In a recent article on New York Times, David Samuels wrote on Ben Rhodes, who is Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. On paper, what Ben Rhodes is supposed to do is to write the president’s speeches, to plan his trips abroad and to run communications strategy across the White House. (His official title is:Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting) Yet, what Samuel depicts in his article is very much controversial. According to him, Rhodes is more than a speech writer as he has become “the single most influential voice shaping American foreign policy aside from [Obama] himself.” This story made huge blows in Washington. I think any one who would like to understand any foreign policy decision making, should pay particular attention to these kind of personal stories, which make a lot of sense. Therefore, today I will do my diligence by trying make sense of Samuel’s article.
Let’s start with a review of Samuel’s piece that appeared on New York Time. Matter of fact, even Samuel’s very title is telling: “The Aspiring Novelist who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru.” Indeed, the short-bio-story about Rhodes in the article introduce us a novelist who becomes foreign policy adviser. At age 26, he had no idea what International Affairs is, while at that age he had decided to be writer of IR. At age 38, he becomes “the single most influential voice shaping American foreign policy aside from [Obama] himself.” That is a quite an unbelievable story. Isn’t is? Even that is enough to characterize “Ben Rhodes’s life is unique, and perhaps not strictly believable, even as fiction.” Here is how David Samuel put it:
“He is, 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. The president and Rhodes communicate “regularly, several times a day,” according to Denis McDonough, Obama’s chief of staff, who is known for captaining a tight ship. “I see it throughout the day in person,” he says, adding that he is sure that in addition to the two to three hours that Rhodes might spend with Obama daily, the two men communicate remotely throughout the day via email and phone calls. 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.”
Samuel underlines that “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” as Obama and Ben Rhodes, (two story tellers) gets wonderfully along with each other. That is, Ben Rhodes’s source of influence is not his expertise or knowledge, but rather “his mind meld” with the president.” Rhodes can easily say “I don’t know anymore where I begin and Obama ends.” Samuel notes that:
“It has been rare to find Ben Rhodes’s name in news stories about the large events of the past seven years, unless you are looking for the quotation from an unnamed senior official in Paragraph 9. He is invisible because he is not an egotist, and because he is devoted to the president. 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.”
All in all, the question is “Is he supposedly making important decisions or just shaping how they are sold?” From Samuel’s article, it is obvious that the former seems true. Ben Rhodes, a speech writers, a story tellers -without any particular expertise, even lack of a MA in IR- just doe not write speeches, but also makes foreign policy decision in Obama administration. What he does at the White House is not just a perfectly planned and executed example of digital strategy, but also he personally involved in guiding the US foreign policy itself. With respect to Iran deal, for instance, Samuel writes:
“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.”
This is huge story!!!