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The State Dinner and Afghanistan: Stepping Up to the Plate

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Unlike the wide coverage given to the tedious sessions President Obama has held about Afghanistan, the planning for the White House State Dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was conducted in complete secrecy. No leaks whatsoever.

It's a pity. First of all, the President himself also convened these discussions and held meeting after meeting after meeting. Instead of a War Council, he assembled a Kitchen Cabinet.

Actually, Michelle Obama sat at the head of this table, but it's fair to say that Barack was the power behind her throne. As a result, the gatherings featured interminable debates between advocates of a full commitment of the social staff and those who argued for a much more limited option.

Particularly valuable, as one might imagine, was the input from Hillary Rodham Clinton. She brought a unique combination of experiences to the process. Not only could she share her perspectives as Secretary of State and former First Lady, she had also spent those many years as Governor's wife in Arkansas, so her knowledge of "Country Come to Town" society events was unmatched.

And that was the crux of this internal debate. Should this be the usual highfalutin' formal affair, which Secretary/Mrs. Clinton favored, or should it be closer to what Vice President Joe Biden was advocating, where the President would invite everyone "to the White House for a beer". Hey, it had worked once before.

Should they use paper plates or real ones, considering India's sensitivity about China? Should it be a strictly vegetarian menu, given Mr. Singh's diet or should the selections include red meat to satisfy the Republican guests? Should they invite House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who might wonder aloud who should pay for this?

Should it be a sit down dinner or maybe a buffet? How about really breaking with formal tradition and instead of holding it in the ornate State Dining Room, how about throwing a tent up in the backyard?

Well we now know the result of all this dinner-dithering. The President finally decided on both tent and china. The consensus approach apparently worked and everyone was pleased everyone happy.

Don't be surprised, though, if the one coming up on Afghanistan next week, has the totally opposite reaction...the reaction more typical of a compromise, where no one is happy.