Diplomacy Under the Sea

(AP Photo/Maldives Presidency)
Saturday Oct. 17 will be a date that could take up an interesting place in the history books. Because on that day – as far as we can ascertain – the world's first-ever underwater cabinet meeting will take place. It will take place in the Maldives -- an Indian Ocean archipelago of 1,192 coral islets, most of which lie barely five feet above sea level. The idea of the conclave beneath the waves is to highlight any connection that may exist between global warming and rising seas.

President Mohammed Nasheedand 14 cabinet ministers – all of whom have hopefully been taking scuba lessons – will plunge 20 feet under water and conduct business, primarily a treaty calling on the rest of the world to cut greenhouse emissions. It sounds a bit eccentric, but in the Maldives it's no laughing matter. Some leaders of the islands have even thought about purchasing a homeland in Australia, India or Sri Lanka for its 330,000 citizens who are believed to be endangered by the encroachment of the sea.

If you're wondering how the ministers will actually conduct business, they will apparently be using white boards and hand signals amid the bubbles. The plan is to compose a statement for submission to the UN climate summit in Copenhagen Dec. 7-18. I have no doubt this is very serious – albeit grandstanding -- stuff on the Maldives. But think of the possibilities it raises if underwater cabinet meetings spread beyond the islands.

Congress could head for the Potomac River or perhaps the Tidal Basin to submerge itself in work – the latter being a possibly more complicated setting than the river itself, since it is where the immortal Fanne Fox, a stripper and sometime paramour of a former House Ways and Means chairman, Rep. Wilbur Mills, once took a swim rather than confront journalists tailing her. But I digress.

I'd leave the oxygen tanks on shore. The slow pace of legislation might speed up considerably if every congressman had to hold his or her breath under water.

The Obama administration's cabinet could take a cue from the Maldives and plunge right in. There would probably be a lot less fighting for the president's attention and more serious "discussion" of issues scribbled under water. Note taking could be a problem, but there would probably be no tapes to worry about.

If he'd had it to do all over again, Richard Nixon would probably have seen the wisdom of discussions in the murky depths for just that reason. Instead of an 18 and a half minute gap, there would have been no record at all except for the hurried penmanship of rapidly running Sharpies. John Dean's warning of a cancer on the presidency would have been little more than an oily film washing ashore at the Thompson Boat Center in Georgetown.

Perhaps the Chicago City Council might consider doing business deep in Lake Michigan. The city budget for next year is projected to be half a billion dollars underwater anyway. Perhaps the council members could get a better grasp of that spending concern well below the surface where something fishy might be easier to spot.

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.