On Saturday I posted a suggested approach to the presentation of the report by General Petraeus next month. It generated an enormous amount of e-mail containing a number of compliments, criticisms and suggestions.
Chief among the suggestions is that General Petraeus be given as much time as he needs to make the sort of briefing that has been given by various senior commanders to visitors to Iraq over the past few months. This briefing takes between 60 and 90 minutes if questions are reserved until its formal conclusion. I have to agree that this is the crucial aspect of the report, and whenever and wherever the report is delivered, General Petraeus should be given as much time as he needs to lay out the strategy and its early results.
Mots of the criticisms were directed at my suggested list of journalists invited to conduct the questioning. The usual suspects threw the usual insults at Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, but the vitriol does nothing to diminish the fact that they have the largest daily audiences of any radio broadcaster in America, and combined with Bill Bennett’s reach in morning drive, represent shows with three different time-slots reaching across the U.S. to people who are driving and away from their television sets. It isn’t their fault that the left hasn’t produced a syndicated talker with anything remotely approaching their success, but I did overlook NPR, and either Michelle Norris, Robert Siegel, or Melissa Block of All Things Considered should have been among my suggested line-up of journalists with genuine reach.
Some questioned whether Ambassador Crocker ought to have any role at all in the presentation of the report, and while the impact of his remarks will be far less than that of General Petraeus –the surge is first and foremost a military operation that is best evaluated by its military leadership– the ambassador will have some key comments on the political developments in Baghdad. Perhaps those ought to be delivered only to the Congressional panels, but there may be points at which General Petraeus would want Ambassador Crocker’s perspective in response to a question from a journalist.
I received near unanimous agreement that the report should be delivered primarily by the general and not at all from Secretary Rice or Secretary Gates. The instant and appropriate denunciation of that trial balloon last week should have led to its demise, if indeed it was ever part of the Adminstration plan.
Finally, many folks friendly to the idea of a different approach to a uniquely important moment doubt whether the White House will embrace something as new or novel as my suggestion when it comes to making this report. I am sure there are many other innovative approaches out there as well, and no matter which one is chosen, I hope the communications team is committed to getting the unfiltered assessment and opinions of the general to as many Americans as possible, and that means some approach that is not business-as-usual and which recognizes that there aren’t any gatekeepers any more, just many different audiences each one of which deserves the opportunity to hear the report.