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07 May 2016

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David Lentini

Shows how Obama changed little from "W"'s presidency. Fantasy as policy and vice versa.

Cvillereader

I find it stunning, or at least surprising, that Foreign Policy published an article with the word "asshole" in the title. That's not because I am unused to hearing the word, mind you. But it's certainly unrestrained, and not at all diplomatic.

turcopolier

Cvillereader

Ricks is IMO neither diplomatic nor a gentlemen. pl

rjj

if you self-identify as a statesperson then ....


rjj

B. Rhodes: Navigator JG, Ship of State. Qualifications: a GPS Smart Watch and access to Google Maps.

Time to bring back emblems/badges of office and dress[-up] conventions according to rank for people in government.

David Habakkuk

All,

Some quotations from the profile of Rhodes, with comments.

‘He is, according to the consensus of the two dozen current and former White House insiders I talked to, the single most influential voice shaping American foreign policy aside from Potus himself.’

This must be one of the few political systems in the history of the world where absolute lack of practical experience of anything, and also of serious scholarly knowledge of anything, qualifies one to be the second-most important figure in shaping a country’s foreign and security policies.

Quite possible, it won’t end well.

‘He is adept at constructing overarching plotlines with heroes and villains, their conflicts and motivations supported by flurries of carefully chosen adjectives, quotations and leaks from named and unnamed senior officials.’

Actually, very little of human affairs consists of simple conflicts between absolute good and absolute evil. Even with the conflict with Nazi Germany, which comes very much closer than most, the contrast is not absolute.

(There are moral complexities, in relation, for example, to Bomber Harris. And do not tell me that the virtuous Americans are somehow immune to criticism in relation to their use of bombing.)

So the NYT has told us that the second most important figure in shaping American foreign policy is actively engaged in propagating views of the world which are totally delusional.

It won’t end well.

‘But once you are attuned to the distinctive qualities of Rhodes’s voice — which is often laced with aggressive contempt for anyone or anything that stands in the president’s way — you can hear him everywhere.’

Absolute contempt for anything that opposes the will of the leader. This is a Nazi or Stalinist view of the world.

It didn’t end well in Germany or Russia – why should it end much better in the United States?

‘His New York City prep-school-kid combination of vulnerability, brattiness and passionate hatred for phonies suggests an only slightly updated version of what Holden Caulfield might have been like if he grew up to work in the West Wing.’

Holden Caulfield as the second most important man running a country’s foreign policy? I suppose that here the profile is at least quite funny, in a macabre kind of way.

But really, why should it end well?

‘You have to have skin in the game – to be in the news business, or depend in a life-or-death way on its products – to understand the radical and qualitative ways in which words that appear in familiar typefaces have changed. Rhodes singled out a key example to me one day, laced with the brutal contempt that is a hallmark of his private utterances.’

This absolute rubbish, based upon a contempt for those outside the charmed circle which is not actually justified.

All kinds of people in Britain – with all kinds of differing levels of education, in all kinds of walks of life – understand quite well the way the news has changed, with the result that an increasing number do not believe a word of the gibberish which the stenographers who recycle words from scum like Rhodes write.

In this country at least, one is quite clearly seeing a massive collapse of trust alike in political élites and the MSM. And with regard to someone like Rhodes, quite a few people know a smarmy little git when they see one.

Whether this won’t end well, or may herald something better, I simply do not know.

‘Now the most effectively weaponized 140-character idea or quote will almost always carry the day, and it is very difficult for even good reporters to necessarily know where the spin is coming from or why.’

In that case, the ‘good reporters’ aren’t good – they’re lousy. But an increasing number of other people can see exactly where the spin is coming from, and take a fair guess as to why.

Unfortunately, one of the consequences of a – justified – conviction that one is being lied to is liable to be that conspiracy theories run riot. There are many people who will assess evidence quite rationally. But there are also many others who will conclude that American, and British policy, is manipulated by sinister forces – for instance, that the successes of the 'Islamic State' were consciously intended by an American 'deep state'.

Quite clearly, conspiracy theories are increasingly running riot. And again, it is quite likely not to end well.

‘When I asked whether the prospect of this same kind of far-reaching spin campaign being run by a different administration is something that scares him, he admitted that it does. “I mean, I’d prefer a sober, reasoned public debate, after which members of Congress reflect and take a vote,” he said, shrugging. “But that’s impossible.”’

One of the reasons people used to believe that American democracy was a model to be emulated was that, despite periodic lapses, much of the time there was something approximating to a ‘sober, reasoned public debate.’

