iraq," correspondents Yochi Dreazen and Neil King Jr. explain why the U.S. engaging Syria would irritate Israel and perhaps complicate, rather than help, the Mideast peace process.
That's a wrap.