A stunning profile of Ben Rhodes, the asshole who is the president’s foreign policy guru | Foreign Policy


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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22 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I’m consistently surprised that we haven’t yet elected someone who, on day three, says something like “Holy crap, they’ve been briefing me for the last two days and you wouldn’t *BELIEVE* the crap the last guy got away with!!!”Report

    • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Jaybird says:

      My first guess as to why that doesn’t happen is that the first person who does it will make it the norm forever more. No new weapons ever get retired after they’re used the first time, so you can be sure the next guy will stick that knife straight into your back as you walk out the door at the end of your term.

      The other reason I can think of is this: Your typical ex-president is still alive. If you break the code of silence between current and past presidents, you’re making an enemy who can dump right back on you. Worse, he has plenty of media clout and a lot more time on his hands than you do, and he has a lot less to lose. I bet a really ticked off ex-president could make a ridiculous amount of trouble for his successor by stirring things up in the media if he really wanted to.Report

      • Avatar InMD in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

        And that is precisely the reason there are not and never will be any serious investigations by the executive branch into its own past malfeasance. It’s an OrwellIan twist on ‘judge not lest ye be judged.’Report

      • You’ve forgotten the sniping which went on between Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan. It wasn’t terribly frequent, but it went on. Obama’s and his minions are not above blaming the previous administration. Also, administration A doesn’t necessarily leave administration B much in the way of scandal that isn’t publicly known.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

      And yet that never seems to happen, which should tell you something.Report

  2. Avatar greginak says:

    This comes off as more about the writer then Rhodes. What is incorrect about his criticisms of political reporters. Hell that sounds right on. All they care about is horse race and political maneuvering and have no knowledge of policy or international affairs. That is a criticism that has been lobbed at the press by all sorts of people. Calling the foreign policy establishment “the blob”, umm yeah, that kind of thing is really common among experienced types in the military and state dept. In fact they are called worse.Report

  3. Avatar Art Deco says:

    Rhodes strikes me as someone who exemplifies the Administration. An articulate person whose fundamental vocation is to be part of a pr apparat. And, of course, he was quite well-connected. And deceitful.Report

    • Avatar NoPublic in reply to Art Deco says:

      That’s enough projection for a 70mm film.Report

    • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Art Deco says:

      I’m having a hard time understanding how the “advisor for strategic communication” is not supposed to be part of the PR apparat. Much of the criticism of Rhodes seems to forget this and assumes that his role is some kind of impartial fact-checker and not, you know, the president’s strategic communicator.Report

  4. Avatar aaron david says:

    Uhhmm, I am seeing a different A-hole here, not Rhodes. In fact, the writer seems to be going out of his whay to prove Rhodes right.

    Man, FP is falling as fast as everyone else.Report

    • Yeah, on the second part of the quoted portion Rhodes seems right on the mark. The idea that America can or should have control over everything that’s going on in different regions of the world is ridiculous and destructive, and needs to go.

      If you’re under the illusion that you have or had control, then you’ll go to great lengths, damaging lengths, in order to maintain control. That’s what’s been behind many of American leaders’ decisions to invade and/or sponsor coups in other nations, with usually disastrous consequences.

      From the NYT article:

      Rhodes strategized and ran the successful Iran-deal messaging campaign, helped negotiate the opening of American relations with Cuba after a hiatus of more than 50 years

      Okay, liking him even better now. The Iran deal and normalization of relations with Cuba were two of the most sensible foreign policy decisions the Obama Administration has made.Report

  5. Avatar trizzlor says:

    Just to be clear, this is a profile that has the following on-the-record statements:

    “People construct their own sense of source and credibility now,” she said. “They elect who they’re going to believe.” For those in need of more traditional-seeming forms of validation, handpicked Beltway insiders like Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic and Laura Rozen of Al-Monitor helped retail the administration’s narrative. “Laura Rozen was my RSS feed,” Somanader offered. “She would just find everything and retweet it.”

    In the spring of last year, legions of arms-control experts began popping up at think tanks and on social media, and then became key sources for hundreds of often-clueless reporters. “We created an echo chamber,” he admitted, when I asked him to explain the onslaught of freshly minted experts cheerleading for the deal. “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”

    When I suggested that all this dark metafictional play seemed a bit removed from rational debate over America’s future role in the world, Rhodes nodded. “In the absence of rational discourse, we are going to discourse the [expletive] out of this,” he said. “We had test drives to know who was going to be able to carry our message effectively, and how to use outside groups like Ploughshares, the Iran Project and whomever else. So we knew the tactics that worked.”