If this is now judged to be impossible, then how can any rational being hold up the American political system as a model to be emulated?

Obviously, the Putin ‘sistema’ has some rather major flaws (irony alert.) But how can one credibly argue that a political system in which crucial foreign policy decisions are made by people like Putin, Lavrov, and Shoigu is a better guardian of ‘national security’ than one in which such decisions are made by figures like Obama, Ben Rhodes, John Kerry, and Ashton Carter?

Note also the ordering – the ‘spin doctor’ takes second place.

Such a state of affairs does not seem to me very likely to end very well.

mbrenner

Rhodes was a wannabe writer sitting in his Queens apartment with visions of the Great American Novel dancing in his head. Nobody was interested in his scribblings. So his brother, now head of NBC News, plucked him out of a Queens Boulevard pizzeria and got him a job with Lee Hamilton at the Woodrow Wilson Center. The rest in history. Now, according to an eyewitness, Rhodes muses to colleagues how much he is looking forward to a return to the artistic life which Destiny had planned for him and that he reluctantly suspended in order to put in years of public service.

By the way, can anyone identify a worthwhile product that emerged from a Creative Writing course or workshop?

SmoothieX12

"This must be one of the few political systems in the history of the world where absolute lack of practical experience of anything, and also of serious scholarly knowledge of anything, qualifies one to be the second-most important figure in shaping a country’s foreign and security policies."

While not as massive in scale (still big enough, though) the influence of French (very popular at a time) journo Gabriel Charmes on formation of famous naval Jeune Ecole, which was, generally, a disaster for French Navy, is one of such examples. Obviously, Putin's appointment of crude imbecile Anatoly Serdyukov to the position of Defense Minister is another one. In Russia it is known as the operation which dealt an irreparable damage to the US military and CIA since very many top people there died from homeric laughter after learning who became Russia's Defense Minister (yes, furniture specialist). Needless to say that Russian Armed Forces only now beginning to recover from the so called furniture "reforms".

FB Ali

The appropriate reaction to the antics of people like Obama and Rhodes is: LOL! Except, their shenanigans end or upend the lives of millions of people around the world. And, while they are playing their PoliSci games, dangerous lunatics like Breedlove can run amuck.

As Alastair Crooke has recently commented, US policy is to push its supposed adversaries one day, and then seek to work with them the next.

If it weren't all so deadly in its possible outcome - LOL!

Haralambos

Col.,
I find much of the denigration and deprecation of many of the traditional Humanities majors like English, other languages and literature, philosophy, and history lamentable, especially for those who pursued a traditional liberal arts program. With its emphasis on a broad curriculum, it provided the tools to learn how to learn and an ability to follow discussions across many disciplines.

In addition, it can also encourage some degree of humility, if I correctly recall Newton's humility in his claim that it was by standing on the shoulders of giants that he could see farther.

morgan

Don't you mean "Ricks" instead of "Hicks?"

WILL

I guess this needs to be said by somebody.
1. Experience is not the same as good judgment. I had a carpenter working for me one time that would deflect guidance by bragging about his 25 years of experience. Yes, 25 years of fuxking up. Cases in point: Rumsfeld, Cheney, Ashton Carter, et caetra.

2. There ain't nothing wrong with being an English major. It's not what courses you took, but how much you can learn on your own.

3. Ricks is an Xsshole so are the Israel Firster and NeoCon NYT, Washpo and the rest of the MSM w/ a few notable exceptions.

4. Obama has done some things right. Not bombing the government of Syria. Not being provoked in a war w/ Iran.

5. Has done a lot of things wrong too. Supplying Islamists in Syria, toppling Libya, not declaring victory in Afghanistan and getting out. Ukraine and expansion of Nato are for me the biggest blunders. How much is him or the NeoCons he employed like Clinton, Nuland, and R2P Powers. Of course, he can be faulted for employing them.

6. Sen Sessions recently burned O-bomber for not keeping a couple of thousand troops in Iraq and therefore preventing the rise of Daesh. Well, how about the lack of a SOFA agreement that Dubya could not get signed? I guess he could've ignored that? I don't know.

All of this strikes me as an echo of the bleating of the NeoCons and Israel Firsters, of both parties, at the prospect of a Trump Ascendancy which would put America First.

