Ben Rhodes’s Fiction Behind the
By AJ Caschetta
May 10, 2016
Rhodes even acknowledges that
there is nothing "moderate" about Rouhani, Zarif or Khamenei.
The dates and facts conflicted
with the narrative, so they were finessed, rewritten and sold to the public with
different plot-lines and different themes. Outside Washington, D.C. this
behavior is sometimes called lying.
At best Ben Rhodes is the author
of a Pyrrhic victory, ensuring that the next president will face the same choice
Obama faced but against an Iran armed with nuclear bombs.
This is what happens to foreign
policy when it is entrusted to the unqualified and undereducated.
That the Obama administration's
Iran deal is a work of fiction has been known all along, but now Ben Rhodes,
Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, is taking credit
as its author. In a long
interview with New York Times reporter David Samuels on Sunday, the world
learned that Rhodes is "the master shaper and retailer of Obama's foreign
policy narratives" who "strategized and ran the successful Iran-deal
messaging campaign." Samuels lauds Rhodes as "a storyteller who uses a
writer's tools to advance an agenda packaged as politics."
Welcome to the post-modern
techno-presidency where everything is a text, easily manipulated by skilled
writers and disseminated in 140 or fewer characters. Don't like the facts?
Change the narrative. What really counts is "the optics."
In the midst of his fawning
profile, Samuels exposes a number of lies behind the Iran narrative, or rather
quotes Rhodes himself doing so. For instance, the first outreach to Iran came
2012, not in 2013. I'd bet it came even earlier. Rhodes even acknowledges that
there is nothing "moderate" about Iranian leaders Rouhani, Zarif or
Khamenei. But these dates and facts conflicted with the narrative, so they were
finessed, rewritten and sold to the public with different plot-lines and
different themes. Outside Washington, D.C. this behavior is sometimes called
The Rhodes narrative, at its core,
is a simple tale in which a hero, armed with special skills and weapons, goes on
a quest that requires a fight against the forces of evil. It incorporates
elements of the ancient epic, the medieval romance and the eighteenth-century
novel, with elements of drama splashed in here and there.
The hero, of course, is Rhodes's
real-life hero, Barack Obama (with whom he "mind melds," as he
apparently tells anyone who will listen). The hero's special weapon is diplomacy
-- in the case of Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a.k.a.,
"Iran Deal." But Rhodes himself is also the hero of his tale. As he
tells Samuels in one particularly dewy-eyed moment: "I don't know anymore
where I begin and Obama ends."
In his tale, Iran is recast into a
moderate regime through the magic of fiction, while the new villains are all who
oppose the JCPOA, recast into warmongers: Benjamin Netanyahu, Ted Cruz, the
majority of Americans. As Samuels puts it: "Framing the deal as a choice
between peace and war was Rhodes's go-to move -- and proved to be a winning
But it was not really a winning
argument. Neither the American public nor Congress was persuaded, which is why
Obama did not submit it as a treaty for Senate ratification. At best, Ben Rhodes
is the author of a Pyrrhic victory ensuring that the 45th or 46th president will
face the same choice Obama faced, but against an Iran armed with nuclear bombs.
At worst, Rhodes is the author of a tragedy he does not understand.
Rhodes's narrative is not even
particularly good fiction. Mistaken identities, fudged timelines, villains in
disguise, and a two-dimensional hero are clichés. But the quality of fiction
does not matter as long as consumers line up to buy it. And this is where Rhodes
truly excels, as a relatively shallow thinker, adroit mostly at influencing even
shallower thinkers and hoodwinking people too busy to bother learning.
Rhodes is proud of the way he
manipulates a gullible and hungry media comprised mostly of repeaters pretending
to be reporters. From his White House "war room," he and his
assistant, Ned Price, reach out to their media "compadres" who are
waiting by their iPhones, ready to transform the daily storytelling sessions
into facts for the uninformed. Boasting that he "created an echo
chamber," and unable to conceal his contempt for the minions who amplify
his fiction, Rhodes calls them "27 year olds who literally know
nothing." Enter the storyteller who provides them with lines. Samuels shows
us he is in on the joke too, by pointing out that "Rhodes has become adept
at ventriloquizing many people at once."
In his daily conversation, Samuels
tells us, Rhodes lumps together nearly everyone who came before Obama (Kissinger,
Clinton, Bush, Gates, Panetta) as "the Blob" -- the establishment that
damaged the world so badly that only a magical hero can repair it. Rhodes tells
Samuels that the "complete lack of governance in huge swaths of the Middle
East, that is the project of the American establishment." This is what
happens to foreign policy when it is entrusted to the unqualified and
In eight months, Ben Rhodes can
get back to his former life -- as he puts it, "drinking and smoking pot and
hanging out in Central Park." And presumably writing more fiction -- this
time perhaps the honest kind that does not pretend to be non-fiction. The entire
world, except perhaps the world of fiction, will be better for it.