The runt of Rhodes

Obamacare was built on an edifice of calculated lies. Some of us could see the propositions on which President Obama sold Obamacare as falsehoods at the time of the selling. Others have learned from bitter experience after the buying. President Obama and his team hold a low opinion of the intelligence of the American people. See, for example, the case of Jonathan Gruber. Having elected him president twice, we have done much to earn Obama’s contempt.

Now comes Obama deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes to reveal the lies on which Obama’s alliance with the Islamic Republic of Iran was promoted. See David Samuels’s May 8 New York Times Magazine profile of Rhodes, “The aspiring novelist who became Obama’s foreign-policy guru.”

Rhodes is not, as he should be, confined to fetching coffee and performing other menial tasks befitting his qualifications to formulate national security policy. “He is,” writes Samuels, “according to the consensus of the two dozen current and former White House insiders I talked to, the single most influential voice shaping American foreign policy aside from Potus himself.”

Rhodes himself, however, is an odious ignoramus who knows one thing: Obama’s servitors in the mainstream media are useful idiots.

He’s certainly got that right. Samuels quotes Rhodes observing: “All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus. 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.” We can agree on that.

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg doesn’t fit the 27-year-old average. Maybe Goldberg raises the average to 27. He is reputed literally to know something. He is nevertheless inarguably a fool for Obama even though youth and inexperience are no excuse in his case. I do look forward to Goldberg’s response to Rhodes’s estimate of him now that Rhodes has revealed himself as an ingrate.

All of which raises the question: What does Ben Rhodes know? He knows he’s selling a bill of goods to fools and he knows how to sell to fools. Congratulations.

On this point, Rhodes’s “mind meld” with Obama (discussed by the Obama officials interviewed by Samuels) is complete. Rhodes’s knowledge and Obama’s overlap perfectly.

“He doesn’t think for the president,” Samuels observes, “but he knows what the president is thinking, which is a source of tremendous power.” Samuels quotes Rhodes saying with a touch of bafflement, “I don’t know anymore where I begin and Obama ends.”

Referring to his brother, David Rhodes, the head of CBS News, Rhodes tells Samuels: “[David] was like the kid who carried the briefcase to school. I actually didn’t do that great in high school because I was drinking and smoking pot and hanging out in Central Park.” So he’s got that in common with Obama as well.

In addition to the “knowledge” he shares with Obama, Rhodes shares a set of attitudes. We know them well. Many of us had figured them out without undue difficulty during the 2008 campaign.

Samuels homes in on the Iran deal:

Rhodes’s innovative campaign to sell the Iran deal is likely to be a model for how future administrations explain foreign policy to Congress and the public. The way in which most Americans have heard the story of the Iran deal presented — that the Obama administration began seriously engaging with Iranian officials in 2013 in order to take advantage of a new political reality in Iran, which came about because of elections that brought moderates to power in that country — was largely manufactured for the purpose for selling the deal. Even where the particulars of that story are true, the implications that readers and viewers are encouraged to take away from those particulars are often misleading or false.

I don’t think it was too difficult to figure that out at the time either, but Samuels goes some way to showing how they pulled it off. Rhodes is not just an odious ignoramus. He is also shameless.

A final point: Samuels’s article demonstrates the correctness of Michael Doran’s reading of Obama’s foreign policy several times over. Doran’s Mosaic essay is “Obama’s secret Iran policy.”

Samuels’s profile of Rhodes is must reading. Among those who have written usefully on it are Lee Smith, John Podhoretz, Richard Fernandez, Claudia Rosett, Max Boot and David Gerstman.

Quotable quote: “Watching Rhodes work, I remember that he is still, chiefly, a writer, who is using a new set of tools — along with the traditional arts of narrative and spin — to create stories of great consequence on the biggest page imaginable. The narratives he frames, the voices of senior officials, the columnists and reporters whose work he skillfully shapes and ventriloquizes, and even the president’s own speeches and talking points, are the only dots of color in a much larger vision about who Americans are and where we are going that Rhodes and the president have been formulating together over the past seven years.”

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