A lengthy New York Times Magazine profile of Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, portrays him as a spinmeister contemptuous of the foreign policy establishment who fed credulous journalists a misleading narrative to sell the Iran nuclear deal to the American people.
According to writer David Samuels, Rhodes oversaw a “war room” whose task was to sell the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to Congress ahead of crucial votes last fall that failed to kill the agreement.
“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,” Samuels wrote.
“We created an echo chamber,” he quoted Rhodes as admitting. “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”
According to Samuels’s piece, the strategy included the White House’s TheIranDeal Twitter feed. Rhodes used groups like the Ploughshares Fund, which advocates the elimination of nuclear weapons and lobbied for the JCPOA.
“We drove them crazy,” Samuels quotes Rhodes as saying of the opponents of the nuclear deal.
Samuels wrote that Rhodes does not think much of the journalists the war room was using to spread its narrative: “The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns,” Rhodes was quoted as telling him. “They literally know nothing.”
According to the article, the administration put out a deliberately misleading narrative about the way the nuclear negotiations came about, linking them to the rise in 2013 of the “moderate” President Hasan Rouhani at the expense of “hardliners,” ushering in a supposedly new political reality in Iran.
In fact in 2012 State Department director of policy planning Jake Sullivan – a close aide of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – began holding talks with the Iranians in Oman and elsewhere, and he and Deputy Secretary of State William Burns drew up the framework of what would eventually become the JCPOA three months before the election that brought Rouhani to office.
Obama was known by insiders to have wanted to make a deal with Iran from the beginning of his presidency in 2009, but the idea that the rise of “moderates” provided the opportunity was “largely manufactured for the purpose for selling the deal,” Samuels wrote.
Samuels argued that the misleading narrative was useful for the 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,” he wrote.
He characterized the approach as part of a broader strategy – helping the U.S. to extricate itself from existing regional alliances with countries like Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Turkey, with the ultimate goal of U.S. “disengagement from the Middle East.”
It’s an objective, Samuels said, that Rhodes – a determined critic of the Iraq war – views with a sense of “urgency.”
The profile depicts Rhodes as being comfortable in spinning the issue to the American people.
“I mean, I’d prefer a sober, reasoned public debate, after which members of Congress reflect and take a vote,” Samuels quotes Rhodes as telling him. “But that’s impossible.”
Rhodes holds a dim view of the foreign policy establishment, according to Samuels, referring to it contemptuously as “the Blob,” and including in that grouping Hillary Clinton; Obama’s first defense secretary Robert Gates; and “editors and reporters at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker and elsewhere.”
The Obama Administration has apparently decided on its course of action regarding Judea and Samaria until the inauguration of a new president in January: threats and attacks delivered through well placed leaks with the major news outlets, which are intended to foster anxiety in Jerusalem. A case in point is this weekend’s AP story, citing US and other diplomats who say Obama plans to endorse a “tougher tone” against Israel in the upcoming report by the so-called “Quartet” of mediators from the US, the EU, Russia and the UN. Said diplomats have promised that the US will no longer endeavor to temper the language of the report, criticizing settlements construction, demolitions and property seizures. They also promise to place the blame for the impasse in the peace negotiations squarely on Israel.
The report, due in late May or early June, will bear no intrinsic penalties against Israel, an island of violence and unrest in an otherwise peaceful and idyllic Middle East, but the diplomats who leaked the news have told AP it could be used by the UN assembly and “possibly sent to the Security Council for an endorsement.”
It is curious why the Obama White House would want to create yet another problem for the Democratic presumptive presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who would be forced to comment on such a report and run the risk of alienating either the left- or right-flank of the party. Is the Obama need for revenge against the Jewish State stronger than his support for his own party’s campaign? Time will tell.
On its face, the AP leak looks more like a taunt than a change in policy, reminiscent of the reference to the comparison by an anonymous Administration official of Netanyahu to chicken droppings in the famous October 2014 Jeffrey Goldberg article. Like that and so many other poisoned arrows, the report will probably enrage Netanyahu and his circle, and will also endorse complaints on the part of the PA, but its influence on policy changes is doubtful. Scores of anti-Israeli, pro-Arab reports cannot change the math of the 20th Knesset nor the precarious balance of Israel’s Labor party under Chairman Itzhak Herzog.
