Who Is Ben Rhodes and why should I care?
Last week The New York Times Magazine published a 10,000 word profile of Ben Rhodes, who serves as deputy national security advisor for strategic communications – giving him a key role in crafting the administration’s message on foreign policy and security issues.
House Republicans jumped on the article because Rhodes was, shall we say, imprudent discussing how he and the president were able to convince the press and lawmakers to support the controversial Iran nuclear deal. Republicans saw an opportunity to re-ignite the debate and politically embarrass President Obama ahead of November’s election.
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So some third-rate White House PR guy leaked a memo—big deal!
Rhodes is a lot more than that—he was tied to the President on all foreign policy decisions and had a seat at the table at all policy briefings, including the National Security Council. The article has sent shockwaves throughout Washington because of Rhodes’ incredible condescending comments about the DC press corps and foreign policy experts, who he calls “the Blob” and how he was able to play them like a group of puppets by trotting out a legion of arms-control experts and think-tank wonks to champion the bargain to the media.
“We created an echo chamber," Rhodes told The Times. "They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say."
Hmm. It’s like a scene from House of Cards, but I’m not seeing a smoking gun.
The 38-year-old’s remarks also raised new questions about whether the White House knowingly misled the public about the origins of the nuclear agreement when it claimed that talks with Iran began in 2013, when they really started before then.
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The fallout from the article has put the West Wing on its heels. This week White House press secretary Josh Earnest has repeatedly tried to contain the mess, describing Republican criticism as nothing more than revenge for Iran deal.
Rhodes himself tried to clean up his remarks by saying the media is full of “27-year-olds … who literally know nothing” and labeling the Washington foreign policy establishment as the “blob” -- in a post on Medium.
Rhodes is hardly the first and he certainly won’t be the last White House aide to get out over his skis. But given the months-long, bruising fight over the Iran deal, GOP lawmakers want to put Rhodes on the mat.
What can the Republicans do at this late date? It’s a done deal, isn’t it?
Yes, but this is a political move to make the Dems look bad. On Wednesday, House Oversight Committee chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), invited Rhodes to testify before the panel next Tuesday to examine if he and others in the administration misrepresented the Iran deal order to sell it to the public.
It’s highly doubtful that Rhodes will show and Earnest dismissed the idea of convening such a hearing.
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“Well, with all due respect to the chairman, if he has an interest in a hearing about false narratives as it relates to the Iran deal, then I've got some suggestions for people that they should swear in,” he said before rattling off panel members, and other GOP lawmakers, and charged them with ginning up comments about the agreement.
What’s the end game?
Meanwhile, House Armed Services Committee chair Mac Thornberry (R-TX) filed legislation that would slash the size of the National Security Council from its estimated size of 400 staffers, down to 100.
“All of President Obama’s former Defense Secretaries have complained about micromanagement by the NSC. I have personally heard from troops on the frontlines who have received intimidating calls from junior White House staffers,” Thornberry said in a statement.
“The current NSC has grown so large that the White House cannot even give us a clear estimate of how many people actually work for it. Now we hear reports of NSC staffers running misinformation campaigns targeted at Congress and the press,” he added.
In addition to irking Congress, reporters, and foreign policy analysts, Rhodes’ comments drudge up other memories for some experts.
Rhodes “comes off like a real asshole,” Thomas Ricks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning military correspondent, wrote last week.
“Fact check: Obama’s hasn’t been an original foreign policy as much as it has been a politicized foreign policy. And this Rhodes guy reminds me of the Kennedy smart guys who helped get us into the Vietnam War,” he added.