    … and Ricks thinks the worst part is an insult against Iraq war promoters? Yeah, this says a lot more about FP than it does about Rhodes.Report

  6. Rhodes committed a huge gaffe. He told the truth.Report

  7. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    For those of you interested, Jeffery Goldberg (no uber pro-Iran deal guy by any long shot) had a really blistering response to Samuels over at The Atlantic website.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

      Though Goldberg is at this point all-in in defining Obama’s foreign policy and its execution as heroically as possible – which is exactly as Rhodes would like as well.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Kolohe says:

        Really, that’s an interesting characterization of Goldberg’s stated position re: the Iran deal.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe in reply to North says:

          That’s a statement of Goldberg’s position on the complete scope of Obama’s foreign relations posture – even if there’s quibbles in the details that Goldberg still holds onto – based on the long article that Goldberg wrote a few months ago that got widespread dissemination and conversation (including here)Report

    • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

      Goldberg’s response is pretty weak if you ask me. The idea that Samuels has a conflict of interest because he doesn’t *like* Goldberg (and even that’s tenuous) makes me wonder if Goldberg even understands what a COI is. Beyond that, he just signs on to the WaPo coverage that Samuels is “gross” and Rhodes is an “asshole” without a whole of substance. I’m now even more inclined to believe Rhodes, given the amount of ink that has been spilled personally attacking him and Samuels in response to the piece, as opposed to actually evaluating the veracity of his claims.

      In general, the WaPo coverage has been pretty horrendous all around. Their latest nit pick is that *gasp* Samuels has been vocally against the Iran deal so what was Rhodes thinking to let an administration critic (!) actually interview him. Setting aside the weirdness of a journalist complaining about this, the White House strategy has actually been pretty transparent. Their goal is to look like the adults, and the way they do that is by (a) recruiting ostensibly adversarial journalists; (b) giving them the scoop on some minor administration screw-up (that does not harm the image); (c) pitting them against other, less savvy journalists; (d) using b+c+access to sell the larger narrative of Obama the 11-dimensional-chess player. Why, it wasn’t that long ago that Goldberg himself was shitting on other journalist while chumming it up behind closed doors:

      So I tried to reopen this conversation with an unfortunately prolix question about, among other things, “the Hobbesian notion that people organize themselves into collectives to stave off their supreme fear, which is death.”

      Ben Rhodes and Joshua Earnest, the White House spokesman, who were seated on a couch to the side of Obama’s desk on Air Force One, could barely suppress their amusement at my discursiveness. I paused and said, “I bet if I asked that in a press conference my colleagues would just throw me out of the room.”

      “I would be really into it,” Obama said, “but everybody else would be rolling their eyes.”

      Rhodes interjected: “Why can’t we get the bastards?” That question, the one put to the president by the CNN reporter at the press conference in Turkey, had become a topic of sardonic conversation during the trip.

      I turned to the president: “Well, yeah, and also, why can’t we get the bastards?”

      He took the first question.

      And … wouldn’t you know it, our old friend Rhodes feeding him the perfect scene setting line.Report

  8. Avatar j r says:

    There is a lot going on here, both in the Ricks piece and in the original NYT piece, but one random thing stuck out to me and I’m reminded of it by my conversation on housing on another thread:

    He arrives here every morning between 8 and 9 from a modest two-bedroom apartment in a grad-student-type building in an unpretentious Washington neighborhood around the corner from his favorite post-collegiate bar. Before coming to work, he walks his 1-year-old daughter to day care. Then he drives to work in his Beamer, which appears to be the one grown-up luxury he and his wife… can afford.

    The one luxury? I have to ask why the NYT wants to pretend that a 2-br apartment in the District or even the sort of daycare that an upper-middle class couple is likely to use isn’t a luxury. And yes, it’s a rhetorical question.Report

    • Avatar trizzlor in reply to j r says:

      But he said it was modest and unpretentions, jr, did you miss that? He was also wearing a simple Armani suit, with just the hint of a Rolex watch modestly peaking out from below the cuff.Report