As the AP story put it soberly, “The Quartet, which is supposed to guide the two parties to peace, has been largely irrelevant for the past several years. It was created in 2002 at a low point in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship and in the years since has held sporadic meetings. Most have ended with bland statements condemning violence, criticizing settlements and calling for both sides to improve security and the atmosphere for peace talks. … The new report will repeat those calls, but the diplomats said they hoped the new criticism of Israel, in particular, would jolt the parties into action.”
Supporters of President Obama typically argue that he’s had to act alone in the course of his presidency because the GOP is preternaturally hostile to him. Most often the argument they offer comes down to racism. They think the underlying animus in the Republican rank and file to Obama is discomfort over his race.
There’s certainly little doubt that there has been a sharpening of partisan lines in recent years, but this goes back much further than our current president’s two terms. Yet there is also little doubt that those lines have hardened during the Obama years. Witness the rise of the Tea Party and now the self-devouring anti-establishment rebellion within the GOP base.
Progressives take pleasure in the current GOP internal division, even if they find the rise of Trump horrifying (never mind that it confirms their most fevered anti-Republican imaginings). There’s no doubt that passions are running high and a lot of those on the GOP side are still directed at the current president. The question is why it’s come to this.
The GOP closed ranks soon after Obama’s election (marked by Sen. Mitch McConnell’s famously intemperate remark about making sure Obama would be a one-term president – a remarkably dumb thing to say publicly even if that is always what political parties aim to do when the other side wins an election). But aside from that initial reaction (of one party hunkering down to protect its turf and regain power) and the usual tension between the legislative and executive branches of government, something more has been going on since Obama stepped into the Oval Office. The left cries racism, and because there has been racist sentiment in some quarters hostile to Obama, it’s inordinately easy for them to make that claim. But it’s simplistic and misleading.
Obama won election to the presidency twice and his racial makeup hasn’t changed in that time. The largest segment of the American electorate clearly has no racial animus. And among those who oppose Obama, most do so because they find his policies wrongheaded. But clearly he has inspired an unusual amount of angst among his opposition during his years in office. Why?
Start with his scornful attitude toward his opponents and then factor in his oft-demonstrated willingness to bend the rules (as in the Constitution) to get his way. Presidents in the past have traditionally reached out to the opposition and tried to win converts to their causes, allies on the legislative side of government. This president hasn’t.
When he controlled both houses of Congress, Obama used the overwhelming support it gave him to push through what he wanted without regard to the concerns of the opposition. Then, losing the House as a result of Americans’ disaffection over the Obamacare political steamroller, he focused on using the Senate, still controlled by Democrats, to stymie any legislation he opposed.
Under then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Congress (which requires joint action by both houses for most things) was paralyzed because Reid controlled the Senate calendar and kept bills sent by the House to the Senate from getting a vote while keeping senatorial legislative initiatives under his tight control, preventing amendments to legislation he supported.
He did it to keep bills that might have presented the president with unpleasant political choices from ever reaching his desk, thereby sparing him the uncomfortable optics of vetoing unwanted legislation or feeling forced to sign something he preferred not to (which is why Obama has had such a sparse veto record during his years in office).
Even after control of the Senate fell to the GOP and Reid lost his ability to manage and dominate the Senate agenda, he used the Senate’s filibuster rule to continue to prevent bills the president didn’t want from coming to a vote and thus reaching his desk (e.g., the filibuster engineered by Reid to block the promised vote on the Iran nuclear deal — a deal cut by the president as an executive agreement rather than as a treaty which the scope of that kind of arrangement between the United States and another country would normally have called for).
So it’s not surprising that there is so much anger on the conservative side of the aisle. Obama has used both congressional majorities and minorities to thwart Republicans in Congress while attacking them from the political stump and condescendingly dismissing them in public interview after public interview.
Rather than reach out to the other side to make his case, to win allies over to his side on particular issues, to work with the opposition, the president has high-handedly gone around them, unhesitatingly using his power to issue executive orders to alter, overrule, or simply replace legislation in this country, thereby usurping the constitutionally designated power of Congress. And he has directed his agencies (see the EPA) to do the same while some of them (like the IRS) have at the least given the appearance of coordinating with members of his administration to act outside of the law.
With that kind of record, no one on the left should wonder why this president inspires such anger and angst in his political opponents. Nor should they simply assume it’s all about race.
