Friday, May 13

Emperor's deputy national security advisor says he told reporters and editors what to write; media yawns

Last week the New York Times Magazine ran a breathlessly adoring interview with the emperor's 38-year-old "deputy national security advisor," Ben Rhodes.

You may be curious to know what warrants the description "breathlessly adoring."  Stuff like this:
On the largest and smallest questions alike, the voice in which America speaks to the world is that of Ben Rhodes.
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,”

[I]n 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.
The last 'graf shows readers that Rhodes constantly has the emperor's ear--and thus how important he presumably is to developing the emperor's policies.  
He is the master shaper and retailer of Obama’s foreign-policy narratives, at a time when the killer wave of social media has washed away the sand castles of the traditional press.

His ability to navigate and shape this new environment makes him a more effective and powerful extension of the president’s will than any number of policy advisers or diplomats or spies.

Part of what accounts for Rhodes’s influence is his “mind meld” with the president. Nearly everyone I spoke to about Rhodes used the phrase “mind meld” verbatim, some with casual assurance and others in the hushed tones that are usually reserved for special insights. 

He doesn’t think for the president, but he knows what the president is thinking, which is a source of tremendous power. One day, when Rhodes and I were sitting in his boiler-room office, he confessed, with a touch of bafflement, “I don’t know anymore where I begin and Obama ends.”
See what I mean?  It's a total puff-piece: "gosh-he's-so-amazing-and-important."

But then there are a couple of sentences that make you wonder.  Like this one:
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.
Uh..."lack of conventional experience"?  No military or diplomatic service, not even a master's in international relations?  Could he have worked for the CIA or something?  (He didn't.)  What in the world could the emperor have seen in this guy to have named him deputy national security advisor--and by all reports the one the emperor spends the most time with?  And it's worth noting that the emperor chose Rhodes for this post in 2009, when Rhodes was just 31 years old.

Wow.  Could the guy have an IQ of 170, and thus is able to effortlessly grasp the nuances of convoluted foreign-policy problems that aren't seen by ordinary mortals?  I mean, the emperor must have seen something in this guy, right?

Gosh, what could it be?  Could it have anything to do with the fact that his brother David is president of CBS news?

Nah, probably just coincidence.

Anyway, back to the NYTM interview:  The interviewer happens to catch Rhodes just as two small U.S. Navy boats are captured by larger (i.e. longer-range guns) Iranian ships.  Watch as the miracle-man works his magic, putting a favorable spin on the story:
[Watching the screen] 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. Three beats more and his brain has spun a story line to stanch the bleeding. 

He turns to [his assistant and dictates:]. “We’re resolving this, because we have relationships,” he says.  [The assistant] begins tapping away at the administration’s well-cultivated network of officials, talking heads, columnists and newspaper reporters, web jockeys and outside advocates who can tweet at critics and tweak their stories backed up by quotations from “senior White House officials” and “spokespeople.” 

I watch the message bounce from Rhodes’s brain to [his assistant]’s keyboard, to the three major briefing podiums — the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon --and across the Twitterverse, where it springs to life in dozens of insta-stories, which [soon] don formal dress for mainstream outlets. It’s a tutorial in the making of a digital news microclimate — a storm that is easy to mistake these days for a fact of nature, but whose author is sitting next to me right now.
Okay, so far it's normal news manipulation by an administration that's very accustomed to slobbering obedience by the mainstream, almost-entirely-Democrat media.  But things are about to get strange.  Rhodes--who was a speechwriter for the emperor from day 1 before being promoted--is writing the text of the speech.
With three hours to go before the State of the Union address, Rhodes starts combing through the text. I peek over his shoulder to get a sense of the meta-narrative that will shape dozens of thumb-suckers in the days and weeks to follow. 
Dozens of what?  Thumb-suckers?  Now obviously this is the interviewer's language, but...WTF??
One sentence reads: “But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.  Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages — they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence.”
Ah, the boy wonder at work:  Claim that if something doesn't "threaten our national existence" it's not a real problem.  Nice.
When I asked Jon Favreau, Obama’s lead speechwriter in the 2008 campaign, and a close friend of Rhodes’s, whether he or Rhodes or the president had ever thought of their individual speeches and bits of policy making as part of some larger restructuring of the American narrative, he replied, “We saw that as our entire job.”
 Their entire job.  "Restructuring the American narrative."  Nice.
It has been rare to find 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.... 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.
A recurring term in the interview is "contempt"--Rhodes seems to have a lot of it, for everyone except his boss.  With whom, you may recall from earlier, has a "mind-meld."

