Editorial writers don't get decide whether we go to war. They probably couldn't survive a day at a really tough boot camp. But they were surely one of Colin Powell's target audiences.

In his U.N. slide show, the secretary of state was playing to world opinion, American opinion and Security Council opinion. But the White House was no doubt hoping to push some journalistic fence-straddlers to the pro-war side.

On that score, Powell was pretty successful.

In part because he's Colin Powell. Journalists like and respect the guy. Many wanted him to run for president during his '95 book-tour flirtation. He's seen as far more open to a diplomatic solution than any other member of the administration. If Powell is saying the Iraqis can't be trusted, the thinking goes, there must be a serious case here.

If George Bush had given the exact same presentation, many media types would not have found it as persuasive. The cowboy, they believe, wants to go to war. Not so the Vietnam veteran turned diplomat who knows so well the horrors of war.

Which may be why White House officials kept the prez under wraps on Wednesday. They sustained the media blitz by sending Powell to chat up Dan Rather on "60 Minutes II" and Condoleezza Rice to fence with Ted Koppel on "Nightline."

Check out some of the editorials rounded up by the Hotline:

Denver Post: "Powell's speech to the U.N. Security Council presented not just one 'smoking gun' but a battery of them."

Indianapolis Star: "Powell has methodically proved Iraq's failure to comply."

Richmond Times-Dispatch: "The verdict is inescapable. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. Iraq's word is dirt."

Wall Street Journal: "A smoking fusillade."

St. Paul Pioneer Press: "The circumstantial evidence was chilling."

Even Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A32573-2003Feb5.html) columnist Mary McGrory admitted: "He persuaded me, and I was as tough as France to convince."

But some papers are still firmly in the skeptical, now-what camp. Such as:

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "The United States .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. must convince wary nations, and an ambivalent American public, that Iraq is not merely duplicitous, but dangerous."

Nashville Tennessean: "If Saddam's menace can only be destroyed through war, let that war be brought by the community of nations, not the United States alone."

New York Times: "The Security Council, the American people and the rest of the world have an obligation to study Mr. Powell's presentation very closely and very seriously. Because the consequences of war are so terrible, and the cost of rebuilding Iraq so great, the United States cannot afford to confront Iraq without broad international support."

But opponents of war now have a little problem. If Powell was sufficiently convincing that Iraq has stockpiled dangerous weapons and lied about it, we're not going to try to disarm Saddam unless France says it's okay? Should the burden be on the U.S. to convince the United Nations, or should the United Nations decide that its own credibility will be shot if it continues to debate the matter ad infinitum?

By the way, Washingtonian (http://www.washingtonian.com/inwashington/buzz/war.html) magazine declares that The Washington Post is "becoming the nation's most hawkish major daily newspaper" based on this editorial (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A26873-2003Feb4.html) -- "The Case for Action" -- which appeared on the morning of Powell's speech.

But just unleashing the troops -- and the country will surely rally round the president if he does -- is not the end of the matter. As Tom Friedman of the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/05/opinion/05FRIE.html) points out, administration officials must deal with "the incredibly narrow base of support that exists in America today for this audacious project. They are gearing up for the rebuilding of Iraq, along the lines of the rebuilding of Germany and Japan after World War II, and the nation is geared up, at best, for the quick and dirty invasion of Grenada."

In an interesting twist yesterday, the president made a statement for the cameras with Colin Powell and it seemed like he wanted to bask in his aide's reflected glow (with virtually anyone else, it's the other way around). He also gave a small bit of diplomatic ground, as the Wall Street Journal reports:

"President Bush said he would 'welcome' a second United Nations resolution authorizing the use of force to disarm Iraq, but he made clear that he wouldn't wait long for the Security Council to act and would move with or without its approval.

"Although he specifically didn't say a new resolution is required for military force, his comments represent an acknowledgment of the political pressure on allies, including Britain's Tony Blair, to secure clear U.N. approval before any attack on Iraq. European voters, unlike Americans, are overwhelmingly opposed to going to war, even more so without such U.N. backing.

"At the same time, Mr. Bush's threat to act alone, and his warning that the U.N. risks irrelevance if it fails to move in tandem, continued the aggressive multifront campaign he has waged for international support."

Powell apparently didn't play all his cards, says USA Today: (http://usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2003-02-06-intelligence-usat_x.htm)

"The Bush administration held back some of its best intelligence on Iraq to protect human and technical sources and to avoid unloading information so complex it might have blurred the effort to win support for war, U.S. intelligence officials said yesterday.

