Pulitzer Winner Breaks Silence About Private Dinner With Obama, Historians : The Two-Way Last year, President Obama had a secret dinner at his house, with nine major American historians. Garry Wills says many of them warned the president about the war in Afghanistan's effect on his legacy.

Pulitzer Winner Breaks Silence About Private Dinner With Obama, Historians

Last year, President Obama invited nine historians to the White House, to get their advice. Pulitzer Prize winner Garry Wills says the president ignored their words of caution. Saul Loeb/AFP hide caption

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Saul Loeb/AFP

Last year, President Obama invited nine historians to the White House, to get their advice. Pulitzer Prize winner Garry Wills says the president ignored their words of caution.

Saul Loeb/AFP

On NYR Blog, Garry Wills, a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, breaks his silence about a dinner he had at the White House last year, with eight other eminent historians -- Michael Beschloss, H.W. Brands, Douglas Brinkley, Robert Caro, Robert Dallek, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and David Kennedy -- and President Obama.

Reporting on the event, which took place on June 30, 2009, a reporter for U.S. News and World Report said it "provided rare insight into Obama's intellectual curiosity, how he views his job, and, most important, his belief that he has a remarkable opportunity to bring transformational change to America."

According to White House aides, "Obama asked each of his guests to talk about the presidents he or she had studied, with the goal of providing insights into the problems that Obama faces today."

In his post, Wills says he initially refused to discuss the dinner conversation, even though he "argued elsewhere that the imposition of secrecy to insure that the president gets 'candid advice' is a cover for something else -- making sure that what is said about the people's business does not reach the people."

But I went along this time, since the president said that he wanted this dinner to be a continuing thing, and I thought that revealing its first contents would jeopardize the continuation of a project that might be a source of information for him.

But there has been no follow up on the first dinner, and certainly no sign that he learned anything from it. The only thing achieved has been the silencing of the main point the dinner guests tried to make -- that pursuit of war in Afghanistan would be for him what Vietnam was to Lyndon Johnson.

According to Wills, "at least four or five of the nine stressed this."

"I told him that Richard Nixon had advised Ronald Reagan not to make too many public statements himself -- let others speak on a daily basis, and save his appearances for big issues," Wills writes. "Obama replied that he would speak less often in the future, but at the moment no one else in his administration could command the attention that he did."

He added that Secretary Clinton had some ability to get the public’s ear, but she could not speak on domestic issues like the economy.

When Obama said that he was surprised that the left was so critical of him, I said that it would continue to be critical so long as he issued signing statements before passage of a law. He asked which one I objected to, and I said that any are unconstitutional. At the end of the meal, he went around the table one time more to ask if there was a final bit of advice we would give. When my turn came, I joined those who had already warned him about an Afghanistan quagmire. I said that a government so corrupt and tribal and drug-based as Afghanistan’s could not be made stable. He replied that he was not naive about the difficulties but he thought a realistic solution could be reached. I wanted to add "when pigs fly," but restrained myself.