Sitting Down With Our Enemies
Barack Obama fulfilled a campaign promise yesterday, even before his inauguration, by negotiating with his enemies.
President-elect Barack Obama spent Tuesday evening at a dinner party with several prominent conservative columnists, including William Kristol and David Brooks of The New York Times, according to an Obama transition pool report.
Mr. Obama, who has been staying at the Hay-Adams Hotel in advance of his inauguration next week, arrived at 9 Grafton Street, an upscale address in Chevy Chase, Md., at 6:34 p.m. The Montgomery County property tax records list this address as the home of the conservative Washington Post columnist George Will, the host of the dinner party. Also attending the party was Charles Krauthammer The Washington Post. Together, some of the columnists at the dinner party have been some of Mr. Obama’s severest critics.
I'm of two minds on this. Much like elevating Rick Warren, this elevates the likes of Kristol and Brooks as if they are serious folk whose ideas must be respected. However, it's only a dinner, and as I said, it was a campaign promise. Not to mention the fact that it's straight out of the counterinsurgency textbook:
One of the more frustrating aspects of counterinsurgency involves talking to the people who were recently shooting at you -- sometimes while they're shooting at you. Often that gets misinterpreted as softness, but it's more of a recognition that the only way to achieve a true victory is by co-opting your opponents. What looks like a decisive victory one day can easily be overturned by a simmering sense among the vanquished that they have no place in the new regime, and therefore have little recourse besides resistance. The objective in launching these sorts of parleys with your opponents is two-fold. First, to see if they can be placated, and whether the price of doing so is acceptable. And second, to visibly demonstrate to the broader population that you've taken every reasonable step at reaching out to these adversaries -- so if they rebuke you and you counterattack, you look like the reasonable party and they look like the rejectionists. It's generally a sound strategy, and it's achieved real results.
One final point - the Obama mantra of talking to people who disagree with him has so far not spread to his liberal critics. Hopefully that dinner will be organized soon. It should be - otherwise there's a certain imbalance to the effort.
UPDATE: The report is that Obama met with liberal columnists this morning.
Today's group included the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne and Eugene Robinson, the Wall Street Journal's Jerry Seib, National Journal's Ron Brownstein, the New York Times Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd, and MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, among others.
While I'm glad Rachel was in the room, these aren't CRITICS, by and large, nor are most of them even liberals. This is the typical thinking in Washington, where the range of policy ideas ranges from the Weekly Standard to The New Republic. Put the President-elect in a room with Arianna Huffington, Robert Scheer, Katha Pollitt, Katrina vanden Heuvel, maybe a few liberal bloggers. That would say something.