Support WhoWhatWhy
FRESH TAKES | news, content and perspective you might not find elsewhere

NYT’s Rhodes to Nowhere: A Cipher in the Oval Office

images

Obama’s Mysterious “Rhodes” Scholar

For some possible context to President Obama’s current trip to Israel, I thought back to yet another of the New York Times’s oddly unsatisfying “profiles of power.” This one, which was published last week, introduces us to a highly influential Obama foreign policy adviser:

As President Obama prepares to visit Israel next week, he is turning, as he often does, to Benjamin J. Rhodes, a 35-year-old deputy national security adviser with a soft voice, strong opinions and a reputation around the White House as the man who channels Mr. Obama on foreign policy.

Mr. Rhodes is drafting the address to the Israeli people the president plans to give in Jerusalem, but his influence extends beyond what either his title or speechwriting duties suggest. Drawing on personal ties and a philosophical kinship with Mr. Obama that go back to the 2008 campaign, Mr. Rhodes helped prod his boss to take a more activist policy toward Egypt and Libya when those countries erupted in 2011.

Unfortunately, the article never really explains what that “philosophical kinship” is. It would be of particular interest to those who have always wondered, and still do not know, what Barack Obama’s overarching philosophy is.

We don’t really learn much about Rhodes’s either, beyond the fact that he is quietly pushing for more US intervention in Syria, on the heels of a successful push to convince a supposedly reticent Obama to bomb the heck out of Libya, purportedly for human rights reasons. Some now know better—that removing Qaddafi had precious little to do with helping innocent people and a lot to do with oil companies, banks and intelligence agencies.

What’s especially strange about the article is that, for those of us who continue to wonder how a virtual cipher rose so quickly from the Illinois legislature to become the most powerful person in the world, we end up wondering the same thing about an aspiring novelist from New York City who fairly catapults to enormous influence in shaping policy regarding some of the most complex and sensitive matters facing this country.

Somehow, beyond noting that “In many ways, Mr. Rhodes is an improbable choice for a job at the heart of the national security apparatus,” the Times is not sufficiently curious about any of this to probe further. Instead, it provides a clutch of clichés. We learn that the Rhodes family is fiercely divided between Yankees fans and Mets fans. We learn the father is a conservative-leaning Episcopalian from Texas, the mother a liberal Jew from New York.

Though the Times never underlines this, the careful reader comes to realize that Rhodes’s guiding philosophy is as hard to discern as the precise reasons that he has the president’s ear. In 1997, he briefly worked on the re-election campaign of New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Republican. Shortly after 9/11, the aspiring novelist suddenly decided to do his part for society, moving in 2002 from Queens to Washington, and quickly found himself “helping draft the 9/11 Commission report as well as the Iraq Study Group report.”

The Times, of course, does not think it is worth pointing out how strange this is. It is almost as if all 24-year-olds with no apparent credentials of any kind go directly to explaining the most massively controversial and complex set of circumstances to the American people.

We are never even told what kind of education Rhodes got, or where, or whether he has ever been anything beyond an aspiring novelist. There’s no indication of what he did on Giuliani’s campaign (he would only have been about 19 or 20 at the time) or whether his preference for the mayor who presided over the 9/11 response had anything to do with his going to Washington, or miraculously being hired by Democrat Lee Hamilton to explain 9/11 to the public.

From these improbable beginnings, Rhodes is suddenly a speechwriter on Obama’s presidential campaign. How did he come to Obama’s attention? The article doesn’t say. However, it does note that the Iraq Study group report on which Rhodes worked “was a template for the anti-Iraq war positions taken by Barack Obama” as a senator and candidate.

Yet, without explaining how that report made Obama an Iraq dove, or what Rhodes himself believed, we learn that Rhodes is now essentially the opposite—a hawk pushing Obama to intervene abroad. Again, this contradiction seems totally lost on the poor Times reporter.

In writing Mr. Obama’s speech next week, Mr. Rhodes is likely to focus on America’s unshakable support for Israel. But if history is any guide, he will slip in a reference to Syria’s democratic future.