Chris Chuba

There is nothing more tedious to read than NYT magazine article. Whenever they so a profile on someone this is how they write a piece.
Step 1. write a very detailed, mundane, account about the subjects life, 'his mother new he was special when he drew a bridge in his first coloring book in pre-school'.
Step 2: splice in the meat of the article in random points making it impossible to extract without reading the entire magazine article spliced into the junk DNA.
I just want to smack someone at the NYT, haven't they ever heard 'brevity is the soul of wit'?

Maybe it's because I kept slipping in and out of a coma but I feel like I am missing the big point here. He's an English major type who was hired to control Obama's messaging. He wasn't a policy maker, so I don't see a big infraction here. It looks like he was one step above a Press Secretary where he has to understand the President's political opponents to know how to spin the arguments to win them over. The one tactical thing the article detailed was some ethically dubious claims he made to sell the Iranian nuclear deal.

Maybe I'm a little sensitive on the topic because I have some kids in/entering college and the Administrators are assuring us that liberal arts education is not as useless as it sounds :-)

toto

The alternative explanation is that this piece (and the "consensus" that supposedly fed it) is basically payback against Obama from disgruntled Iran-bashers.

"You failed to listen to us about the dangers of signing a deal with the Eeebul Iranians, so we're going to claim a self-aggrandizing PR hack strong-armed the entire intelligence community into supporting it."

Ishmael Zechariah

David Habakkuk,

In my old age I am becoming more and more convinced that there is a (weak) conspiracy of some sort. Please consider what Dr. Brenner wrote in TTG's latest post about the TTIP: "The terms of the negotiations, including the positions of the United States, were kept secret from the Congress and the public. Business and financial interests participated directly in the preparation of the United states’ proposals and in the negotiations throughout the multi-year negotiations. At the insistence of President Obama, Congress was forced to vote on according the administration fast-track authority that allows him to present the treaty as a package with no amendment possible"; a nice example of Obama's service to the Borg in the field of economics. An indentured house elf (Dobie?) could not have been more efficient. Foreign policy, peaceful or otherwise, is just an extension of the economic policies of the USA- and any obstacles are to be removed by hook or crook, mostly crook. Another example: dissenters are immediately and brutally silenced, even those who are relatively benign. The PR campaign against the enemies of the Borg would put Goebbels to shame. All in all, too many coincidences are reinforcing each other. Seems almost like a new "Great Game".
No matter what, I agree that this will not end well.

Ishmael Zechariah

Fred

David,

The results of the educational reforms of the '60s are bearing bitter fruit. I think Virginia Postrel gives a good example when she compares the old and new versions of Star Trek:
http://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2013-05-23/why-star-trek-into-darkness-is-smaller-than-life

We are seeing it in the whole culture. No wonder there is a revolt amongst the voting public. Which reminds me of Richard Sales comments on Ortega. More homework to do....

Here's something to cheer you up, maybe:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLpE1Pa8vvI

Jackrabbit

I wouldn't take the Rhodes story at face value. NYTimes is a mouthpiece.

The counterpoint to Obama/Rhodes is neocon charges of weakness. Predictably, they are now having a field day with the Rhodes story.

And the backdrop is the failure of the Iran Agreement to change Iran's anti-US stance.

IMO the messaging is: We went to bat for you. Working with us (the Obama Administration) is your best option for peaceful relations (including getting the full measure of sanctions relief).

What Obama/Kerry want from Iran is to help force Assad's departure (ideally by their August 1st deadline).

<> <> <> <> <> <> <> <>

http://www.sltrib.com/home/3850169-155/kerry-warns-assad-to-start-transition
Secretary of State John Kerry warned Syria's government and its backers in Russia and Iran on Tuesday that they face an August deadline for starting a political transition to move President Bashar Assad out or they risk the consequences of a new U.S. approach on ending the five-year civil war.
. . .
"If Assad's strategy is to somehow think he's going to just carve out Aleppo and carve out a section of the country, I got news for you and for him: This war doesn't end," Kerry said. "As long as Assad is there, the opposition is not going to stop fighting," he said.

Kerry said he has told his counterparts in Moscow and Tehran that calm won't prevail in Syria if they're not prepared to move quickly toward a new Syrian government.

=

https://www.yahoo.com/news/kerry-iran-fm-meet-amid-iranian-sanctions-complaints-142920534.html
A day earlier, the head of Iran's central bank, Valiollah Seif had accused the U.S. and the European Union of failing to honor the nuclear agreement by keeping Iran locked out of the international financial system.

VietnamVet

Colonel,

Being an old fart, I was raised with the notion of sovereign states and the President being the top dog. The press was separate and a watchdog over government. Clearly this is not the case when the European States are marching in lockstep with Washington DC and western media parrots the official government line. A few outlier articles like these that make it into the media are pointed out by outcasts and retirees in a few internet blogs. The spin doctor is the politician’s right hand man. This is integral to the plot of the Danish TV series “Borgen”.

