“[Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor Ben] Rhodes, 38, said in the article that it was easy to shape a favorable impression of the proposed (Iran) agreement because of the inexperience of many of those covering the issue.
“All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus,” he said. “Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.” ”
Old man Rhodes—38 years old when that quote was uttered—knows whereof he speaks. Prior to becoming a mover and shaker in foreign affairs, this was his own resume: born in 1977, majored in English and political science at Rice and graduated in 2000, got an MFA in creative writing at NYU in 2002.
Sort of like the resumes of those kid reporters he’s talking about. He “literally [sic] knew nothing.”
Then in 2002 Rhodes got his big break, one I confess I don’t fully understand even though I’ve read quite a bit about him over the years (his brother was in the news business and later become the head of CBS News, but didn’t hold that position at the time). This is what happened:
In 2002, James Gibney, editor of Foreign Policy, introduced Rhodes to Lee Hamilton, former member of the House of Representatives and director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who was looking for a speechwriter. Rhodes then spent five years as an assistant to Hamilton, helping to draft the Iraq Study Group Report and the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.
So, was the 25-year old recent creative writing Master’s recipient Ben Rhodes hired by the Democrat Hamilton (who’d been a member of Congress for about three decades, and had a great deal of experience) on the strength of his writing and editing skills? Even in that capacity he was pretty green. At any rate, the Iraq Study Report that Rhodes helped to author was roundly criticized by just about everyone on the right, for what that’s worth.
What did Rhodes the creative writer, who at that point had never been to the Middle East or studied it as far as I know, a young man of 25 when he began that particular gig, actually contribute to the report? I don’t know, but he made it clear that he didn’t think much of the people he was working with: “When [Rhodes] was a staff writer on the congressionally mandated Iraq Study Group in 2007, Samuels reports, Rhodes concluded most foreign policy decision makers were ‘morons.'”
At that point, what popped into my head was “Holden Caulfield.” And sure enough, the author of that Bloomberg piece (Eli Lake) had much the same thought:
Let’s start with our Holden Caufield character. When Rhodes decided to give up fiction writing and take up foreign policy, he landed his first job at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
Lake doesn’t seem to know much more about what Rhodes actually did there (other than sneer at the moronic old fogies who were in charge) than I do. No wonder Rhodes had a lot in common with Barack Obama, who had much the same high opinion of himself, and for whom experience had little valence.
Here’s more on Rhodes and the Iraq Study Group (although we still don’t know what “Rhodes wrote” means in this context; does it refer to contributing ideas and content, or just to the putting-together of the words in a readable manner?):
When Hamilton was named co-chair of the Iraq Study Group in 2006, Rhodes helped him write that panel’s landmark report as well. Most notably, Rhodes wrote a majority of the chapter advocating direct U.S. diplomatic engagement with Iran and Syria, a recommendation that would have considerable influence on President Barack Obama beginning in 2009. Indeed, Obama ultimately adopted most of the report’s 79 suggestions. Critics have noted that the report’s “expert list” was heavily weighted with pro-Arab apologists who directed a number of rebukes pointedly at Israel. According to the American Thinker, “Some of the experts who were interviewed were appalled by the final written report because they felt it did not reflect facts, their testimony, or reality.”
Then in 2007 at age 30 Rhodes became Obama’s speechwriter and trusted policy advisor. Shortly afterwards, he wrote (among other things) Obama’s famous Cairo speech.
The depth of the irony of this man criticizing those reporters in that interview is immense.
In that same interview [emphasis mine]:
A May 2016 New York Times profile reported that Rhodes was, “according to the consensus of the two dozen current and former White House insiders…the single most influential voice shaping American foreign policy aside from [President Obama] himself; that according to Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough, the president and Rhodes communicated ‘regularly, several times a day’; and that ‘part of what accounts for Rhodes’s influence is his mind meld with the president.'”…
Like Obama, Rhodes is a storyteller who uses a writer’s tools to advance an agenda that is packaged as politics but is often quite personal. He is adept at constructing overarching plotlines with heroes and villains, their conflicts and motivations supported by flurries of carefully chosen adjectives, quotations and leaks from named and unnamed senior officials. He is the master shaper and retailer of Obama’s foreign-policy narratives, at a time when the killer wave of social media has washed away the sand castles of the traditional press. His ability to navigate and shape this new environment makes him a more effective and powerful extension of the president’s will than any number of policy advisers or diplomats or spies. His lack of conventional real-world experience of the kind that normally precedes responsibility for the fate of nations — like military or diplomatic service, or even a master’s degree in international relations, rather than creative writing — is still startling.”