“Ben always holds on to the pen,” Mr. McFaul said. “Because of his close personal relationship with the president, Ben can always make policy through the speeches and statements made by President Obama.”

Almost as an afterthought about this fellow who rocketed from obscurity to being one of Obama’s most influential advisors, the writer, quoting Rhodes’ older brother on the family’s baseball feud, notes that the brother “is now the president of CBS News.” Searching sources other than the Times, we find that David Rhodes was a production assistant at the fledgling Fox News Channel around the same time Benjamin was volunteering for Giuliani—and was the conservative channel’s news desk Assignment Manager when the planes struck the Twin Towers. Highly trusted by Fox’s chairman Roger Ailes, he managed Fox’s coverage of three presidential elections, including the one where his brother was writing Obama’s speeches, was hired by Bloomberg TV right after Obama’s election, and in 2011 was named president of CBS News.

Only a news organization so hopelessly compromised by nepotism and thoroughly woven into the power structures of this society could not think the fact of Rhodes’s brother’s job and connections worthy of a single full sentence.

If the Times does get around to explaining that, may we ask one question? Did Benjamin Rhodes even attend college? (No thanks to the Times, we learn from a brief Wikipedia entry that he did—Rice University in Houston, Texas). OK, here’s another: what did Rhodes do, prior to 2002, that made him sufficiently expert to help craft the 9/11 report? (No easy answers on that one.)

Once we start asking questions about Benjamin Rhodes, this leads to questions about Obama, about the Times and CBS and journalism in general. And it leads to questions about how much we, the most smugly self-assured people on earth, understand about how anything of significance actually works.

In this case, it’s not unreasonable to wonder whether some particular faction or other might have spotted “talent” and “agreeability” in Rhodes, and helped hasten his rapid ascent to the top. Because it’s mostly just in movies where someone lacking experience or credentials is plucked from obscurity and invited to help decide the important issues of our time.

The great exception to this rule being, of course, presidents themselves. Obama’s own rapid rise from obscurity, like that of George W. Bush (he at least of famous lineage), was astounding, and, if you think about it, it’s kind of remarkable how little we really understand about how and why Obama himself got to the top beyond the package of smarts and charisma—or about what exactly he believes in. We’re a long way from JFK—whose death 50 years ago blunted a tradition of edgy frankness and risk-taking we also associated with FDR, Teddy Roosevelt, Truman, etc.

What better topic to pursue at the start of Obama’s second term than who this man is and what he really believes and where he is leading this country?

 

#  #

WhoWhatWhy plans to continue doing this kind of groundbreaking original reporting. You can count on it. But can we count on you? We cannot do our work without your support.

Please click here to donate; it’s tax deductible. And it packs a punch.

 

 


Comment Policy:
Keep it civil. Keep it relevant. Keep it clear. Keep it short. Identify your assertions as fact or speculation. No typing in ALL-CAPS. Read the article in its entirety before commenting.

Note: As a news site dedicated to serious inquiry, not a bulletin board, we reserve the right to remove any comment at any time, especially when it appears to be part of an effort to push a deceptive, unscientific, false or narrow ideological line. Posts that scapegoat by ethnicity, gender, religion or nationality will also be removed.
  • News Nag

    Okay, I’m thinking in terms of movies, either “Being There” or “Meet Joe Black”. Isn’t it almost always who ya know and doing favors for other people? And also a certain appropriateness of the individual for whatever role he’s being sucked into? However it happened, it’s truly weird.

    • Russ

      When it comes to politics, “I like to watch”
      (Being There joke)

  • Fences

    Brilliant. And scary!

  • smokinbluebear

    Wouldn’t the 9/11 Commission have NEEDED an aspiring novelist to explain how two planes imploded 3 buildings??? The two largest investigations of the last 50 years have both been con jobs–the Warren Commission failed to interview a large percentage of the witnesses in Dealey Plaza, but it did not take long for Mark Lane to reveal over a dozen prime witnesses who all disputed the “Magic Bullet Theory” in his 1966 book/film “Rush to Judgement.”
    Likewise, the 9/11 Commission seemed to have BLINDERS on. Sad that in neither case did the President of the U.S. testify under oath before either committee. (GWB testified behind closed doors and NOT under oath…he also brought his babysitter Dick Cheney to hold his hand which is not quite normal procedure either). It almost seems as if Washington, DC is becoming one large, multi-layered spy network and that any “independent investigation” is as scripted as a Hollywood blockbuster–let’s just hope Benjamin only writes speeches and isn’t called on to write another best-seller.

