The secret dinner with Obama you haven’t heard about

The secret dinner with Obama you haven’t heard about
Thu, 01/15/2009

At a quiet dinner meeting late last week in Washington's Ronald Reagan Building, President-elect Obama reached out to outside foreign-policy experts, trying to resist the presidential bubble that is rapidly closing around him.

Late afternoon last Thursday (Jan. 8), scholars and staff at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars noticed an unusual upgrade in the security of the top floors of their building, which also houses USAID, the EPA, a public food court, and some foreign television stations. The Wilson Center hosts high-level people all the time, but this security detail was of a different order, sources said.

And indeed, some suspected that Obama was coming to dine in the 8th-floor offices of Lee Hamilton, the quasi-governmental think tank's president -- a hunch they confirmed the next day.

Hamilton, the longtime House member from Indiana who cochaired the Iraq Study Group, the 9/11 Commission, and numerous others over the years, has become a kind of wise-man mentor to Obama. Last Thursday, the Wilson Center president assembled a small collection of scholars on the Middle East and South Asia for a meeting that stretched through dinner for hours into the night.

Among those who attended the off-the-record dinner: Iran scholar Haleh Esfandiari; Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid (who had flown in from Lahore); Obama friend and foreign-policy advisor Samantha Power of Harvard University (who accompanied PEOTUS to the meeting); incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel; and a few others. Obama told the group, none of whom reached would discuss the details, that he already felt in the bubble and was trying his best to meet with independent experts.

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