Gosh that's odd, cuz you wouldn't think the emperor felt contempt for ordinary Americans. Except conservative, maybe.  In any case, what's the origin of this contempt?  Short answer:  Reporters today have no experience, so they depend entirely on what politicians--and the pols' assistants--tell 'em.
[The ways that words get into newspapers and on television] have changed. 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. [Now] they literally know nothing.”
Gosh Ben, that sounds like...you.  You've been a political gopher for most of your adult life, virtually no experience outside Washington, but because you've gotten to rub shoulders with the emperor suddenly you're the wise one? 

Also, I suspect at least half the nation's reporters and editors are experienced  know that most of the statements made or released by the emperor and his lackeys are lies.  They've played dumb because every last one of 'em supported the emperor.  They wouldn't do anything to hurt his image, since that would make Americans realized the mainstream media had betrayed our national interest.  Oooh.

And now, with barely over 5 months left in the emperor's final term the most critical thing on their agenda by far is ensuring the Democratic candidate wins the presidency in November.
In this environment, Rhodes has become adept at ventriloquizing many people at once. Ned Price, Rhodes’s assistant, gave me a primer on how it’s done. The easiest way for the White House to shape the news, he explained, is from the briefing podiums, each of which has its own dedicated press corps. 

“But then there are sort of these force multipliers,” he said, adding, “We have our compadres, I will reach out to a couple people....  I’ll say, ‘Hey, look, some people are spinning this narrative that this is a sign of American weakness,’ ” he continued, “but...”

“In fact it’s a sign of strength!” I said, chuckling.

“And I’ll give them some color,” Price continued, “and the next thing I know, lots of these guys are in the dot-com publishing space, and have huge Twitter followings, and they’ll be putting this message out on their own.”
So if you're with me so far, we've got a wunderkind with no real experience who's been the emperor's main propaganda guy for seven years.  He thinks reporters know nothing, and that because of that he can get 'em to say whatever he tells 'em.  (Reminds you of a kid who gets singled home from third and thinks he's hit a home run.)

And the culmination of that sophisticated propaganda op was...the nuclear "non-treaty treaty" with Iran.  (It's a treaty that the emperor insisted it wasn't really a treaty in order to evade the Constitution's requirement that treaties would only bind the U.S. if ratified by the senate.  It's not that the emperor didn't think he could get the senate to ratify, but that he'd have had to tell every senator what the actual provisions of the damn thing were to get 'em to approve.  The senate ducked their Constitutional duty with the help of a traitor RINO who gave 'em a fig leaf that let 'em do so.)
Rhodes’s innovative campaign to sell the Iran deal is likely to be a model for how future administrations explain foreign policy to Congress and the public.  [Most Americans believe the Iran deal started when] the Obama administration began seriously engaging with Iranian officials in 2013...[after] elections that brought moderates to power in that country....
[This fable] was largely manufactured for the purpose for selling the deal. Even where the particulars of that story are true [the only true thing is that the Iranians held elections in 2013], the implications that readers and viewers are encouraged to take away from those particulars are often misleading or false.  Obama’s closest advisers always understood him to be eager to do a deal with Iran as far back as 2012, and even since the beginning of his presidency.

“It’s the center of the arc,” Rhodes explained to me two days after the deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was implemented. .... It’s the possibility of improved relations with adversaries. It’s nonproliferation. So all these threads... converged around Iran.”

In the narrative that Rhodes shaped, 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 set out the timeline himself in his speech announcing 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.” 

While the president’s statement was technically accurate — there had in fact been two years of formal negotiations leading up to the signing of the J.C.P.O.A. — it was also actively misleading, because the most meaningful part of the negotiations with Iran had begun in mid-2012, 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. 