    • sgtdoom

      ..the Warren Commission failed to interview a large percentage of the witnesses in Dealey Plaza..

      Not simply that, but those associate counsels, led by former personal Hoover attorney, Rankin***, never asked the obvious followup questions and, as was learned years later, the FBI had damning files on each and everyone of them (the associate counsels, that is, as to whether the files contained fiction or fact is almost besides the point, eh?).

      ***Rankin, in an interview during the Warren Commission activities, given to a Washington Post reporter, stated that he was going to get to the bottom of why Lee Oswald was stationed at Monterey (Rankin, never having served in the military, didn’t realize that the Defense Language Institute was the sole reason for that military site, and ONLY military and government types attended there — Oswald’s “official military record” — fabricated, of course, placed him as an air traffic controller trained at Keesler AFB, where no one ever remembered him, yet other former military types recalled attending Russian language training with Lee at Monterey).

  • Mark the Brink

    Is there a word for self imposed slavery to blind ambition? Is it the loophole used by “THEM”? Is the creation of a world of fools, just to rule them, moral?

  • Eric Zuesse

    First-rate journalism about journalism — and about what is almost certainly corruption that extends all the way through Obama, Fox “News,” CBS News, and The New York Times, and well beyond. Scary indeed! We are clearly in 1984-land.

  • James

    Great piece. I guess you are too politic to mention the obvious, but clearly the subtext is in your article. Can anyone connect the dots between all those policy initiatives and what crystal clear power group they serve? A clue: now add in the 911 connection; then the Giulani position. But this might require a true understanding of what 911 was about, if it were not obvious. Finally, why woukd Rhodes be the obvious go-to guy for the Jerusalem speech? What about that trust from Rover Ailes? Now do we get a better idea about Obama? Although that Times piece might be a coded attempt to show Obama is still on the reservation and in lockstep with the power control group, despite many saying he beat the “lobby.” Anyways, the answer is Israel, that super obvious bad guy that you can’t criticize unless with code words like neocon. But in Hollywood, try getting work without their royal nod. And another code for referring to them? Anything mentioning the Saudis in reference to 911 or other scandals since they are vassals of Israel, and the royal family is even… well… research it… When the world is mature enough to challenge this most sacred cow, we will have turned the corner. But this means debating WWII and all sanctioned history with respect. Amen.

    • sgtdoom

      An important, yet typically overlooked salient fact by our so-called media, is the fact that the former consultants on Cheney/Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness project, were later ALL appointed to the Obama administration!

      Shocker of shockers, will they never end??????

    • russbaker

      Sorry, but i dont buy what you’re saying. Many of the people involved with WhoWhatWhy are exactly the “group” that you’re essentially smearing with that hollywood line. People are people. Get over the need to label and see ethnic/religious/cultural/religious background as something sinister in and of itself.

  • sgtdoom

    Again, typical zero content non-news reportage from Corporate-Fantasy-Media (essentially, without the likes of people like Russ Baker, and just a very few others, there is actually NO media extant in America today!).

    Great and authentic journalism from Mr. Baker, just as the same mindless no-content drivel is heard on CNN, ABC, CBS, MNBC/MSNBC, and AP, (Foxtard is beneath mentioning), how many are aware of what’s going on elsewhere among the banksters?

    http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/03/22/the-battle-of-cyprus/

    Truly, only a handful of Americans (adults?) comprehend that we have had nothing but completely neocon administrations from Reagan to the present, the same people appearing again and again, regardless of whether it’s a neocon-R or neocon-D in the Oval Office.

