American Elephants


Fooling the Public and Manipulating the Media by The Elephant's Child

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On May 5th, The New York Times Magazine published a lengthy interview with Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s deputy national security adviser.  Mr. Rhodes “travels with the president, sees him all day long, and not only writes his speeches and communications strategies but also shapes the content of policy.”

The piece was titled “The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru: How Ben Rhodes rewrote the rules of diplomacy for the digital age” by David Samuels. It was a revealing interview. Mr. Rhodes says he has a sort of mind-meld with the president. Much has been made of the fact that Rhodes was working on an M.F.A. in creative writing, and now he channels the president’s consciousness into an optimistic narrative that shapes the president’s foreign policy.

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. “Every day he does 12 jobs, and he does them better than the other people who have those jobs,” Terry Szuplat, the longest-tenured member of the National Security Council speechwriting corps, told me. On the largest and smallest questions alike, the voice in which America speaks to the world is that of Ben Rhodes.

Rhodes is a storyteller who” uses a writer’s tools to advance an agenda that is packaged as politics but is often quite personal.”

His lack of conventional real-world experience of the kind that normally precedes responsibility for the fate of nations — like military or diplomatic service, or even a master’s degree in international relations, rather than creative writing — is still startling.

The revelations of how the campaign to sell the Iran Deal to the public was developed, and though planned from the first days of Obama’s presidency, 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 announced 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.” Actually the meaningful part of negotiations with Iran took place in mid-2012, many months before Rouhani and the moderate group where chosen in an election among candidates handpicked by the supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. There was never any new reality in Iran nor any moderate faction. With this one bold move, the administration would begin the process of a large- scale disengagement from the Middle East, which had always been Obama’s goal.

With the smug innocence of the morally superior, Mr. Rhodes revealed far too many truths about manipulating the media, his contempt for the press, and how he manages the flow of information. Since the actions of the Obama administration are obviously correct, selling the deal to Congress, and framing the deal as a choice between peace and war was Rhodes strategy.

Guided by his moral superiority, Rhodes neglected to consider that the American people aren’t much on being deliberately lied to, and the media isn’t enthusiastic about being manipulated, and especially about that being publicly revealed.

Articles about Ben Rhodes, about the NYT Magazine piece, and about the lies in presenting the Iran Deal have been forthcoming in a steady flow from all over the world. Congress has invited Mr. Rhodes to come testify about his part in the episode and it is suggested that if he does not turn up voluntarily, he will be subpoenaed.


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There was a comment somewhere that Rhodes and Obama shared a “mind meld”; so perfectly in sync with one another that you couldn’t tell where one left off and the other began.

In actuality, it’s not as remarkable as all that.

Obama wants a legacy, something that can be pointed at to show that he’s left a mark on the world (he has, just not the way he thinks – or hopes). The Iran deal was one of the things he wanted. He tasked Rhodes with making it happen, and Rhodes, knowing that a positive outcome was not likely, just decided to write a script, and became the director. Obama read the script, liked the outcome that Rhodes had come up with, and decided that would be the policy. And that was the script that they followed, regardless of developments in real life. They read their lines, whatever question is put to them, but they can’t back anything up with evidence. All they have is the “narrative”, which is all Obama wanted to control ion any case. The irony is that this narrative was not Obama’s, but was written by Rhodes.

Rhodes doesn’t realize how much damage he has done to his own cause with the statements he’s made about how he got the Iran deal done, but he doesn’t care. He got it done, and that’s all that matters, never minding that there is no security and no positive outcome for American interests. He did what he was told.

Obama simply hopes that “the Narrative” holds together long enough so that he can blame its failure on the next administration.

Comment by Lon Mead




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