Meet the Flimflam Man Behind Obama's Foreign Policy 'Narrative'
The example Samuels describes in greatest detail is "Rhodes's innovative campaign to sell the Iran deal," a section of the article that The Weekly Standard's Lee Smith explores neatly in an incisive article headlined "Obama Foreign Policy Guru Boasts of How the Administration Lied to Sell the Iran Deal."
Those readers who found Jeffrey Goldberg's picture of Obama in his March Atlantic profile refreshing for the president's willingness to insult American allies publicly will be similarly cheered here by Rhodes's boast of deceiving American citizens, lawmakers and allies over the Iran deal. Conversely, those who believe Obama risked American interests to take a cheap shot at allies from the pedestal of the Oval Office will be appalled to see Rhodes dancing in the end zone to celebrate the well-packaged misdirections and even lies -- what Rhodes and others call a "narrative"-- that won Obama his signature foreign policy initiative.
As Samuels describes it in his New York Times piece, those misdirections included Rhodes shaping the "narrative" to say the Iran deal began with the election of the "moderate" President Hassan Rouhani in 2013, which was "actively misleading" because the "most meaningful part of the negotiations" had begun, secretly, in 2012, under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, "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." Obama and Rhodes, mind-melded, peddled the fiction.
It was all part of a campaign that further entailed, in Rhodes's own words, creating "an echo chamber" for the media. Samuels reports that "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." Rhodes tells Samuels: "They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say." Samuels describes Rhodes as "proud of the way he sold the Iran deal. 'We drove them crazy,' he said of the deal's opponents."
Samuels describes how Rhodes preys upon the changing nature of the news business:
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."
There's plenty more to this article, which is both fascinating and -- fair warning -- sickening in the scenes it describes at the White House. Apparently, Rhodes spends two or three hours daily with Obama, stays in touch the rest of the day by email and phone, and has co-written "all of Obama's major foreign-policy speeches." The pervasive element of the narratives thus concocted is one of contempt. Contempt for the public, contempt for the media, disdain for realities, scorn for the truth. What matters is the "shaped" and digitally amplified "narrative."
Were Samuels's article itself a piece of fiction, it might be an entertaining if tawdry tale about gloating charlatans of the digital age. But this story rings true. It is a piece of genuine reporting on how foreign policy is being shaped, packaged and sold, at the highest levels of the White House.
The Iran case is just one of many foreign policy moves by the Obama administration that have been morally empty and strategically delusional. But it is perhaps the most glaring. Lee Smith, in the closing lines of his Weekly Standard article, sums it up so neatly that he deserves the final word:
So that's it. For the last seven years the American public has been living through a postmodern narrative crafted by an extremely gifted and unspeakably cynical political operative whose job is to wage digital information campaigns designed to dismantle a several-decade old security architecture while lying about the nature of the Iranian regime. No wonder Americans feel less safe -- they are.