The White House denied reports that the fact that Saudi King Salman failed to greet President Barack Obama at the airport, after greeting Gulf State representatives just before Obama landed, meant US-Saudi relations are in a crisis. Administration officials are insisting the president and the king “really cleared the air” in their Wednesday meeting afterwards.
When he arrived, the president was greeted at the airport by the governor of Riyadh, and the event was ignored by Saudi TV. That same day, King Salman bin Abdulaziz and senior officials were seen on state TV greeting the leaders of neighboring Gulf states who were arriving for Thursday’s summit of the Saudi-dominated Gulf Cooperation council, which Obama will address.
Eventually, King Salman did greet Obama in the al-Auja palace, where they posed for a photo-op, where they said, “The American people send their greetings and we are very grateful for your hospitality, not just for this meeting but for hosting the GCC-US summit that’s taking place tomorrow,” and, “I and the Saudi people are very pleased that you, Mr. President, are visiting us.”
In the background of this obvious rude treatment of Obama is the Congressional bill allowing lawsuits against the Saudi government in American courts for the Sept. 11, 2001 crimes against humanity. The Saudis are threatening to sell their US assets if Obama signs that bill into law, making the kingdom liable for multiple billions of dollars in damages from the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Former Saudi Intelligence Chief Prince Turki Al-Faisal told CNN his country plans “a recalibration of our relationship with America. How far we can go with our dependence on America, how much can we rely on steadfastness from American leadership, what is it that makes for our joint benefits to come together.”
Out of the 19 hijackers of the 9/11 attacks, 15 were Saudis. The Saudis sponsored the Taliban in Afghanistan (although, to be fair, the CIA started training mostly Saudi extremists to fight the Soviets there). It is highly probable that ISIS, too, receives financial support from elements in Saudi Arabia.
One day after news came out last week that President Obama asked for and would receive early screeners of the Game of Thrones season 6 episodes, journalist Vanessa Golembewski applied through the Freedom of Information Act that the president must “share his advance screeners” with the American people.
At the Game of Thrones premiere event in Hollywood on Sunday, showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss confirmed rumors that Barack Obama wanted – and was going to get – episodes of their ultra-secret show ahead of their debut on HBO. “Only Obama Gets Game Of Thrones Screeners, So I Filed An FOIA Request For Them” is the title of Golembewski’s story, filed with Refinery29.com, asking, Why did Obama get these highly coveted assets?
“He’s the leader of the free world,” she quoted Weiss, who added, “When the commander-in-chief says, ‘I want to see advanced episodes,’ what are you gonna do?”
“This was my first time filing a FOIA request and I wasn’t really prepared to explain myself on a government form. I went for the most direct approach. Under ‘Description,’ I wrote: ‘I would like President Obama to share his advance screeners for Game of Thrones with the public.’ Plus, the FOIA site mentioned that the simpler the request, the faster it would be to process.”
“Perhaps, in one of his final cool-president moves,” Golembewski wrote about Obama, “he will thoroughly recap the first couple episodes of GoT in a vlog or something.”
Hillary and Bernie locked horns, clashed, yelled and smashed into each other almost literally last night in Brooklyn, NY. There were cheap shots and there were deep cuts. It can be safely said that the behavioral gap between the Democratic and Republican debates have narrowed significantly, so neither side can claim the high ground any longer. As to the portion of the debate in which we were most interested, US-Israeli relations, we must agree Hillary made us feel a little safer. Sanders started off from the point of view of B’Tselem and J Street, while Hillary at this point is a little to the right of J Street. After last night’s debate, if you’re a Democrat who cares about Israel, we advise you to buy an industrial size laundry clip, put it on your nose and vote for Bill’s wife. Not because we endorse her, we really really don’t, but she scares us a little less than Bernie does.
And now, to what they actually said last night about how they’d like to finally bring peace to the region…
Blitzer: Senator, let’s talk about the U.S. relationship with Israel. Senator Sanders, you maintained that Israel’s response in Gaza in 2014 was, quote, “disproportionate and led to the unnecessary loss of innocent life.”
What do you say to those who believe that Israel has a right to defend itself as it sees fit?
Sanders: Well, as somebody who spent many months of my life when I was a kid in Israel, who has family in Israel, of course Israel has a right not only to defend themselves, but to live in peace and security without fear of terrorist attack. That is not a debate.
