A Longwinded and Winding Rhodes

Official Washington is abuzz about the boasts of President Obama’s foreign policy speechwriter Ben Rhodes regarding his selling the Iran nuclear deal, a new club being wielded by the bomb-bomb-bomb-Iran neocons, explains James W Carden.

By James W Carden

A recent New York Times Magazine profile of Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes has been the talk of the Beltway since it appeared last week. In some respects the piece is a wholly conventional piece of Beltway puffery: Rhodes is presented to readers as something of a “boy wonder,” a frustrated novelist called to higher duty after witnessing the collapse of the Twin Towers from the vantage point of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Rhodes, through the help of some well-connected family friends, quickly found his true calling: climbing the greasy pole of the Washington foreign policy establishment.

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes

A staff job working for former Congressman Lee Hamilton at the Wilson Center in Washington, led to staff jobs drafting the findings of the Iraq Study Group and the 9/11 Commission. Before long, Rhodes, the former Rudy Giuliani campaign volunteer, was working side by side with presidential candidate Barack Obama as a foreign policy speechwriter. From there, Rhodes made his way to the National Security Council where he has remained since 2009.

In another New York Times piece on Rhodes, this one from 2013, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia and NSC Senior Director Michael McFaul told the Times, “Ben always holds on to the pen … [and] because of his close personal relationship with the president, Ben can always make policy through the speeches and statements made by President Obama.”

In that same piece Rhodes was somewhat more circumspect, telling that Times that, “My main job, which has always been my job, is to be the person who represents the president’s view,” no easy feat when you consider that Mr. Obama, if Jeffrey Goldberg’s lengthy exit interview of the President in The Atlantic is to be believed, seems to hold a number of views which contradict his own policies.

Having allowed three years to pass without publishing a Ben Rhodes profile, the New York Times obviously felt it was once again time to bring readers up-to-speed on the doings of the talented Mr. Rhodes. This time the magazine contracted the job out to David Samuels, a longtime journalist who has seemingly profiled everyone from Yasir Arafat to Britney Spears and Kayne West.

Samuels’ piece contains a number of gems. Rhodes’ self-regard is put front and center. At one point the wunderkind tells Samuels: “I don’t know anymore where I begin and Obama ends.” Oh, dear.

Targeting the Iran Deal

But where things get really interesting, and where most of the media attention has subsequently focused, is when Rhodes tells Samuels about his role in “selling” the Iran deal. According to Rhodes, the White House communications strategy was to invent a borderline fictitious narrative and sell it to gullible journalists who they knew they could count on to simply regurgitate the White House (read: Rhodes’s) message.

The task of selling the Iran deal to the press was rather easier than one might expect, since, according to the 38-year-old Rhodes, “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.”

The question now being asked around town is: what is it that Rhodes knows, exactly? What we know (or at any rate can safely surmise) is that the boy wonder of the NSC was unaware that his interlocutor, Samuels, was one of the Iran deal’s most outspoken (or unhinged) opponents, making the “rational” case for bombing Iran.

Per Samuels: “Bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities is the surest way for Israel to restore the image of strength and unpredictability that made it valuable to the United States after 1967 while also eliminating Iran as a viable partner for America’s favor.” Uh-huh.

Samuels rather deviously used the Rhodes profile to grind that axe once more, and attempts to paint proponents of the Iran deal as dupes of the Rhodes spin machine. If Rhodes took a perhaps three-minute break from channeling the voice of the President, he might have been better prepared for Samuels, made less a fool of himself, and refrained from impugning the integrity of a very fine journalist like Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen.

Did Rhodes know what Samuels was up to or did he succumb to the all too common of Beltway delusion of believing in one’s own omniscience?

James W Carden is a contributing writer for The Nation and editor of The American Committee for East-West Accord’s eastwestaccord.com. He previously served as an advisor on Russia to the Special Representative for Global Inter-governmental Affairs at the US State Department.  

10 comments for “A Longwinded and Winding Rhodes

  1. Jill
    May 12, 2016 at 19:20

    Here is a good article about the Rhodes controversy.

    The raging controversy over a profile of Ben Rhodes, explained


  2. Abbybwood
    May 11, 2016 at 11:52

    I don’t see any thread regarding the Democrat primary and Hillary Clinton so I am going to post this here:


    I hope Robert Parry or someone at Consortiumnews will follow-up on this disgusting revelation.


