Washington Ideas Forum
On 30 September and 1 October 2010 The Aspen Institute, The Atlantic and the Newseum hosted the second annual Washington Ideas Forum. The Forum featured conversations between top newsmakers and journalists. "CEO Conversation" interview sessions and "Headliner Interviews" Program.

This was an opportunity for influential Americans to hear important thinkers and policymakers as they are interviewed by American’s leading journalists. It was a unique celebration of thought and dialogue,” said David Bradley, chairman of Atlantic Media. See the special report news on the website of the Atlantic, special-report Washington Ideas Forum 2010.

Haley Barbour, Governor, State of Mississippi Bob Bennett, Hogan & Hartson, Michael Bloomberg, Mayor, City of New York, NYBill Bratton, Former Chief of Police, Los Angeles Police Department,  Ahmed Chalabi, President, The Governing Council of Iraq Arne Duncan, Secretary, United States Department of Education Elizabeth Edwards, Rahm Emanuel, White House Chief of Staff Ken Feinberg, Administrator, BP Claims FundChristopher Hitchens, Author, Richard Holbrooke, United States Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Parag Khanna, Senior Research Fellow and Director, Global Governance Initiative, New America Foundation
Spike Lee, Director Craig Newmark, Founder, Craigslist.comTheodore Olson, 42nd Solicitor, General United States Department of Justice Heather Podesta Tony Podesta, Founder, The Podesta Group David Rubenstein, Co-Founder and Managing Director, The Carlyle Group, Eric Schmidt, Chief Executive Officer, Google, N.N. Taleb, Author, The Black Swan


Christiane Amanpour, ABC News. James Bennet, The Atlantic. Ron Brownstein, Atlantic Media Company. Erin Burnett, CNBC. Margaret Carlson, Bloomberg. James Fallows, The Atlantic. Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic. John King, CNN. David Rohde, The New York Times. Diane Sawyer, ABC News. Chuck Todd,  NBC News. Chris Wallace, Fox News. George Will, The Washington Post. Brian Williams, NBC News.



The Newseum overlook lunchtime interview

In 2009, The Atlantic, in partnership with the Aspen Institute and the Newseum, introduced the inaugural Washington Ideas Forum. During two days of programming, renowned journalists in key sectors drew out a "First Draft of History" from firsthand accounts of, and personal reflections upon, the events of the historic first year of the Obama administration delivered by a cross-section of leaders in government, business, and education.

Four events (ranging in size from intimate editorial breakfast briefings to a large-scale reception in the Newseum’s Great Hall) and 24 program sessions brought more than 500 individuals together, including members of Congress, University presidents, nonprofit executives, renowned authors, prominent members of the media, and business leaders from virtually every major industry. This year, an impressive list of speakers and panelists has already lined up to take part in Washington Ideas Forum 2010.  The event joins business and thought leaders from around the country and across international borders, with policy makers in Washington, D.C. for a 360° view of the past year's events and in depth look at what lies in the year ahead. For those unable to attend, the event programming and content, including livestream video of all mainstage events, is covered on The Atlantic.com.


Virtue is a noble capacity. Bound up with key values as ideals, expertise, wisdom and realism, acting on this can lead in future to a suitable living climate for societies, in stead of to proceed an era of fatal of too much as we have >>

At the Washington Ideas Forum, Holbrooke said that "success in Afghanistan is not achievable unless Pakistan is not part of the problem. In the end, we're going to work with the Pakistanis as long as I'm involved in this. That's the right policy, and this administration believes that".

He disputed Christiane Amanpour's question about why Pakistan had retaliated against an allegedly accidental border crossing  by cutting off NATO military supply routes.

"Let me be try to phrase it very precisely: first of all, I don't believe that it's going to change the fundamental relationship between our two countries. Apparently some events ... crossed the border ... an area that is ill-defined in areas is complicated and very rough terrain. It was very unfortunate and an investigation is going on by NATO, as it should be, but i do not think it will change the fundamentals of our relationship."

He said that supply routes that been "slowed" but not completely closed.

Holbrooke wouldn't say what "winning the war" means. "I'm not in light at the end of the tunnel stuff," he said.  But over the past year, he said, "the Taliban is under immensely greater pressure, and they are feeling that." He expressed strong support for President Hamid Karzai's Taliban "reintegration" program -- but recognized that it was "not operational" because "it is constrained by the circumstances of this tragic, complicated program." And did not object to Karzai's new efforts to negotiate -- although he does not like that word -- with hard-line Taliban group.

Amanpour wanted to know if the U.S. and NATO forces could get the job done by July 2011, when troops will begin to return home. "The president has not put a fixed deadline. He has said very clearly that withdrawals will be based on a careful and conditioned basis. It's the beginning of a drawdown process. There is no end-state stared."President Obama, Secretary Clinton have all said repeatedly that there has to be a presence in Afghanistan after the combat troops have left. And they will, because [combat troops] are not going to be there indefinitely."

Amanpour bristled when Holbrooke suggested that changing the ancient tribal and religious culture in the region is not a viable goal. Holbrooke bristled at the suggestion that he was condoning crimes against women. He said his point was that "[w]e will never have a day when we will be violence free." One other question Holbrooke would not touch: when the U.S. had decided that destroying the Haqqani network in Pakistan was a prime strategic goal. Holbrooke: "I'm not going to get into that." Amanpour: "That's a direct question." Holbrooke: "That's a direct answer." Amanpour: "That's a direct non-answer." Holbrooke: "You can get on a table if you want."

