Laura Rozen has an interesting item about a secret dinner Barack Obama had with some foreign policy experts outside his circle of official advisers:
[Lee] 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. [...]
A source close to Hamilton explained that he had a long relationship with Obama, and noted that many former Hamilton staffers had gone on to be key staffers and foreign policy advisors to Obama.
Among them: Obama speechwriter Ben Rhodes, who wrote speeches and was a policy advisor for Hamilton for several years; Obama’s top foreign-policy advisor Denis McDonough; who worked for Hamilton on the staff of the House International Relations Committee, Obama Mideast advisor Daniel Shapiro, who worked for Hamilton as his professional staff member on the Middle East when Hamilton was chairman of the then-House Foreign Affairs Committee in the 103rd Congress (1993-94); Dan Restrepo, a top Obama Latin America advisor now with the Center for American Progress who worked for Hamilton on the Hill; and Mara Rudman, who worked for Hamilton on the Hill and is now a member of the formal Obama transition team.
There are a few noteworthy things about this. One is that Roger Cohen was observing earlier this week, echoed by many others, that it might be good for Obama to have some people of Arab or Persian ancestry in his brain trust on Mideast issues and not just a spectrum of Jewish-American opinion. And evidently Obama sees some truth to this or he wouldn’t be reaching out to this group. But so how come there aren’t any names like this being bandied about for the top jobs? And then there’s the matter of this national security team featuring Denis McDonough, Ben Rhodes, Daniel Shapiro, and Samantha Power with Lee Hamilton in the background as an eminence grise. That sounds to be an awful lot like the Obama national security team I remember from the campaign. What ever happened to those guys? Or to non-Hamilton folks like Scott Gration and Richard Danzig? Obama feels like he’s already “in the bubble” but it appears to be a bubble overwhelmingly of his own devising. The names we’ve got for the most senior positions—Gates, Lynn, Flournoy, Clinton, Steinberg, Slaughter, Jones, Donilon—are all well-qualified people, but it’s really striking that none of them are Obama’s people. It’s not surprising to me that he might start to feel uncomfortable with that situation, but I don’t really see why he created the situation in the first place.