Great original reporting on the Huffington Post regarding the “questions” posed by senators at the Iraq hearings earlier this month:
About halfway through the September 11 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing with General David Petraeus and Iraq Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Senator Barbara Boxer of California got her allotted seven minutes to ask questions.
She began by informing Petraeus and Crocker “I represent 37 million people” and that she spends much of her time informing her constituents of “my own views.” She then told the witnesses that “this war is the biggest foreign policy mistake ever” and detailed why.
Boxer’s “question” went on for 1275 words, and used up her entire seven minutes. She wrapped up by saying:
“My question is — and I know I’ve run out of time, so I will have to take it in writing, but it’s a very important one. Don Rumsfeld said no more than six months would this war last. How long will it take now that we’ve spent $20 billion and we’ve trained 350,000 Iraqis in counterinsurgency? When, General Petraeus, can they take over their own defense? Call me old-fashioned — you have a country, you defend it.”
No information was elicited. Nevertheless, Boxer issued a press release headlined “SEN. BOXER ASKS GEN. PETRAEUS TO TAKE OFF ROSE-COLORED GLASSES AND FACE REALITIES IN IRAQ” and posted prominently on the front page of her website a link to a video of her “question” under the heading, “Senator Boxer Asks General Petraeus to Face Realities in Iraq.”
In theory, the purpose of a congressional hearing is to find out information to guide policy-making. In reality, as those who have suffered through such sessions know, the purpose all-too-often is for politicians to tell witness and television cameras what they think, with little or no acquisition of information.
Cross examination at congressional hearings requires extensive research and careful planning, especially when dealing with sophisticated witnesses who are skilled at remaining technically truthful while revealing little.
Some members of the Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee did press for answers, using short, tough questions.
The questioning by the four Democratic presidential candidates in the Senate — Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Chris Dodd — produced mixed results.
Perhaps the most discomfiting was Obama who, after talking for 1,181 words and using up all his time, asked a question that had already been raised more than once:
SEN. OBAMA: And if we’re there at the same place a year from now, can you please describe for me any circumstances in which you would make a different recommendation and suggest it is now time for us to start withdrawing our troops? Any scenario? Any set of benchmarks that have not been met?
AMB. CROCKER: Senator, I described for Senator Sununu a little bit ago some of the things that I think are going to be very important as we move ahead.
SEN. OBAMA: Can you repeat those? And I know I’m out of time.
The author is Thomas Edsall, a prof at the Columbia Journalism school and a former Washington Post reporter. Perhaps we’re seeing a shift to a more European model of the press — where the agenda of the newspapers are well known and accepted.
I’ve started reading the Huffington Post, by the way. Decided I needed to widen the media channels I consume.