PETRAEUS AND THE REPUBLICAN CAUCUS….Yesterday I received an email from Col. Steven Boylan, the Public Affairs Officer for Gen. David Petraeus, highlighting some disagreements with my Saturday post titled “General Petraeus’s PR Blitzkrieg.” His full email is below the fold, and for the most part it’s a straightforward defense of the way Petraeus has handled briefings with the press and analysts. However, Boylan also pointed out a significant error: I quoted Andrea Mitchell saying that Petraeus had met privately with the Republican caucus in March and had promised progress by August. In fact, Mitchell partially retracted her report a few days later:
MITCHELL: He’s been telling senators — he had, in fact, a closed-circuit briefing for the senators, Democrats as well as Republicans, and he is telling them that he will report some progress, that he hopes to be able to report some progress by August….But in his closed briefing — they went over to the Pentagon and had that briefing, Democrats as well as Republican senators, and he made it clear to them that he thinks he can report some progress.
The rest of Boylan’s response is below the fold if you want to read his full message.
I would agree that the open sources are a good check, however, many times those sources are not complete, out of context and fail to provide the proper or full characterization of the events they are describing.
I will clip the areas that are in error and provide you comment.
1. For months the military transports to Baghdad have been stuffed with analysts and congress members, and every one of them has gotten a full court press of carefully planned and scripted presentations, tightly controlled visits to favored units, and assorted dollops of “classified” information designed to flatter his guests and substantiate his rosy assessments without the inconvenience of having to defend them in public.
Response: Many of the analysts have come into Iraq on commercial flights via Jordan. Visits are only controlled based on timelines and desires of the Congressional members. They inform both the Embassy and MNF-I on what they want to see and if it is possible based on the timelines they have established to be in Iraq, then they go where they have requested and see who they have requested.
2. Next is a Washington Post article providing a glimpse of Petraeus’s meticulous and politically savvy planning:
The sheets of paper seemed to be everywhere the lawmakers went in the Green Zone, distributed to Iraqi officials, U.S. officials and uniformed military of no particular rank. So when Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) asked a soldier last weekend just what he was holding, the congressman was taken aback to find out.
In the soldier’s hand was a thumbnail biography, distributed before each of the congressmen’s meetings in Baghdad, which let meeting participants such as that soldier know where each of the lawmakers stands on the war. [See examples here.]
….Just who assembled them is not clear. E-mails to U.S. Central Command’s public affairs office in Baghdad this week went unanswered.
“I had never seen that in the past. That’s new,” said Porter, who was on his fourth trip to Iraq. “Now I want to see what they’re saying about me,” he added, when he learned of the contents of his travel companions’ rap sheets.
For one, the quotations appeared to be selected to divide the visitors into those who are with the war effort and those who are against.
Response: First, the sheets of paper were open-source bio’s that were put together based on the members’ web sites and the Congressional Quarterly. Second, these bio’s were provided to those that were going to meet with the members, just as the members recieve bio’s of the key individuals they are going to meet with at their request. Third, the bio’s are only there to assist those that they are meeting with to know how in-depth and the members background knowledge based on topic area that they will be discussing. For example, if a member is not part of the HASC or SASC, more explanations may be required on the military programs/operations than with those that are members of those committees that are more likely to be familiar with the terms of reference. As such if there is a member dealing in appropriations, those that they are meeting with will know from which direction they may approach issues and can be better prepared to respond. This is the simple thing of knowing your audience, nothing more, and to suggest otherwise is completely false. In addition, the reporter failed to provide any comments from MNF-I and to say we could not be reached is sloppy journalism as the Washington Post has a bureau in Baghdad and knows how to reach any number of us 24/7.
3. Finally there was this tidbit offered up by Andrea Mitchell five months ago when the surge was just getting started:
MITCHELL: Petraeus went to the Republican caucus and told them, I will have real progress to you by August….The Republicans were against the surge but they felt it was fait accompli, and that they were willing to give Petraeus until August. He told them there will be real progress by August.
Five months ago Petraeus was guaranteeing to wavering Republicans that they’d see progress in August, precisely the month when the PR campaign was scheduled to go into high gear. Today he’s issuing dire warnings about al-Qaeda hegemony and nine-dollar gas if we leave, circulating bio pages that let his staff know whether they’re dealing with friend or foe among visiting congress members, and insisting repeatedly that violence is down in classified briefings where he doesn’t have to publicly defend his figures.
Response: If you go back you will see that Andrea Mitchell corrected her mistake as Gen Petraeus did not address the Republican caucus. This was in March of this year and it was an open session to both sides of the aisle and in fact, there were members of the Democratic party in attendance. This was at the request of the Department of Defense to provide an update to leading members of Congress (all sides). Gen Petraeus never said that he will have “real progress to you by August.” He did say that the earliest he could determine if there was any progress and a potential for success would be late summer or early fall. The reson for that was that he would not have all the surge forces in place until mid-June and it would take a minimum of 90-days or more to get an indication of the effects the surge was having. You also need to know that Mitchell was not in attendance.
Hope this helps to clarify what is in error in your article and thereby may change the tone and charecterization as well.
Best always and please feel free to contact me at any time to fact check the open sources as needed.
STEVEN A. BOYLAN
Colonel, US Army
Public Affairs Officer to the