The unbeatable Daniel Greenfield wrote what I think was the best piece on the Ben Rhodes business, i.e. the smug boast by one of President Obama’s top advisers that he and the administration knowingly, gleefully pulled the wool over the public’s eyes in selling the Iran nuclear deal.
In another excellent piece Greenfield detailed how the Iran deal itself was based on a complete lie, but the article I’ve reblogged below focuses on Rhodes’ and Obama’s peculiar joy in mocking their adoring media. In an oft-quoted line, Lenin once called certain unsophisticated elements of the Russian working classes “useful idiots”, meaning that they could be deceived into serving a revolutionary purpose for their master even if they didn’t realize or intend to do so. The current administration certainly has a similar, sneering attitude about its own adherents, feeling no shame about its lies and no respect for those it has lied to.
Obama Inc. Mocks Its Media Echo Chamber for Believing Its Lies
After the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, I wrote that, “The White House Correspondents’ Dinner was a celebration of the contempt in which Obama holds his media celebrity supporters, the contempt of his comedunfotainers for the media and his contempt for the comedunfotainment industry which channels his contempt for the media.”
“That joke is almost funny. But you have to be far enough inside, but outside the media to enjoy it. And the only ones who can really do that are in the White House.”
Obama’s version of Sidney Blumenthal, Ben Rhodes, decided to make that joke public in the New York Times in an article that you’ve probably seen by now.
The obvious impetus for the piece is that everyone except Obama hates Rhodes. Hillary Clinton won’t allow him in her administration, just as Obama wouldn’t allow Hillary to bring in Sidney Blumenthal. He’s one of those creepy people who get inside a famous person’s head and then spend their career cringing around them while showing off their power. Think Huma Abedin or any number of “close associates” of politicians and movie stars who have no actual worth, but who make themselves important by becoming lackeys.
The New York Times piece is Rhodes’ attempt to transition to a post-Obama career by showing off. He talks endlessly about his literary ambitions to make himself sound deep. But in reality he got his current gig because he’s a rich kid with connections. And he’s so ridiculously obnoxious that he can’t help but make the New York Timesian interviewing him hate his guts. And it quickly shows.
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 and has been a co-writer of all of Obama’s major foreign-policy speeches.
…. Yet some large part of the recent history of America and its role in the world turns on the fact that the entirely familiar person sitting at the desk in front of me, who seems not unlike other weed-smokers I know who write Frederick Barthelme-type short stories, has achieved a “mind meld” with President Obama and used his skills to help execute a radical shift in American foreign policy.
… But once you are attuned to the distinctive qualities of Rhodes’s voice — which is often laced with aggressive contempt for anyone or anything that stands in the president’s way — you can hear him everywhere.
Indeed you can. And Rhodes can’t help showing off what a terrible person he is while showing his contempt for everyone. You’ve met people like this and they tend to be the worst of the worst.
Rhodes singled out a key example to me one day, laced with the brutal contempt that is a hallmark of his private utterances. “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.”
But most of the time the media justifies his contempt.
The easiest way for the White House to shape the news, he explained, is from the briefing podiums, each of which has its own dedicated press corps. “But then there are sort of these force multipliers,” he said, adding, “We have our compadres, I will reach out to a couple people, and you know I wouldn’t want to name them — ”
“I can name them,” I said, ticking off a few names of prominent Washington reporters and columnists who often tweet in sync with White House messaging.
Price laughed. “I’ll say, ‘Hey, look, some people are spinning this narrative that this is a sign of American weakness,’ ” he continued, “but — ”
“In fact it’s a sign of strength!” I said, chuckling.
“And I’ll give them some color,” Price continued, “and the next thing I know, lots of these guys are in the dot-com publishing space, and have huge Twitter followings, and they’ll be putting this message out on their own.”
And they do. The piece openly mocks Laura Rozen, the biggest media cheerleader for the Iran deal, as being a proxy for the administration. Likewise Jeffrey Goldberg. The piece even notes the lack of shame among the media now in carrying the administration’s water. And in repeating its shameless lies.
In the narrative that Rhodes shaped, the “story” of the Iran deal began in 2013, when a “moderate” faction inside the Iranian regime led by Hassan Rouhani beat regime “hard-liners” in an election and then began to pursue a policy of “openness,” which included a newfound willingness to negotiate the dismantling of its illicit nuclear-weapons program. The president set out the timeline himself in his speech announcing the nuclear deal on July 14, 2015: “Today, after two years of negotiations, the United States, together with our international partners, has achieved something that decades of animosity has not.” While the president’s statement was technically accurate — there had in fact been two years of formal negotiations leading up to the signing of the J.C.P.O.A. — it was also actively misleading, because the most meaningful part of the negotiations with Iran had begun in mid-2012, many months before Rouhani and the “moderate” camp were chosen in an election among candidates handpicked by Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The idea that there was a new reality in Iran was politically useful to the Obama administration. By obtaining broad public currency for the thought that there was a significant split in the regime, and that the administration was reaching out to moderate-minded Iranians who wanted peaceful relations with their neighbors and with America, Obama was able to evade what might have otherwise been a divisive but clarifying debate over the actual policy choices that his administration was making.
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.”
In fact, Rhodes’s passion seems to derive not from any investment in the technical specifics of sanctions or centrifuge arrays, or any particular optimism about the future course of Iranian politics and society. Those are matters for the negotiators and area specialists. Rather, it derived from his own sense of the urgency of radically reorienting American policy in the Middle East in order to make the prospect of American involvement in the region’s future wars a lot less likely.
I ask him about a crucial component of the administration’s public narrative on Iran: whether it was ever a salient feature of the C.I.A.’s analysis when he ran the agency that the Iranian regime was meaningfully divided between “hard-line” and “moderate” camps.
“No,” Panetta answers. “There was not much question that the Quds Force and the supreme leader ran that country with a strong arm, and there was not much question that this kind of opposing view could somehow gain any traction.”
Rhodes though is just echoing Obama’s contempt. This is an administration chock full of fake idealism. But underneath it is petty contempt built on narcissistic arrogance.
Barack Obama is not a standard-issue liberal Democrat. He openly shares Rhodes’s contempt for the groupthink of the American foreign-policy establishment and its hangers-on in the press.
Another official I spoke to put the same point more succinctly: “Clearly the world has disappointed him.” When I asked whether he believed that the Oval Office debate over Syria policy in 2012 — resulting in a decision not to support the uprising against Assad in any meaningful way — had been an honest and open one, he said that he had believed that it was, but has since changed his mind. “Instead of adjusting his policies to the reality, and adjusting his perception of reality to the changing realities on the ground, the conclusions he draws are exactly the same, no matter what the costs have been to our strategic interests,” he says. “In an odd way, he reminds me of Bush.”
Ben Rhodes’ whole point is that he lied to us and got away with it. He all but states that the people can’t be trusted to make decisions for themselves and that everyone needs to be lied to and that the media is too stupid to even realize it’s being lied to.