  • James

    Great job, Mr. Baker. What I love about you is your eye, your gut instincts on where a story is. And I love that you still believe in a thing called Journalism, as if it were merely a profession in dormancy. Of course, I wonder if there has ever been a truly prestigeous trade such as we conceived of the 4th estate as we grew up. I am quite convinced there has always been the tradition of a free press, in the same rogue form indpendent media exists in today, going all the way back to the pamphlets printed in the days preceding the American Revolution. But in terms of the august profession that doles out Peabody awards and such, I think you might be better off dismissing that corporatist guild as merely a pretense, a faux liberalism that serves to obscure the machinations of the true body politic.

  • m.c.

    Thank You for this Russ. I am currently right in the middle of Family Of Secrets ( fantastic ) and I fell asleep last night thinking… “I wish Russ Baker would start digging into the enigma that is Barack Obama.” I have read fascinating articles by Wayne Madsen and Webster Tarpley that address significant issues regarding Obama’s past which have gone completely ignored by the MSM. But in terms of actual style of delivery of facts I like your style best. There is my bias. So. Am I passing the buck? Begging? Yup. Once upon a time I thought Obama as Manchurian Candidate talk was pure silliness. Now, I am inclined to think that I was momentarily brain dead ( actually I just turned off the tv) to dismiss that idea. I wake up most days now wondering what will be the next fantastical display of opposite world in this kabuki play we call American government.

  • Pingback: Incestuous Relationships: That’s Our Oligarchy! | Sky Dancing

  • tony bonn

    both obama and rhodes are rockefeller nazi gophers….rhodes coudn’t even qualify for a job as a project manager at places where i have worked, let alone assistant to the president…..clearly rhodes was sent in to keep obama in line…

    as for libya, yes oil and intellgence were factors, but the leading issue was gold as is the case with mali…..

    • russbaker

      thanks for commenting, but please don’t debase yourself with idiotic “rockefeller nazi gophers” type statements. They just seem out of nowhere, and we arent fans of gratuitous insults here. If you have some thoughtful comment on that, and perhaps a smidge of documentation of whatever you’re trying to establish, have at it. ..

  • david james

    Great piece.

  • Pingback: NYT’s Rhodes to Nowhere: A Cipher in the Oval Office | saveourcola

  • George W. Obama

    Awesome stuff, but you know what happens when you look under those big rocks? You will see all kinds of slimy, disgusting things crawling around. Worse than the media is the public which can’t bare to look.

  • htfd

    Isn’t this so very Obama….vague to the max with multi interpretations put forth if explanations are demanded, no clear flip flop just slithering along from one stance to the opposite stance.

  • Pingback: Who’s this guy deciding our foreign policy? | Later On

  • payne100

    Dammit, Russ. I’d written you off again after the Pollard article and then you write this. Now I’ll have to raise your newsworthy rating at least to the level it was.

  • kmansfield

    This is a really good piece. Another is
    “Barack Obama Inc.: The birth of a Washington machine” by Ken Silverstein. It’s behind a paywall at Harpers, but if you google the title, choose the 2nd link to archive.is and you can read it. The man has no defined ideology, no moral center. in 1960 C. Wright Mills wrote a letter to the New Left in which he outlined them marvelously. Obama and the entire DLC/Thirdway neoliberal apparatus brought us to where we are today, the stopped being the resistance to the right and instead co-opted the base of the Republican party while trying to hang on to their own.

    There are many shady characters surrounding Obama but
    at this point I don’t think there is some distinct nefarious group controlling Obama. I think there are many vying for top dog status and that he is a man very much for sale, but the common weal and all of our country’s resources in whatever form may be sold are the product.

  • drb

    Recently I started reading a book by James Mann, “the Obamians” which has a bit of discussion of Ben Rhodes. I don’t know much about James Mann, but here’s some of what he said about Rhodes.

    According to Rhodes himself, on 9/11, at age 23 he was in NYC working on a political campaign for a “candidate for City Council.” At the time he was finishing a “graduate program in writing” at NYU. Now he decided he wanted to get into “international relations.” “An editor at Foreign Policy” suggested he find a
    job as a “speechwriter.” The (unnamed) editor put him in touch with
    Lee Hamilton, who hired him to “draft speeches, columns and op-ed pieces.”