    • Realist
      May 11, 2016 at 15:30

      There are no Democratic or Republican Parties any longer. There are only two wings of the War Party now, just as Gore Vidal said decades ago. It’s revolting to look at that traitor on-stage in the cover photo of the article you linked. He is responsible for much death and suffering in the world, and yet is proud of his guilt. Analysts say approximately 2 million dead in all the recent conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa. Perhaps “six million” is the magic number when the media will finally start to find fault with America’s chosen device for ruling the world.

  3. Andrew Nichols
    May 11, 2016 at 00:16

    Imagine if the nations were reversed and these two were Iranians talking about Israel. We’d never hear the end of it. Extremists, antisemites yaddayadda. The Iranians really do have a lot to be worried about from the USA – No 1 rogue nation.

  4. Ethan Allen
    May 10, 2016 at 20:47

    Re: James W. Carden
    You posit in closing;

    “Did Rhodes know what Samuels was up to or did he succumb to the all too common of Beltway delusion of believing in one’s own omniscience?”

    I do not come away from reading the Samuels narrative as one who believes that Rhodes was not aware of exactly who he was dealing with; nor does it seem characteristic of Rhodes to succumb to any “Beltway delusion”. Likewise the pseudo-intellectual innuendo that a young creative writing student, aspiring to author fiction, is somehow not credible if he/she discovers opportunity and success in an alternative use of his/her professional skill set, seems itself to be a bit os an omniscient opinion.
    While the title chosen for the Samuels article

    “The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru
    How Ben Rhodes rewrote the rules of diplomacy for the digital age.

    also seeks to caste similar aspersions on Ben Rhodes’ professional veracity, much of the body of the piece refutes any such silly contention. According to Mr. Samuels own timeline, Rhodes spent several years honing his skills between his being an “Aspiring Novelist” and earning the trust and favor of Obama and his inner circle of thinkers and writers. Actually the sub-title speaks rather informatively to the important substance of the writing, if not to Mr. Samuels ideological leanings.
    As Usual,

  5. Zachary Smith
    May 10, 2016 at 13:22

    Referencing the older NYT piece on Rhodes may be worthwhile. Seems to me something mighty strange is going on here – is Rhodes the ‘in-between’ guy for Obama and some unnamed puppeteers? After all, BHO has been for the most part a really reliable fellow for the neocons.


    • Chris Chuba
      May 10, 2016 at 14:32

      The NYT is trying to insinuate that he was some kind of mastermind for Obama’s foreign policy. However, if you actually look at the role he played he was nothing more than Obama’s foreign policy salesman. There is less here than meets the eye. I would not look for more conspiracies.
      1. NYT interviewer with chip on shoulder + 2. Obama PR flak getting caught up in ego = tempest in a teapot.

      • Zachary Smith
        May 10, 2016 at 21:18

        The NYT is trying to insinuate that he was some kind of mastermind for Obama’s foreign policy. However, if you actually look at the role he played he was nothing more than Obama’s foreign policy salesman.

        More likely than not that’s correct, but it leaves me wondering who actually is pulling Obama’s strings.

    • Howard Beale
      May 11, 2016 at 02:43

      I am so fed up with the Obama-Clinton-Neocon Axis of endless unrepentant warmongering and the global hegemony of Wall Street, the petrodollar, and the resulting hybrid war combining terrorism with economic sanctions that I’ve definitely decided to take Susan Sarandon’s suggestion and, though I’m to the left of Bernie Sanders in my political goals, vote for Trump specifically to break the system. Won’t go so far as to call myself an anarchist like Chomsky does, but the system desperately needs a sweeping breakdown so it can be rebuilt to serve the people, not the oligarchs and stone cold killers who now run the place. The pentagon, the defense contractors, the Wall Street speculators, the federal reserve and the big banks, to say nothing of their major shareholders, all need to be starved for cash until they stop breathing. Let Trump, like blind Sampson, knock down the walls and columns throughout the halls of American power. Let the Republicans shut down the government and repudiate the national debt. Let them gloat over the ash heap they create, before they are swept from history by those they have denied everything but the lust for revenge. They will deserve the same fate as the first proclaimed fascist received from the Italian street mob in 1945. Besides, who’s to say that Hillary wouldn’t first destroy what’s left of our freedoms and “affluence” before she destroys the planet in a thermonuclear war. With Trump, hopefully the process stops after stage one and there is something left to rebuild after the fascists are purged. Why, the rest of the civilized world might have to step in and help re-organize American society, which would be quite the irony. Yeah, I say bring on “interesting times,” ASAP since there seems no way out of it.

    • Bob Palen
      May 11, 2016 at 12:58

      Note: Ben Rhode’s brother is President of CBS News which of late is pushing stories for the release of Saudi Arabian role of 9/11

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