Bush's meeting with past Secretaries of State & Defense--Wisdom by osmosis?

Sunday, January 08, 2006 at 09:10 AM

On Thursday, Jan. 6, 2006, according to the Washington Post "President Bush summoned most of the living former secretaries of state and defense to the White House...for what participants described as a cordial but pointed discussion about the future of Iraq."

The Seattle Times remarked that "The session included a photo opportunity and presidential statement after the president spent an hour with" the 13 advisers.  To my mind, that pretty well tells the story: mention the photo-op and be sure to convey the idea that the discussion must have been p-r-e-t-t-y limited.  One hour--60 minutes for the time-challenged--to get input from 13 sage advisers.  That works out to about 4.6 minutes per sage adviser, even if you don't deduct time for the hi, how are you's, and the so long, nice to have seen you's. Four and six tenths minutes to impart your cumulative wisdom.  Let's face it, folks, on a subject like the invasion and occupation of a foreign country, which you hope to transform from a tyrannical dictatorship to a well-spring of democracy, 4.6 minutes is akin to having a chat about relativity theory during a coffee break at which Einstein happened to drop by.  If any knowledge worth having was conveyed from the wise to the wisdom seeker, it was by osmosis.

One definition of osmosis: the passage of water from a region of high water concentration through a semi-permeable membrane to a region of low water concentration.  Substitute knowledge or wisdom for "water" and you have a likely scenario for osmosis involving Mr. Bush and the collection of sages.

The meeting was pretty succinctly summed up by Rupert Cornwell in The New Zealand Herald as follows:
"The assembling of such political and intellectual firepower was part of the new White House PR strategy to show that Bush was open to all shades of opinion on Iraq, and prepared to admit that big problems remain.

"But there is scant sign the session will change his policies.

"The President promised to "take to heart" their suggestions - only to reiterate his double-track strategy of keeping US troops in Iraq while helping Iraqis to build their own democracy and the security forces needed to defend it."

Even that piece was misleadingly headlined as "Bush proves willing to hear dissent."  Given the actual tenor of the piece, shouldn't the headline have been "Bush proves willing to seem willing to hear dissent?"

As the AP release styled by the Detroit Free Press stated: "Bush offered no evidence he plans any significant changes in strategy."

As styled for the Chicago Sun-Times, the AP release noted that Bush "gambled that one-time high-level public officials, when personally summoned by the president, would resist temptation to be too critical."

Gambled successfully, apparently.  The Washington Post coverage included this little gem: "While the president was challenged once or twice in the meeting, according to participants, White House aides believed they accomplished their twin goals of portraying a more solicitous president and underscoring the broad bipartisan agreement that a speedy withdrawal from Iraq would be unwise and potentially devastating to U.S. interests."

My question for this aggregation of sages: what exactly made you willing ti be part of such a blatant photo-op, with no real chance of imparting any information that would cause this administration to deviate one iota from its determined path?  Are you all believers in osmosis?  Could you feel your knowledge slowly seeping from your aging skin, flowing across the polished table, and into the president's unwilling hands?

As a bonus lesson on the inherent "spin" involved even in choosing a headline for a news piece, witness these headlines describing this single White House meeting--I suspect you'd have very different impressions if you only read the headlines:

Bush summons ex-Cabinet members for advice

Bush Listens to Suggestions on Iraq

Bush Convenes a Session to Discuss His Iraq Strategy

Former Cabinet members aid Bush

Bush proves willing to hear dissent

Ex-officials briefed on Iraq

Bush Brings Ex-Cabinet Officials Into Iraq Discussion

Strong words from the old guard

A Not-Always-Diplomatic Gathering (LA Times; subscription required)

Bush reaches out for views on Iraq policies