Richard Holbrooke and Christiane Amanpour

David Rohde, New York Times


Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, speaking at the Washington Ideas Forum in Washington, D.C., argued that a heavily Republican Congress should be able to support the Obama administration's proposals for improving the economy. "We believe there is an overwhelmingly strong economic case, and very broad base political support," for the measures, which include research and development tax credits, infrastructure spending, and a plan to extend all of the Bush tax cuts except those for the wealthiest earners. When asked by New York Times columnist David Leonhardt about the projected Republican wave in the midterms, Geithner said:

"There is no reason why that package of economic reforms can't be enacted by this Congress given the challenges we face." Geithner challenged Republicans to govern responsibly by working with the administration."We're proposing things that are very good for growth, and should be feasible, politically, for a Republican Congress that I think is now going to face the challenge of feeling more responsible for the country's future."

While he did not criticize Republicans, Geithner called on them to take greater responsibility. "These are things we need Congress to act on, and for Congress to act we need Republicans who can work with us," he said. "We're gonna have to hold them to that."

Discussing both the administration's performance so far and its plans going forward, Geithner repeatedly cited examples where bipartisan cooperation had led to productive economic policies and where Congressional gridlock had delayed what he described as necessary reforms. He praised Republicans for supporting some past economic efforts and called Obama's cooperation with the outgoing Bush administration during transition "the noble and important thing to do."

Geithner said of Troubled Asset Relief Program, "I think that was the last program that had a meaningful level of bipartisan support," adding that passing TARP was deeply difficult politically. He warned that trying to "drift through" the ongoing economic problems would ultimately be "much more expensive and much more costly to the country." Geithner added, "The challenges we now face going forward are very different than the challenges we faced two years ago. We're still in a crisis by any broad sense, but we're not in a global financial panic."

When asked about the Republican "pledge," Geithner replied, "It's hard to evaluate because it's really just a press release, it's not really an economic policy


Washington Ideas Forum brings insiders, luminaries and media together, October 5, 2010
George Mocharko, Staff Writer, The Stylus
Friday, October 1, 2010

Washington D.C.— The 2010 Washington Ideas Forum, which took place September 30 to October 1, brought together high level government figures, businesspeople, and the news media for a salon-styled event. The event, presented by The Atlantic in partnership with the Aspen Institute took place at the Knight Conference Center at Washington, D.C.’s Newseum. It was a veritable who’s who of those shaping the policy debates of today.

The two-day seminar included key Obama administration officials such as U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Secretary
 of Education Arne Duncan, Senior Advisor to the President David Axelrod and Domestic Policy Advisor to
 the President Melody Barnes. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, who was originally scheduled to be in attendance, was noticeably absent as the announcement of his departure was just breaking.

Political and business figures presenting included Senators Lindsay Graham and Jim Webb, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, plus David Rubenstein, co-founder of private equity firm The Carlyle Group, economist N.N. Taleb, attorneys Kenneth Feinberg and Bob Bennett, tech-guru Craig Newmark, and lobbyists Tony and Heather Podesta.

The event followed a Q & A format with the questions posed by prominent news media attending and the conversations and interview offered insight into today’s important policy topics.

International and national security issues were also on the table for much of the event. New York Times reporter David Rohde recounted his kidnapping by the Taliban in harrowing detail. AfPak Envoy Richard Holbrooke spoke to Christiane Amanpour about developments in the region. Dr. Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress spoke about the religious influence on Iraqi society stating “The sectarian divide in Iraq is not about theology; it is about power and about power structure.”

Former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, spoke on the emerging issues in cyber security. “The economy of the United State last year was 14 Trillion dollars,” warned McConnell. “There are 2 banks in New York City that move 7 trillion dollars a day. What backs up that money? There’s no gold. There’s no printed dollars.”

There were plenty of candid moments at the Forum as well. When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was asked by Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday whether he would run for president, he responded much like Calvin Coolidge would, with two words: “Can’t win.”

Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who took the stage less than an hour after Tony and Heather Podesta spoke, reminded the crowd of the information divide outside the beltway by claiming “the American public doesn’t realize how many of the laws are written by lobbyists.”

Director Spike Lee, who directed a new film about Hurricane Katrina called, “If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise,” claimed that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was irresponsible in his duties with Michael Brown of FEMA as the fall guy. “People are dead now because he didn’t do his job,” said Lee.

Brian Williams, anchor of NBC News, grilled David Axelrod about the government’s sluggish response to the BP Oil spill and in particular leveled a charge against the President. “Out there there in the country there are people who saw ‘hope’ on the website and clicked on it. And heard ‘change’ and voted for it, and today want to know what happened to that…” Williams continued, “The perception is, and this is not breaking news to you, that you’ve gone Washington.”

“The going Washington suggestion implies that you are doing things to perpetuate yourself in power,” said Axelrod, who is leaving the administration next Spring. “If we were focused on our own interests, we wouldn’t have done any of the things that we did,” referring to the administration’s tough stands it took on Wall Street and health care reform. Yet in the post 9/11 world, “A lot of people are waiting for Barack Obama’s bull horn moment,” said Williams.

If The Washington Ideas Forum continues creating great dialogue and debate like this, it will certainly give other events of its caliber a run for its money—perhaps even trumping its predecessor, the Aspen Ideas Fest.