    Hamilton was then named to serve as senior Democrat on the 9/11 commission. He brought Rhodes as his staff aide. Rhodes later collaborated on a book with Hamilton. In 2006, Hamilton was co-chair of the congressional Iraq Study Group and brought Rhodes along on his staff. Rhodes helped write the final report.

    By now, 2007, age 29, Rhodes was “passionately angry at the Bush administration” and eager to work on a Democratic campaign. He wrote a few speeches for Mark Warner then volunteered to work for the candidate he liked best, Barrack Obama. It was “logical” for Obama to ask Rhodes, veteran of the Iraq Study report, to help write his legislation on ending the Iraq war. Within a few months, Rhodes became a full-time staff member for the Obama (Presidential) campaign. Rhodes eventually took the role of Obama’s full-time speechwriter and, according to Mann, became part of the nucleus of three in the Obama campaign’s foreign policy team.

    Rhodes’ older brother was not mentioned. Does having a prominent brother help you get a job with an influential politician? Probably. Do certain young people sometimes get jobs as an aide to some powerful person and thereby springboard up the ladder themselves? Yes, that seems to happen sometimes. Pat Buchanan comes to mind. He got a job with Nixon’s law firm at age 27,
    became a Nixon speechwriter and continued on from there. Apparently Rhodes made a good impression on Hamilton and Obama. Is there more to this story than just that?

  • Pingback: Staff Picks: Investigative Reporting, Reading in Season

  • Carine Clary

    More about Rhodes’s brother:

    Jon Rappoport
    Activist Post

    Just a coincidence. Nothing to see. Move along.

    Remember the Benghazi attacks? Remember how the White House rewrote their talking points to scrub out mention of a terrorist attack?

    Well, here are some new talking points.

    Point one: Star CBS investigative reporter, Sharyl Attkisson, has been discussing leaving CBS since April. She can’t get some of her Benghazi stories on the air. Attkisson was hot on the trail of figuring out who, at the White House, rewrote the Benghazi talking points.

    Point two: One sure candidate at the White House? Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser and “mind-melding” speechwriter.

    Point three: Who is Ben Rhodes’ brother? He is David Rhodes, who happens to be Sharyl Attkisson’s boss, the president of CBS News.

    Point four: Read point three again.

  • Pingback: Who is Ben Rhodes? « LewRockwell.com Blog

  • Pingback: Who Is Ben Rhodes? (Ron Paul Institute) | Reformed Libertarian | Reformed Theology, Libertarian Polity

  • kentclizbe

    Russ,

    Thanks for your work on this. I’ve been advocating the need for vetting of the Obama administration (from the top down) for years.

    http://www.newsmax.com/US/barack-obama-president-2008/2011/03/28/id/390952

    It would seem that the Rhodes boys are very similar to Michael Straight from the pre-WW2 days. Straight was a Comintern spy, recruited in college. In his 20s he “became a speechwriter for FDR.” He went on to run the favorite PC-Progressive magazine, The New Republic. In between he provided anti-American influence inside the government, and in the media, for years.

    Pretty much exactly what the two Rhodes boys are doing now. Later analysis revealed Straight’s connections. When will be find out the Rhodes’ connections? Maybe at the same time that we find out Obama’s connections?
    On Libya, my analysis is that Hillary and John Brennan were much more influential in forcing the US to do the EU’s bidding and topple Kaddafi. Rhodes was likely the Oval Office minder to keep the peripatetic Obama’s mind from wandering off task.
    http://intelctweekly.blogspot.com/2012/07/libya-proof-that-pc-progressives-lack.html
    Your profile, limited as it is, would seem to reveal that Rhodes is someone’s butt-boy–a trusted butt-boy, but a butt-boy nonetheless. He is carrying out an agenda that he has imbibed and internalized completely.
    We cannot stop vetting this cabal of merry pranksters. It would be great if you can carry on with your explorations of these two boys, as well as of the rest of the Obama clique.
    Kent Clizbe
    http://www.willingaccomplices.com

  • Pingback: America’s Foreign Policy Amateurs | Levantoday.com

More in Criminal Justice, Fresh Takes, Our Investigations (143 of 818 articles)