Yes, it is “still startling.” That’s why I’m still writing about it, in addition to the fact that our present world has been shaped by it, particularly our relations with Iran. But it makes perfect sense that Rhodes was chosen by Obama for such an influential position (and that for the most part, the MSM didn’t challenge that choice). Obama is and was all about the narrative, the smooth appearance, the words. Rhodes is and was all about the same thing; perhaps even more so.
No wonder they are so often described as having had a “mind-meld.” No wonder they led us into such a mess. And no wonder so many people were hypnotized by them.
That WaPo article I linked to at the outset goes on to detail how Rhodes’ fingerprints were on almost every bad decision that Obama made (well worth reading the whole thing)—including the Benghazi coverup. But let’s not blame Rhodes overly; Obama did what Rhodes said not because he liked to listen to someone else’s advice, but because Rhodes’ opinion was the same as Obama’s opinion (mind-meld). It was a reassuring Obama-echo that spoke in another’s voice.
One of Rhodes’ last official acts was to attend the funeral of Castro as Obama’s representative. How very fitting.
The mystery is not so much how Rhodes got to be Obama’s right-hand man: neither man had any respect for experience, both are interested in convincing through words, both have the foreign policy attitude of sophomores in college, and both think they are the smartest people in the room. The puzzle to me with Rhodes remains those first big jobs, the 9/11 report and then the Iraq Study Group authorship.
I’ll let that mystery rest for now and ask what is our boy wonder doing these days? After all, he’s not yet 40, and has all that great experience behind him. Well, for one thing, Rhodes is currently under Congressional investigation:
Ben Rhodes…is under scrutiny in the wake of disclosures he was declined interim clearance status by the FBI in 2008, when the administration was moving into the White House…
Lawmakers are now concerned that Rhodes’ access to the top levels of government—including its diplomacy with Iran—is inappropriate due to the FBI’s concerns about his past…
The FBI was to complete a full review into Rhodes after the transition. It remains unclear what they concluded…
Rhodes was granted full security clearance before Obama’s 2008 inauguration, [a] source disclosed…
“For the FBI to evidently find something in Mr. Rhodes’ background that led it to potentially deny him a security clearance only to have Mr. Rhodes work at the highest levels of the Obama administration shakes the entire clearance process to the core,” the lawmakers wrote. “Mr. Rhodes has working in the White House for the past seven years and is the architect of the Iran deal ‘echo chamber,’ as he recently described himself.”…
The lawmakers also are seeking to learn if the Obama administration applied political pressure to the FBI in order to obtain a security clearance for Rhodes.
With Rhodes, you never quite know whether what he’s saying is just shooting the breeze (as Holden Caulfield might say), or if he’s being sincere. But I think I’ve found a recent quote of Rhodes’ (from an interview he gave during the transition to the Trump administration) in which Rhodes tells why Obama hired him and put him in a position of such power, at least how Rhodes saw it. To me, this has the ring of truth:
Third, I guess I’m just young and a different profile and I know that that upsets people, but I always felt that I represented the people who elected President Obama, who were young people and they should have a voice and their worldview is our worldview. They think it’s stupid not to engage people. They don’t know why we wouldn’t make a deal with Iran.
I read that quote after I had already written that Rhodes and Obama share “the foreign policy attitudes of sophomores in college.” But that’s basically what Rhodes is saying here. Now, there’s nothing wrong with sophomores in college. But they’re still in college for a reason, not at the helm of the ship of state.
In that same interview, Rhodes answers another question of mine—what he plans to do now. The mind-meld continues:
I’ll write some form of a memoir, one that will also be an argument on behalf of what we were doing. And I’m going to be a senior adviser to the president on his international work, including at his foundation.
Ben—go forth, be happy, write your memoir, leave us alone. Please.
[NOTE: Those who criticize Donald Trump for lack of experience probably didn’t have any problem with Rhodes at the time. I must say in Trump’s favor that, despite Trump’s inexperience, he certainly hasn’t chosen people with a similar lack of experience in foreign affairs.]