Mark Collins – Middle East and Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser: “Ben Rhodes, the asshole”; “profile…is just gross”

I have seen Mr Rhodes (more here–he tweets @rhodes44) being interviewed on television quite a few times; he invariably struck me as a very jejeune talking point puppet–much like many Canadian Conservatives during the Harper government–with no particular knowledge of, or interest in, the matters of state about which he was being asked.

Now he is the subject of a fawning profile in the NY Times Magazine about his leading White House role in shaping perceptions, by preference through social rather than traditional media, of the president’s foreign actions and intentions. Two resulting pieces:

A stunning profile of Ben Rhodes, the asshole who is the president’s foreign policy guru
By Thomas E. Ricks

Why the Ben Rhodes profile in the New York Times Magazine is just gross
Absurdity, self-regard, hypocrisy, chumminess between writer and subject — it’s all there.
[NY Times]

Not much to disagree with there. But excerpts from the article do give most important insight into the president’s motivations and approach, and to the deputy adviser’s:

The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru [more spinner-in-chief actually]
How Ben Rhodes rewrote the rules of diplomacy for the digital age.

…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. [NO WONDER NO-ONE IN THE REGION TRUSTS POTUS.]

…Rhodes’s passion [about the Iranian nuclear deal] 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. When I asked whether the prospect of this same kind of far-reaching spin campaign being run by a different administration is something that scares him, he admitted that it does. “I mean, I’d prefer a sober, reasoned public debate, after which members of Congress reflect and take a vote,” he said, shrugging. “But that’s impossible.”

…He [Rhodes] is torn. As the president himself once asked, how are we supposed to weigh the tens of thousands who have died in Syria against the tens of thousands who have died in Congo? What power means is that the choice is yours, no matter who is telling the story [related? “New Canadian Government: What About, say, Black African Refugees?“].

Very relevant to the big Middle East picture:

The West and the Middle East: No Guts
[note further links]

By the way I found it most telling that there was no attention to China or Russia in the profile. More on broad US foreign policy and on the National Security Council:

US Neo-Imperialism, or, God Damn the NSC!
[note further links]

That “neo-imperialism” aspect may well be something much in the president’s mind; whether on agrees with him or not, he does seem to be trying to take a rather grand view.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


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