Like the Biblical serpent in the Garden of Eden, the Obama administration has manipulated the American public into supporting a nuclear deal, possibly against their own best interests, a senior security advisor gloated to The New York Times. In a profile of Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes written by reporter David Samuels, the former acknowledged that a carefully crafted campaign to misrepresent the background of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran and 6 major Western powers was deliberately executed to smoothe the way for the US to disengage from Middle Eastern affairs.
The profile details Rhodes’s transition from aspiring novelist to political writer, as well as his career path to the White House. It focuses on Rhodes’s elaborate spin campaign in favor of the nuclear deal, which critics claim leaves far too much room for Iran to develop the nuclear weapon negotiations were meant to prevent.
Officially, negotiations began when a more moderate government, led by President Hassan Rouhani, was elected in Iran in 2013. In reality, however, Rhodes pointed out, they were initiated in 2012, many months before Rouhani took power. In Samuels’s analysis, “Even where the particulars of that story are true, the implications that readers and viewers are encouraged to take away from those particulars are often misleading or false.”
Rhodes is particularly flippant in describing his methods. “All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus,” he told Samuels. “Now they don’t. They call [the White House] 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. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”
According to Samuels’s piece, “Rhodes has become adept at ventriloquizing many people at once.” He knows how to navigate the new world of social and electronic media to ensure his version of the truth is circulating.
“We created an echo chamber,” he admitted to Samuels, when asked about the flood of experts suddenly expressing support for the JCPOA. “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.” In addition, “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.”
According to Samuels, he is proud of the way he sold the Iran deal. “We drove them crazy,” he said of the deal’s opponents.
Rhodes explained to Samuels the drive behind President Barack Obama’s policies in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East, putting appeasement of enemies ahead of supporting allies. According to Rhodes, it’s all about avoiding another war. “We don’t have to kind of be in cycles of conflict if we can find other ways to resolve these issues,” he said. “We can do things that challenge the conventional thinking that, you know, ‘AIPAC doesn’t like this,’ or ‘the Israeli government doesn’t like this,’ or ‘the gulf countries don’t like it.’ It’s the possibility of improved relations with adversaries. It’s nonproliferation. So all these threads that the president’s been spinning — and I mean that not in the press sense — for almost a decade, they kind of all converged around Iran.”
To appreciate the implications of this policy, Samuels turned to Leon Panetta, former CIA director and Secretary of Defense, both under the Obama administration. Panetta confirmed that Rouhani’s election was no more than a useful smokescreen for nuclear negotiations and had nothing to do with any actual change in the Islamic Republic’s policies.
“There was not much question that the Quds Force and the supreme leader ran that country with a strong arm,” Panetta told Samuels, “and there was not much question that this kind of opposing view could somehow gain any traction.”
That doesn’t matter, though, according to Rhodes. “Look, with Iran, in a weird way, these are state-to-state issues. They’re agreements between governments. Yes, I would prefer that it turns out that Rouhani and Zarif” — Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister — “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.”
Panetta also told Samuels that while he once believed Obama would make the tough decisions and take military action against Iran should it become apparent that the Islamic Republic was developing a nuclear weapon, today he is not so sure.
Panetta was tasked with ensuring Israel would not strike Iran preemptively during negotiations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-defence minister Ehud Barak “were both interested in the answer to the question, ‘Is the president serious?’ ” Panetta recalled to Samuels. “And you know my view, talking with the president, was: If brought to the point where we had evidence that they’re developing an atomic weapon, I think the president is serious that he is not going to allow that to happen.”
However, “Would I make that same assessment now?” he went on. “Probably not.”
Rhodes’s cavalier attitude towards the truth and open public discourse have brought harsh criticism in the wake of the Samuels profile. Algemeiner reported that journalists and pundits alike have lashed out at the Obama advisor, adding a few sharp words for those who fell for his tricks hook, line and sinker.
New York Post columnist John Podhoretz wrote in a Thursday oped that the White House “played us for fools”, adding, “Congratulations, liberals of the Washington press corps and elite organizations: You’re a bunch of suckers. We all know this because the Obama White House just told us so.”
Meanwhile, Omri Ceren, a senior staffer at The Israel Project (TIP), a group which opposed the Iran deal, took a page out of Rhodes’s own book, posting via Twitter, “When Rhodes and company brag about how they manipulated their favorite journalists, you don’t get the sense they respect those journalists.” He also tweeted,
Reporters and arms control experts in Rhodes echo chamber all echoing same defensive talking points this morning, which is sort of neat.
— Omri Ceren (@cerenomri) May 6, 2016