Sunday, May 08, 2016

The Times goes full speed against the Iran deal

The NY Times has in its magazine of this week a portrait of Ben Rhodes, the "Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting." of the Obama administration ("The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru"). It is a full blown attack against the Iran deal and Obama's lack of involvement in Syria.

One can only be puzzled what moved Rhodes to invite the author - David Samuels - to report on his work. Maybe Rhodes, who once studied creative writing, saw in him a kindred spirit. Anyway, the article is a hatchet job, and - besides Rhodes - its main target is Obama's foreign policy.

Some have taken the article as a praise of Rhodes. The article starts with describing how brilliant he is and what a good job he has done a.o. reporting for the Iraq Study Group and writing speeches for Obama. But that praise is restricted to Rhodes writing skills and used as an explanation for his influence. Samuels then turns to attack his understanding of international relations and suggests that his brilliance in writing has given him undue and very harmful influence on Obama's foreign policy.

Rhodes switched to International Relations after 9/11 and has since built quite a reputation for his ability to understand complex situations. He played an important role in writing the report of the Iraq Study Group and was closely involved in the negotiations with Iran. Yet Samuels paints him as an amateur writer who - because he never studied international relations - isn't qualified to have anything to do with international relations. Never mind that Clinton and Kerry didn't study international relations either. Never mind that Rhodes worked in the field for almost 15 years.

But it becomes worse. He accuses Rhodes of lying to sell the Iran deal in the US. He uses a classical straw man argument tactic, first suggesting that the deal was sold as the result of the election of "moderates" in Iran and then claiming that much of the agreement was already settled before. In fact everyone knew that there were negotiations before 2012. The election of Rouhani just made it easier to conclude and sell the deal.

Sure, Rhodes isn't a saint. He is the kind of cynic who looks down on many of the press and the foreign policy experts. But such arrogance is quite common for young professionals who shine in their profession and haven't had much public exposure. Yet Samuels makes a major effort to enlarge this behavior and make it look like a major character defect.

And then - in the last quarter of the text - Samuels goes for the kill. He visits a lot of "experts", mostly anonymous, and draws devastating conclusions: Rhodes doesn't listen to people with different opinions. He doesn't care if Iran gets the bomb. He never changes his mind. He is naive and not grown up. Iraq is Rhodes' one-word answer to criticism. And as a result of Rhodes's pushing "We" are trying to strong-arm Syrian rebels into surrendering to the dictator who murdered their families and "We" insist on allowing Iran to maintain its supply lines to Hezbollah. Journalists who do have some respect for Rhodes are robots who spread his propaganda.

All over the internet one can now find articles demonizing Rhodes and claiming that we were lied to about the Iran deal.

However, the longer one studies the article, the less of it keeps standing. There is no coherent story about how Rhodes thinks. Samuels looks ridiculous when he - after having blamed Rhodes for not having an education in international relations - criticizes Rhodes views in a very superficial way. He has fixed ideas about Iran and Syria and just cannot accept that Rhodes has different ideas. It looks like Samuels has done some cherry picking among the experts in order to get the results that he was looking for. But here too there is no consistent story.

Usually the moderation of comments section of the Times is rather objective, trying to give both sides in a discussion a voice. This article is among the 5% exceptions: only comments critical of Rhodes and the Iran deal are published. It looks like this isn't over yet.