Created false narrative and manipulated press and “experts” to fool the public
Perhaps the most famous person on the internet right now is Ben Rhodes, Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser.
Rhodes is profiled in a The New York Times Magazine cover stroy that rips to shreds both the story line sold to the American public and the notion that we have independent media in the age of Obama.
Rhodes’ job was to message and ensure that the White House’s narrative of the nuclear deal with Iran was the media’s. Rhodes, in the profile written by David Samuels, displays no shame about his job; in fact he seems quite pleased with himself.
Rhodes who doesn’t have the usual credentials for such a job, “like military or diplomatic service, or even a master’s degree in international relations,” has become President Obama’s foreign policy guru. According White House staff the two are on the same wavelength or the “mind meld” he has with his boss. Rhodes put it not-so-humbly, “I don’t know anymore where I begin and Obama ends.”
The first anecdote of the feature story describes the day of Obama’s final State of the Union speech is telling. It has just become known Iran had seized 10 American sailors and Rhodes biggest concern is trying to prevent the media from finding out. He can’t. But his reaction isn’t one of outrage. After all in a few days the United States is to announce the implementation of the nuclear deal and Iran is still a lawless rogue state.
Standing in his front office before the State of the Union, Rhodes quickly does the political math on the breaking Iran story. “Now they’ll show scary pictures of people praying to the supreme leader,” he predicts, looking at the screen.
It isn’t outrage, but maybe people will misunderstand. Of course the problem is that when fed the news straight people understand too well; it is Rhodes’ job to obfuscate what happens so they don’t question the administration.
Rhodes, Samuels tells, started out as a speech writer for Rep. Lee Hamilton. From there it was the 9/11 Commission and then the Iraq Study Group. The “scathing” conclusion of the Iraq Study Group were informed by Rhodes’ opinions.
For Rhodes, who wrote much of the I.S.G. report, the Iraq war was proof, in black and white, not of the complexity of international affairs or the many perils attendant on political decision-making but of the fact that the decision-makers were morons.
One result of this experience was that when Rhodes joined the Obama campaign in 2007, he arguably knew more about the Iraq war than the candidate himself, or any of his advisers. He had also developed a healthy contempt for the American foreign-policy establishment, including editors and reporters at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker and elsewhere, who at first applauded the Iraq war and then sought to pin all the blame on Bush and his merry band of neocons when it quickly turned sour. If anything, that anger has grown fiercer during Rhodes’s time in the White House. He referred to the American foreign-policy establishment as the Blob. According to Rhodes, the Blob includes Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and other Iraq-war promoters from both parties who now whine incessantly about the collapse of the American security order in Europe and the Middle East.
(One of the charges against the Bush administration is that it was unwilling to consider alternatives to its own preconceived notions.)
If you think that Rhodes only had contempt for those he opposed politically, you’re wrong. He also has contempt for those who were helping him get White House talking points out disguised as news:
“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.”
With this background Samuels goes on to describe how Rhodes shaped the narrative using social media and reporters like Laura Rozen and Jeffrey Goldberg. The story was about how a moderate named Hassan Rouhani became president of Iran and this led to an opening to make the the nuclear deal.
But as Samuels points out, this narrative was false, “the most meaningful part of the negotiations with Iran had begun in mid-2012,” well before Rouhani was even mentioned as a candidate. (There are indications that, in fact, Obama had had significant contacts with Iran over the nuclear program even earlier.)
This false premise was justified because “[by] eliminating the fuss about Iran’s nuclear program, the administration hoped to eliminate a source of structural tension between the two countries.” And with that the United States could extricate itself from the Middle East. (Leaving old alliances in the Middle East is presented by Samuels as a positive effect of the nuclear deal with Iran. Samuels reporting it also validates administration critics, such as Michael Doran, who figured out what was going on last year.)
— Legal Insurrection (@LegInsurrection) May 6, 2016
When things finally started coming together last year, Rhodes sprung into action:
As Malley and representatives of the State Department, including Wendy Sherman and Secretary of State John Kerry, engaged in formal negotiations with the Iranians, to ratify details of a framework that had already been agreed upon, Rhodes’s war room did its work on Capitol Hill and with reporters. 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.”
(If you want to read a good example of how this worked, read Iran Deal Truthers by Tom Nichols from last summer over how the White House and its media and think-tank allies attempted to undermine a report that accurately showed that they would allow Iran to self-inspect its nuclear sites.)
As Samuels showed, the sequence of events showed that it wasn’t true that Rouhani’s election led to the nuclear talks. But even Rhodes admits Rouhani is no moderate. He told Samuels ” Yes, I would prefer that it turns out that Rouhani and [Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad] Zarif” … are real reformers who are going to be steering this country into the direction that I believe it can go in, because their public is educated and, in some respects, pro-American. But we are not betting on that.”
Another worthwhile recent article from The New York Times on the Obama administration’s nuclear diplomacy with Iran is For Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, Divergent Paths to Iran Nuclear Talks by Mark Landler. The article is excerpted from Landler’s book. Landler, who is White House correspondent for the Times, and a cheerleader for the administration, contrasted the different approaches Kerry, while still a senator, and Secretary of State Clinton took towards nuclear talks with Iran. I found it rather shocking that Kerry was allowed such freedom to engage in “freelance diplomacy.”
All of this reinforces an impression I’ve had for a while: the most consequential election that made the nuclear deal with Iran possible was the American presidential election in 2008, not the Iranian one in 2013.
I actually researched Rouhani’s history and as you can see, he’s no moderate. I later learned that Rouhani had justified the fatwa to kill Salman Rushdie. The point is when the White House announced three years ago that a moderate had won the presidential race in Iran, no one questioned it. All any enterprising reporter would have to do is search through the archives of The New York Times and would have been able to counter this basic bit of misinformation he was being fed by the White House.
A free and independent press is essential to the proper functioning of a free society. What Samuels exposed is a corrupt media, more interested supporting the president in his reckless pursuit of a nuclear deal with a rogue state than in acting as a countervailing force to an out-of-control administration.
We’ve known for a long time that the media carry water for the Obama administration, now they’re exposed as its shills. I would hope that some media people wake up after reading about Rhodes and engage in some self-reflection. But I sure won’t count on it.
[Photo: White House / Wikicommons ]DONATE
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