"The CIA insisted that Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday not include any National Security Agency intercepts of coded Iraqi communications. To do so, agency officials argued, would have revealed U.S. success in decoding Iraq's most secret official conversations. Tapes played to the Security Council were of Iraqi calls made on non-secure phone lines, according to a U.S. official.

"Powell omitted or left vague information from human sources inside Saddam Hussein's regime out of concern that Iraqi authorities would identify and kill the agents, one senior intelligence official said."

Powell wins the overnight numbers game, according to a washingtonpost.com poll: (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A35407-2003Feb6.html)

"In the aftermath of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's address to the United Nations, a growing majority of Americans now say the United States has presented enough evidence to justify going to war with Iraq, according to a new washingtonpost.com-ABC News poll. Overall, more than six in 10 Americans--61 percent--believe that the Bush administration has made the case for war, up from 54 percent in a survey conducted last week after the president's State of the Union address."

How is the situation different with that other possessor of weapons of mass destruction?

"The Bush administration warned North Korea today against trying to take advantage of the United States' focus on Iraq, saying it would maintain a robust military deterrent in the region even as it seeks a diplomatic solution to the impasse," says the New York Times. (http://nytimes.com/2003/02/07/international/asia/07KORE.html)

Well, that clears it up.

"Democrats, sensing what they considered disarray in the administration's policy, sharply criticized the White House for spending too much time on Iraq, calling its strategy toward North Korea 'fuzzy,' 'passive' and one of 'designed neglect.'

"But in appearances on Capitol Hill and at the White House, senior administration officials asserted that they were fully engaged in resolving the Korean standoff."

In Salon(http://salon.com/opinion/feature/2003/02/07/paglia/index.html), Camille Paglia discovers a novel reason not to invade Iraq:

"I have a terrible sense of foreboding, because last weekend a stunning omen occurred in this country. Anyone who thinks symbolically had to be shocked by the explosion of the Columbia shuttle, disintegrating in the air and strewing its parts and human remains over Texas -- the president's home state! So many times in antiquity, the emperors of Persia or other proud empires went to the oracles to ask for advice about going to war. Roman generals summoned soothsayers to read the entrails before a battle. If there was ever a sign for a president and his administration to rethink what they're doing, this was it."

Of course! It's so obvious! Why can't everyone see that?

Josh Marshall (http://talkingpointsmemo.com/) isn't particularly exercised about that Washington Post scoop about an internal probe of Tommy Franks and what he did for the missus:

"Now, abusing perks of office is no good. And I've got no brief for Tommy Franks one way or another. But Tommy Franks is the guy in charge of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. He's a bit busy.

"Whether or not he paid for his wife's travel correctly, do we really want to distract this guy from what he's doing? Even if you're a die-hard against military operations in Iraq, you still don't want the general in command to be worried about some investigation. Just in the national interest, wouldn't it be better to shelve this investigation for a bit? At least until things calm down a little? Can't the president or Rumsfeld just make an executive decision on this one?"

National Review's (http://nationalreview.com/york/york020603.asp) Byron York sees ethnic politics at work in the battle over one judicial nominee:

"The headline from Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's news conference Wednesday was his threat to filibuster the appeals-court nomination of Miguel Estrada. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"But the more interesting story from Daschle's appearance was the strange disconnect between the reasons he gave to oppose Estrada and the reasons cited by a number of Hispanic interest-group leaders who appeared with Daschle. To hear Daschle tell it, Estrada's alleged refusal to answer questions at his confirmation hearing had virtually forced Democrats to vote against him, and perhaps to filibuster the nomination. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"But to hear representatives from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, and others tell it, the Estrada nomination should be killed not because of Estrada's alleged refusal to answer questions or because of constitutional obligations but because Estrada, who was born and raised in Honduras before coming to the United States and learning English at the age of 17, is simply not authentically Hispanic.

"'Being Hispanic for us means much more than having a surname,' said New Jersey Rep. Bob Menendez, a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. 'It means having some relationship with the reality of what it is to live in this country as a Hispanic American.'"

Meaning having the "right" views as determined by other Hispanics?

OpinionJournal's (http://www.opinionjournal.com/diary/?id=110003032) John Fund engages in some wishful thinking about Gray Davis:

"While Californians are the nation's most frequent users of the recall process, getting the recall on the ballot is still a long shot. The governor's supporters note that no statewide official has ever faced a recall vote. But People's Advocate, co-founded by the late Proposition 13 co-author Paul Gann, reports that backers have already pledged several hundred thousand dollars to secure the required 898,000 signatures. The group's president, Ted Costa, is counting on his experience in steering 12 statewide initiatives to the ballot.

