The White House just released the list of those attending the State Dinner honoring India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Cool list actually. But not just because it's India night -- but because there are a lot of folks that could push other agendas in Obama Land.
Domestic Policy Council chief Melody Barnes, who recently expressed support for "gay marriage" will be there. I admire her and have been irritated by the pressure others in the White House operation have brought on her to retract or reframe her comments.
Gay iconic businessman David Geffen and his excellent partner Jeremy Lingvall will be there and should give Melody Barnes some support -- and to make their case to Michelle and Barack Obama that being absent in today's civil rights movement shouldn't be part of his presidency. Obama and team need to reconnect with the gay community which has a lot of doubt about his support of an end to Don't Ask, Don't Tell and for an end to other anti-gay discriminatory legislation.
But having Geffen and Lingvall at this dinner is a great move -- and was Rahm Emanuel's doing. I haven't been able to credit Emanuel with much lately -- but he did the right thing tonight.
On another front, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman will be there tonight -- and so too will be New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. The connection? Cuba.
Both strongly support moving the US-Cuba relationship into new territory and ending the restrictions on travel to Cuba for American citizens. Oddly, American citizens today can travel to North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, virtually anywhere in the world -- but because the Cold War still rages 90 miles off the US border, US citizens can't go to Cuba freely. This is a self-damaging restriction on American rights that should be ended -- and Berman and Bill Richardson are on the case. Look for them whispering in the President's ear.
After all, India joined 186 other nations in voting against us a few weeks go in the United Nations condemning the US embargo of Cuba.
Intelligence adviser to the President John Brennan will be there -- and so too will be his policy and political rival, White House Counsel Gregory Craig. Greg Craig is leaving the White House on January 10, but Obama really should begin talking to Craig right away about a new role. My suggestion is that he replace Israel/Palestine Envoy George Mitchell, who will not be at the dinner tonight.
Greg Craig would be excellent on the defining Middle East challenges facing the US -- and my suggestion is that we encourage Senator Mitchell to try his hand at brokering peace among warring White House factions around Obama and Rahm Emanuel.
On the journalistic front, Tom Friedman of the New York Times will be there -- and so too will Fareed Zakaria whose star continues to climb. Zakaria has largely been quite positive about the presidency of Barack Obama and not taken any substantial jabs at the White House -- but I suspect that after an invite like this one, he'll have to balance out his hyper-access with some substantial critique of the limited results of the Obama team's foreign policy accomplishments.
Some other cool names: Michele Flournoy, Louisian Governor Bobby Jindal, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, Hunter Biden, Jim Steinberg, Jack Lew, Under Secretary of State Bill Burns, the Afghanistan War Tax advocate Representative David Obey, OMB chief Peter Orszag, General Colin Powell, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, Ben Rhodes (very cool dude), US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, Vinod Shah and John Doerr, Amartya Sen, Steven Spielberg, oops -- and I forgot Brian Williams.
But some interesting folks are not there.
If I had any influence over the White House social secretary, I would have invited Steve Coll, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the book that Barack Obama has been carrying around with him for 11 months, Ghost Wars. Coll has been one of the most articulate advocates of an India-Pakistan rapprochement that eventually decreases tensions in Afghanistan and the broader region. Coll and Obama went to Occidental College together -- and he would have been on my list for the evening.
Dennis Ross will be there -- but neither George Mitchell nor Richard Holbrooke, who is reportedly off skiing for the weekend. But it would seem to me that Holbrooke's portfolio is closer to India matters than what Ross is doing with Iran.
Where is Brent Scowcroft? Maybe the former National Security Adviser was busy tonight, but really -- he is a guy Obama turns to behind the scenes and should have been invited.
Zbigniew and Emilie Brzezinski are other obvious DC political personalities who are missing from the roster. Brzezinski's early endorsement of President Obama's campaign was significant -- and it is always good to have Brzezinski and Scowcroft on your side -- but neither will be at Obama's side tonight.
Two guys who should have definitely been there and somehow either kept themselves in the background or weren't invited are former National Security Council chief of staff Mark Lippert and current National Security Council chief of staff Denis McDonough. These guys for quite a while were the most significant axis of power in the foreign policy arena, and Obama trusts them. McDonough works extremely hard, as recently recounted in David Plouffe's book, The Audacity to Win, so may have been too busy. But come to think of it, David Plouffe is not on the list.
Eric Schmidt of Google would have been on my recommended list -- even though General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt is there. I would have not allowed Larry Summers to bring a guest -- and would have asked Paul Volcker to fill that seat.
Where are any of the Republicans for Obama? The three that got that movement going are philanthropist Rita Hauser, former Republican Senator turned independent Lincoln Chafee, and former House of Reps Republican internationalist Jim Leach. Not on the list!
I'd add Susan Eisenhower and General Wesley Clark. Missing in action both -- and they shouldn't be.
I am also surprised not to see Caroline Kennedy -- who may be done with the political scene as far as running for office, but America needs her at State Dinners!
For fun -- I'd include Jon Stewart and Bill Maher, and Arianna Huffington, but they are not on the list.
Gary Hart and former Defense Secretary William Cohen should really be there tonight -- both for the leadership they have shown in foreign policy, but also because they both are reservoirs of smart thinking on India.
Where are Chuck Hagel and David Boren -- the incoming co-chairs of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board....and where is R. Nicholas Burns??? When serving as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Nick Burns put the US-India nuclear deal together. He worked with Evan Bayh's father -- the much more progressive than Evan former Senator Birch Bayh, who should have been invited.
I'll stop there....but I could keep going. It's as much fun thinking about who is not there as who is.
Except for David Geffen and Jeremy Lingvall who will be the life of the party, I'm sure.
-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note