Today’s incompetence is unprecedented because there is no debate and no one is fired or jailed. Government serves their masters, plutocrats and corporations, not the people. The American Empire is collapsing. The only question will the revolution come by electoral politics or will it be a replay of the collapse of the Soviet Union or an extinction event.

kao_hsien_chih

I think the money quote out of the NYT Mag piece is this from David Axelrod: “I think they’ve approached these major foreign-policy challenges as campaign challenges, and they’ve run campaigns, and those campaigns have been very sophisticated.”

This is a bit more nuanced statement than what it seems on surface, but nevertheless reflects a real danger, something that I have firsthand experience in a related but different field, namely "selling" "science" to the public. In that experience, I ran into two opposite mindsets: the scientists who believed that the only reason the public doesn't buy into science is that they are stupid, to put it bluntly, and the only way to cure it is to force feed them the "good" science, while those who didn't buy into the "science" were far from stupid and believed, correctly, that scientists had very strong political views that were shaping what they were selling beyond what "science" entailed which they themselves did not and could not disentangle from science. (and indeed, were blinded to it by their own moral convictions.) The consequence was that they were talking completely past each other and, in a sense, this was creating an environment where some of the more pernicious antiscience myths were being born from--whether it is irrational and blanket fear of GMO crops or vaccines, among many other things. Axelrod's observation about new media is right on target: it may allow for people to escape from the "standard" narratives, but it also creates room for hucksters to sell nonsense that is believable to people with certain proclivities that are, in broader context, justifiable. Good PR people are indispensable in selling anything today--especially the truth, precisely because internet is so overrun with hucksters selling nonsense--all the more so because, all too often, most hucksters are pretty good at PR if nothing else.

Selling good foreign policy, I think, is not different from selling good science to masses. It is not easy to simply tell the masses to trust the experts. The masses lack the wherewithal to evaluate the "experts": based on their "credentials," who is to say that the likes of Wolfowitz, the Rices, Power, Slaughter, and Cheney are not really "experts," at least until they have screwed up big time? If the phoney experts can sign on good PR men, good storytellers, simply dismissing them as phoneys would not work. They have to be matched by a good, even better PR effort, for being "right" is not going to be self evident most of the time.

I am not sure if Rhodes is necessarily that bad: he does not, at least based on the profile, appear to be a wholly owned mouthpiece of the Borgist cabal given how critical he is of their works, at least in certain aspects. Still, someone who is unmoored from actual expertise and is given to thinking about the universe only in terms of PR, can rise to the position of such influence is incredibly dangerous. I have the nagging suspicion that this is the consequence of the way "expertise" has been devalued: the wall of separation between analysis and advocacy has been increasingly torn down and many experts have gained their fame for advocating "big things," not analyzing dispassionately, and their fame as "intellectuals" come from the ability to artfully and floridly justify their case, not being able to add up costs and benefits. Well, it takes no serious policy expertise to scream R2P, democracy good, two legs gooder, etc.: a good PR person can do it just as well or possibly even better. So the replacement of experts by PR men seems to be the natural path of this sad evolution.

Can this be stopped? I don't know. "Democracy" abhors elitism and "expertise" is inherently elitist: even if right, experts are often vulnerable to popular attacks when things go badly. Wise and courageous political leaders of all stripes might see the value in solid expertise and try to shield them whenever possible, but wisdom and courage are lacking in politics today.

Seamus

I think that things are so far gone in the USA that it really doesn’t matter who is "in charge". There's either going to be a rapid capitalist decline, or the world is going to fry.

turcopolier

Seamus

We will do our best to take you Europeans with us when the balloon goes up. pl

mbrenner

Obama clearly has a keen eye for talent: one glimpse is enough for him to flee to the golf course

turcopolier

Will

Sooo, your view is that experience and knowledge do not matter much. Interestingly that was what the neocons and their familiars said to people like me after 9/11. Their position was that what we knew was about the past and they were creating a new world, so our knowledge was worthless. Awkwardly the old world rose up and bit them on the butt. pl

jo6pac

"Well, pilgrims, on 9/11 this Rhodes fellow was a graduate student in creative writing who hoped someday to be a novelist"


Explains the obomber potus time line.

MRW

Doesn’t General Dempsey have a Master’s in Literature? I thought he did his thesis on Yeats,

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