The press charter for Obama's overseas trip is about to take off from Chicago's Midway Airport. We will refuel in Shannon, Ireland, and land in Amman, Jordan. Here is a quick Q and A explainer of why all of us are still here -- in Chicago -- while Obama is NOT. He's been to Afghanistan and is en route to eventually visit Iraq. This is not a secret. The precise timing and location of the Iraq leg cannot and will not be discussed, for security reasons.
I prepared this memo for internal network consumption. It's been consumed. Now it's yours. I'll be back when we land in Jordan.
Q: Is there a difference between the Afghanistan and Iraq part of the trip and the rest of it?
A: Yes, and it's an important difference to explain to our audience. Think of the Obama trip in two parts and, with unceasing apologies to Tolstoy, an easy split is War and Peace.
The "war" part is Afghanistan and Iraq. The "peace" part is the rest of it -- Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and Great Britain. Obama will study war conditions in both countries and emphasize how much he's "listening," but has already said he won't fundamentally change his core ideas about what to do in either war zone. The peace component will focus on what he hears and discusses in Jordan and Israel about talks with the Palestinians (with whom he will also meet, for details see earlier post). The peace part will also deal with relations with top European allies and a big speech on the future of the "Trans-Atlantic alliance" in Berlin, near but not at the Brandenburg Gate.
Q; Why isn't the press with Obama in Afghanistan and Iraq?
A: Because that trip (the "war" part), is a congressional delegation trip (codel, for short). There are strict rules on media coverage for codels. Only the Senate Majority Leader or a full Committee Chairman can bring a traveling press corps on a codel trip. Obama is not a committee chairman. His traveling companions, Sens. Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, and Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, aren't either.
That means no traveling press. US taxpayers finance codels and the military runs the flight schedule and procedures.
Q; What about the "peace" part of the trip.
A; That's not a congressional delegation trip, but a campaign trip. By campaign trip I mean the travel is handled the same way every other campaign trip has been handled. I'm not saying it's a political trip other than to say it's outside of congressional delegation rules and regulations. The trip has obvious political implications and they are just as ripe in Afghanistan and Iraq and anywhere else. But the campaign travel regimen only applies to the non-Afghanistan and Iraq parts. Reporters traveling on those legs are part of a charter flight that its news organization pays for on a seat-by-seat basis, depending on how many bodies its sends. On this leg, the press corps will travel with Obama, go where he goes and will have access to his senior staff (to the degree they play ball).
Q; Who will cover Obama in Afghanistan and Iraq?
A: In-country reporters with agencies, networks and wire services.
Q: Can we report Obama's going to Iraq?
A: Yes. But we can't say when. There is tight operational security about all movements out of Afghanistan and into Iraq. This is a miltary air operation and they call the shots. For security reasons we can only say Obama's heading to Iraq - no specifics on timing.
Q: Do we know who Obama will meet with on the "peace" part of the trip?
A: Yes. I have filed on my blog a list of world leaders and opposition party figures Obama will meet with on the trip.