But — but what you just read, yeah, I do believe that. Israel was subjected to terrorist attacks, has every right in the world to destroy terrorism. But we had in the Gaza area — not a very large area — some 10,000 civilians who were wounded and some 1,500 who were killed.
Heckler: Free Palestine!
Sanders: Now, if you’re asking not just me, but countries all over the world was that a disproportionate attack, the answer is that I believe it was, and let me say something else.
Sanders: And, let me say something else. As somebody who is 100% pro-Israel, in the long run — and this is not going to be easy, God only knows, but in the long run if we are ever going to bring peace to that region which has seen so much hatred and so much war, we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity.
Sanders: So what is not to say — to say that right now in Gaza, right now in Gaza unemployment is s somewhere around 40%. You got a log of that area continues, it hasn’t been built, decimated, houses decimated health care decimated, schools decimated. I believe the United States and the rest of the world have got to work together to help the Palestinian people.
That does not make me anti-Israel. That paves the way, I think…
Blitzer: … Thank you, Senator…
Sanders: …to an approach that works in the Middle East.
Blitzer: Thank you. Secretary Clinton, do you agree with Senator Sanders that Israel overreacts to Palestinians attacks, and that in order for there to be peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel must, quote, end its disproportionate responses?
An interactive delegate calculator that lets you simulate how the 2016 Republican nomination process could unfold.
Clinton: I negotiated the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in November of 2012. I did it in concert with…
Clinton: President Abbas of the Palestinian authority based in Ramallah, I did it with the then Muslim Brotherhood President, Morsi, based in Cairo, working closely with Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli cabinet. I can tell you right now I have been there with Israeli officials going back more than 25 years that they do not seek this kind of attacks. They do not invite the rockets raining down on their towns and villages.
They do not believe that there should be a constant incitement by Hamas aided and abetted by Iran against Israel. And, so when it came time after they had taken the incoming rockets, taken the assaults and ambushes on their soldiers and they called and told me, I was in Cambodia, that they were getting ready to have to invade Gaza again because they couldn’t find anybody to talk to tell them to stop it, I flew all night, I got there, I negotiated that.
So, I don’t know how you run a country when you are under constant threat, terrorist tact, rockets coming at you. You have a right to defend yourself.
That does not mean — that does not mean that you don’t take appropriate precautions. And, I understand that there’s always second guessing anytime there is a war. It also does not mean that we should not continue to do everything we can to try to reach a two-state solution, which would give the Palestinians the rights and…
Blitzer: … Thank you…
Clinton: … just let me finish. The rights and the autonomy that they deserve. And, let me say this, if Yasser Arafat had agreed with my husband at Camp David in the Late 1990s to the offer then Prime Minister Barat put on the table, we would have had a Palestinian state for 15 years.
Blitzer: Thank you, Senator, go ahead — go ahead, Senator.
Sanders: I don’t think that anybody would suggest that Israel invites and welcomes missiles flying into their country. That is not the issue.
And, you evaded the answer. You evaded the question. The question is not does Israel have a right to respond, nor does Israel have a right to go after terrorists and destroy terrorism. That’s not the debate. Was their response disproportionate?
I believe that it was, you have not answered that.
Clinton: I will certainly be willing to answer it. I think I did answer it by saying that of course there have to be precautions taken but even the most independent analyst will say the way that Hamas places its weapons, the way that it often has its fighters in civilian garb, it is terrible.
I’m not saying it’s anything other than terrible. It would be great — remember, Israel left Gaza. They took out all the Israelis. They turned the keys over to the Palestinian people.
Clinton: And what happened? Hamas took over Gaza.
So instead of having a thriving economy with the kind of opportunities that the children of the Palestinians deserve, we have a terrorist haven that is getting more and more rockets shipped in from Iran and elsewhere.
Blitzer: Thank you, Secretary.
Sanders: I read Secretary Clinton’s statement speech before AIPAC. I heard virtually no discussion at all about the needs of the Palestinian people. Almost none in that speech.
Sanders: So here is the issue: of course Israel has a right to defend itself, but long-term there will never be peace in that region unless the United States plays a role, an even-handed role trying to bring people together and recognizing the serious problems that exist among the Palestinian people.
That is what I believe the world wants to us do and that’s the kind of leadership that we have got to exercise.