"The recall effort is unusual for coming just three months after Mr. Davis's re-election. But the governor's margin was only 47% to 42% over a weak opponent whom Mr. Davis outspent by 2 to 1. With the governor now proposing draconian tax increases and substantial spending cuts, the Sacramento Bee says he 'is considered more politically vulnerable' now than he was on Election Day.

"Conservative critics accuse him of deliberately covering up the size of the state's deficit in order to win re-election."

So now we're going to rerun elections three months later when conservatives don't like the outcome?

American Prospect (http://www.prospect.org/webfeatures/2003/02/kuttner-r-02-05.html) Co-Editor Robert Kuttner says the media are lost in space when it comes to the Columbia disaster:

"Like other Americans, I found the loss of the space shuttle Columbia tragic for the individual astronauts and their families, poignant as an exploratory setback and compelling as a news story. But something was off about the relentless, repetitive, almost obsessive media coverage. What does it say about us as a people?

"The network and cable channels covered the tragedy nonstop. Most of the dailies went on page after page after page -- the puzzle of what caused the disaster, the human-interest aspect, the anguish of a failed mission, the bizarre debris falling from the sky, the reaction of the great and the humble. This was all newsworthy, even riveting, but only up to a point.

"What was so troubling about the excess? Partly, it's a question of proportion and misplaced complicity. NASA presents the manned space program as something of unique grandeur and scientific importance. By giving the story so much excessive coverage, the press plays handmaiden to the hype. One looked in vain for reporting on the easily established fact that serious scientists tend to be dubious about the utility of most experiments conducted on manned space missions. Few of the results are significant enough to make into first-rank scientific journals. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Journalistic skepticism was much in evidence, but it was mainly skepticism about who fell down on the job. Wasn't NASA warned about the tiles? Weren't these craft getting old? Did Congress stint on the money? This is fine as far as it goes, but it still leaves the media in the overall role of cheerleader for the underlying premise that there is something uniquely heroic, ennobling and scientifically essential about the entire enterprise."

In '04 action, ABC's Note (http://abcnews.go.com/sections/politics/DailyNews/TheNote.html) has some interesting back-and-forth on jockeying for a labor endorsement. It began when "the AP moved a story in which labor Big Jerry McEntee, head of the AFL-CIO's political committee and president of one of its biggest unions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, was quoted saying that Senator Kerry is the strongest Democratic challenger to President Bush on foreign policy. The original headline: 'Labor Leader: Kerry Democrats' Best Hope.'

"The crackerjack Kerry press staff immediately sent it around, roiling rival Democratic campaigns. So while The Note doesn't underestimate the political influence of Mr. McEntee, we were inspired to do a little digging into just how much of an endorsement, if any, this was, and whether McEntee's sentiments were shared by others in the labor movement.

"The gist of what we found: this was not an endorsement (and, in fairness to the Kerry folks, they never touted it as such), and labor is generally inclined to hold its fire until much later in the nominating process, with no candidate really having a leg up, despite Dick Gephardt's perceived edge in the AFL Primary. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"'This is not the position of the AFL-CIO. There has been no discussion at the AFL-CIO about an endorsement,' said Karen Ackerman, the AFL-CIO political director. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"A Gephardt adviser called to say that the story is not reflective of any larger sentiment among labor -- and that a 'significant number of people' in the AFL-CIO and their member unions are not happy with McEntee's comments."

Bill Clinton emerged for an hour with Larry King last night -- undoubtedly stealing viewers from John Edwards on "Hardball" -- while the media continue to fantasize about the former first lady:

"A new poll says Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton could sweep the entire field of Democratic presidential candidates if she wanted to challenge President Bush in 2004 -- fueling talk she's leaving the door open to doing just that," says the New York Post. (http://www.nypost.com/news/regionalnews/54138.htm)

"Clinton would be the choice of 42 percent of Democrats -- a nearly 3-1 margin over second-place Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), who got 15 percent. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) each had 11 percent and all others were in single digits.

"'If she even let herself be talked about seriously, she'd be the one to beat among the Democrats and she could raise zillions of dollars. I can't figure out who in the bunch of them could beat her,' said Quinnipiac pollster Maurice Carroll.

"The catch is that the poll shows Bush would beat any Democrat, including Clinton. He'd defeat her by 52 to 41 percent. Lieberman would do a bit better, losing 49-43.

"Clinton (D-N.Y.) denies she's running, but over the past few weeks she's become one of Bush's harshest critics."

Aha! She must secretly be running. If she shows up with Larry King, you'll know the game is up.