The idea that there was a new reality in Iran was politically useful to the Obama administration.  By obtaining broad public currency for the thought that there was a significant split in the regime, and that the administration was reaching out to moderate-minded Iranians who wanted peaceful relations with their neighbors and with America, Obama was able to evade what might have otherwise been a divisive but clarifying debate over the actual policy choices that his administration was making.
I sure am glad the emperor was able to evade that "divisive but clarifying debate."  Cuz when it comes to a treaty governing the development of nuclear weapons the very last thing you'd want would be clarity.
By eliminating the fuss about Iran’s nuclear program, the administration hoped to eliminate a source of structural tension between the two countries, which would create the space for America to disentangle itself from its established system of alliances with countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and Turkey. With one bold move, the administration would effectively begin the process of a large-scale disengagement from the Middle East.
Clearly, the interviewer is impressed with the emperor's brilliance--and thus with the cleverness of his cat's-paw Rhodes, being able to get all the newspapers and TV talking heads to say exactly what he and his boss wanted 'em to say--and to not ask uncomfortable questions.
Framing the deal as a choice between peace and war was Rhodes’s go-to move — and proved to be a winning argument.
Funny, I must have read 50 articles on the deal and never ran across that phrase.  For the emperor's people to have warned that the U.S. risked Iran declaring war if we didn't agree to their demands would have been immediately seen as ludicrous.  What I recall--from the few terms of the agreement (officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, to avoid even the word "Agreement") that were made public--is that in return for the lifting of all economic sanctions and the unfreezing of all Iranian bank accounts in the west, the Iranians agreed not to develop nuclear weapons, but refused to allow the U.S. to verify this.  The only provision for "verification"--to be done by the corrupt IAEA--required 27 days of advance notice.  Which would have been enough to yank out any evidence of development.

But I posted a piece on that shortly after the "Joint Plan" was signed.  The point here is that the interviewer thinks Rhodes has admitted scamming congress and the public.
As U.S. representatives worked with the Iranians to ratify details of a framework that had already been agreed to, 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.”

When I suggested that all this dark metafictional play seemed a bit removed from rational debate over America’s future role in the world, Rhodes nodded. “In the absence of rational discourse, we are going to discourse the [expletive] out of this,” he said. “We had test drives to know who was going to be able to carry our message effectively, and how to use outside groups like Ploughshares, the Iran Project and whomever else. So we knew the tactics that worked.” He is proud of the way he sold the Iran deal. “We drove them crazy,” he said of the deal’s opponents.

Yet Rhodes bridled at the suggestion that there has been anything deceptive about the way that the agreement itself was sold. “Look, with Iran, these are agreements between governments. Yes, I would prefer that it turns out that [two members of the Iranian govt] 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.”

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. 
Of course Rhodes's efforts--at the behest of his boss--ensure that when the Iranian mullahs finally decide to try to wipe out Israel, none of them will say Wait, how can we be sure the Americans won't defend their ally?

Oh, and the Iranians will have nuclear weapons.  

But at least we won't intervene.  Ah, nice.

I wrote this analysis because not one of you believes there can be this much cynicism and malicious cunning at top levels of your government.  Whether Rhodes is actually leading the nation's press by the nose or whether the latter would do anything for the Democrats no matter who was asking is only barely relevant, because Rhodes seems positively gleeful over what he thinks is his ability--power, if you like--to "ventriloquize" (amazing to see that word) the nation's editors and TV decision-makers (like his brother, president of CBS News).  

In Rhodes's view it's almost his duty to feed reporters what his boss wants them to say, since in his view they lack enough experience to figure out the truth for themselves.  Well, maybe not truth, but...

Reading the interview one is struck by how much Rhodes seems to be the very personification of the  reporters he holds in such contempt.  But hey, not a problem, citizen:  You don't own any real estate in the middle east, and the prevailing winds will blow any fallout east, meaning it'll be dispersed almost to background levels before it reaches our west coast.

Update:
Rhodes has written a piece defending (but not denying) his comments in the interview.  Click on the link and then...*read the comments*.  Rhodes doubles down on his cunning, manipulative approach:  His defense is interesting:  Trying to defuse the claim that the White House was shown to have lied when they said that negotiations with Iran only began after the election of so-called "moderates" in 2013, Rhodes notes that the emperor *wanted* to make a deal with Iran all along.  Period.

He says things like "we believed" to justify the emperor's good intentions.  He repeatedly says verification is assured, but ignores claims by critics that Iran refused to allow inspection of any military facilities (meaning that's where any development would be done); that Iran demanded (and the emperor agreed) that any "verification" measure could only be done by the IAEA, not the U.S.; and that any IAEA inspections would require 24 days' notice--a time long enough to make them effectively useless.

But the flaws don't matter:  The emperor will be out of office before the Iranian mushroom cloud erupts, and the Democrats will be able to blame it on global warming, or mean Republicans being meanies to special snowflakes.  Or something.  And the mainstream Dem media will back 'em up.

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