Clinton: Well, if I — I want to add, you know, again describing the problem is a lot easier than trying to solve it. And I have been involved, both as first lady with my husband’s efforts, as a senator supporting the efforts that even the Bush administration was undertaking, and as secretary of state for President Obama, I’m the person who held the last three meetings between the president of the Palestinian Authority and the prime minister of Israel.
There were only four of us in the room, Netanyahu, Abbas, George Mitchell, and me. Three long meetings. And I was absolutely focused on what was fair and right for the Palestinians.
I was absolutely focused on what we needed to do to make sure that the Palestinian people had the right to self-government. And I believe that as president I will be able to continue to make progress and get an agreement that will be fair both to the Israelis and the Palestinians without ever, ever undermining Israel’s security.
Blitzer: A final word, Senator, go ahead.
Sanders: There comes a time — there comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time.
Clinton: … you know, I have spoken about and written at some length the very candid conversations I’ve had with him and other Israeli leaders. Nobody is saying that any individual leader is always right, but it is a difficult position.
If you are from whatever perspective trying to seek peace, trying to create the conditions for peace when there is a terrorist group embedded in Gaza that does not want to see you exist, that is a very difficult challenge.
Blitzer: Senator, go ahead.
Sanders: You gave a major speech to AIPAC, which obviously deals with the Middle East crisis, and you barely mentioned the Palestinians. And I think, again, it is a complicated issue and God knows for decades presidents, including President Clinton and others, Jimmy Carter and others have tried to do the right thing.
All that I am saying is we cannot continue to be one-sided. There are two sides to the issue.
The Obama administration, ever eager to hand out more benefits to the enemies of Israel, the United States, and the rest of Western Civilization, is now planning to help Iran obtain access to U.S. dollars — which will help Iran buy more on the international markets, the Wall Street Journal reports today.
This concession by the U.S. to Iran is apparently being made because Iran has asserted that the unsigned, non-binding deal Iran entered into last year with the United States and other countries does not provide enough benefits to Iran.
At the same time that the Obama administration is trying to figure out how to give Iran access to U.S. dollars, the administration’s own Treasury Department still maintains that the entire Iranian banking system is one big “primary money laundering concern.”
Money laundering is a financial transaction designed to conceal what money is used for or where it came from. President Obama’s Treasury Department, not yet having completely unmoored itself from reality or common sense, sees Iran’s financial system as a money laundering operation because Iran moves money around to support a variety of programs that the rest of the world asserts – usually – are impermissible for Iran to engage in, such as funding terror organizations all around the world like Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as Iranian missile programs that some still believe Iran is barred from operating. To accomplish this, Iran conceals the true sources and uses of the money. That’s the money laundering.
But while the Treasury Department doesn’t want Iran to have access to dollars, the Treasury Department and the State Department want Iran to have access to U.S. dollars. Yes, you read that correctly. After all, says Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, we here in the United States must of course comply with “the letter and the spirit” of the unsigned, non-binding-on-Iran “agreement.”
Surprisingly for the most powerful economy in the world, the big worry here is not only that Iran will be unhappy with the U.S., but also that a continued ban on Iranian access to dollars “will ultimately drive business activity away form the U.S. financial system.” To say that more clearly: While the U.S. might prefer that Iran not engage in all these transactions, it’s going to do so anyway, and if we don’t help, Iran will simply conduct the transactions in another currency. Since we can’t beat ‘em, we might as well join ‘em.
The combination of these two pressures is apparently simply irresistible to the Obama administration, and as a result, in March, Lew told a congressional committee that the administration “will make sure Iran gets relief” from restrictions that limit its access to dollars. The relief will come in the form of changes in Treasury regulations, so no pesky Congressmen, or annoyances like a vote of the U.S. legislature, will be involved.
A few of those irritating Congressmen have complained to the administration about these proposed changes. They’ve written angry letters to President Obama and Secretary Lew. Those letters have had as much impact as your letters to The New York Times about its coverage of Israel.
Of course, readers with long memories may recall that back in the summer, when the Iran agreement was not yet an unsigned unbinding – usually – deal, Lew said this about the agreement’s impact on Iran’s access to dollars: after the agreement becomes final (he did not tell us it would be unsigned, of course, or non-binding, at least on Iran) “Iranian banks will not be able to clear U.S. dollars through New York, hold correspondent account relationships with U.S. financial institutions, or enter into financial arrangements with U.S. banks.”