White House foreign policy adviser Ben Rhodes committed one of the cardinal sins of the political aide over the weekend, getting portrayed as an arrogant, scheming Machiavelli in The New York Times Magazine. According to writer David Samuels, Rhodes sold President Obama's nuclear deal with Iran by contemptuously manipulating journalists and lying to the public.
Missing from the article is any forthright acknowledgment that Samuels has a massive axe to grind, and thus the article should be read with several large handfuls of salt. He was a fervent opponent of the White House's nuclear deal with Iran and even argued in 2009 that Israel should preemptively bomb the Islamic Republic. He quite obviously slanted the article accordingly — even stooping to a frankly deceptive implication that reporter Laura Rozen is a White House shill, probably in an effort to make other journalists angry at Rhodes.
So his argument that the Iran deal was sold on lies — or that the experts who endorsed it are frauds — is nonsense. Still, reading between the lines, it's an interesting look at the jaundiced perspective Obama has for the D.C. foreign policy establishment — and a troubling vision for what might come after he is gone.
For all Samuels' loading the scales against him, Rhodes still comes off as a very positive influence in the Obama White House. Here's how Samuels describes Rhodes' basic foreign policy worldview:
He referred to the American foreign-policy establishment as the Blob. According to Rhodes, the Blob includes Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, and other Iraq-war promoters from both parties who now whine incessantly about the collapse of the American security order in Europe and the Middle East... [His passion] 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. [The New York Times Magazine]
Whatever good has come from the Obama administration on foreign policy — and it must be admitted that it could have been much worse — it comes from this attitude. The fundamental attribute of "the Blob" really is a sort of amoral incompetence, where constant bloody and catastrophic failure has virtually zero impact on elite thinking. (And that's leaving aside the leaking of classified documents to get laid, drunkenly lambasting the president to a journalist, the inept handling of the nuclear arsenal, and so on.)
Securing the Iran deal was an enormous uphill struggle against the forces of American hawks both liberal and conservative who regard the use of military force as good almost by definition, and tend to regard the U.S. armed forces "like toys a rich kid got for Christmas." If the deal stands, it will certainly be the most well-regarded part of the Obama foreign policy legacy.
However, it must be said as well that Obama and Rhodes do not have clean hands either here. The president is operating a worldwide fleet of missile drones that basically claims the power to assassinate anyone, anywhere, at any time, including American children, and has inflicted untold psychological damage on hundreds of thousands of innocent people. The surge in Afghanistan utterly failed. There are troops on the ground in Iraq again (and in dozens and dozens of other countries). He has enabled Saudi Arabia in its disastrous war of aggression in Yemen, which has redounded directly to the benefit of Al Qaeda.
In short, while it seems that Obama and Rhodes really are trying fairly hard to limit the damage done by overseas adventurism, eventually they run into hard limits. And that is because of the ideology of the Blob, which always frames foreign policy discussions around how force should be used, not whether it's a good idea in the first place.
Next year, we're going to get another president. Chances are pretty good that it will be Hillary Clinton — and as Rhodes himself says, she is a charter Blob member, and even boasts of being BFFs with some of its more odious pseudopods like Henry Kissinger. The Blob will be in charge, free to roll around the globe at will.