Obama’s Spin Doctor
When politicians need help explaining away to the general public controversial policies and events that could have a negative impact on their campaign or career, they may end up asking for the assistance of spin doctors. Quite simply, the spin doctors’ job is to help politicians “spin” whatever they’re trying to explain so that it is hopefully viewed favorably by the public. While an ingenious public relations strategy of presenting the facts of controversial policies and events is commendable, spin, more often than not, works in tandem with deception and lies that steer the public away from reality. One notable example of a spin doctor who has gained much attention this past year is Ben Rhodes, an Obama White House staffer whose official title is “Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting.”
Back in May, The New York Times Magazine released an article that shocked the US foreign policy establishment and everyone else inside the Beltway, forcing the White House to clean up the mess. What made the article so surprisingly stunning is Rhodes’ candid bluntness in discussing his role in controlling the media coverage and narrative of US-Iran negotiations and the subsequent US-led nuclear deal so that public opinion would view President Obama’s foreign policy in a positive light. Normally, politicians and their associates do not readily admit that they have committed the actual act of spinning something, especially if the spin amounts to a painfully obvious twisting of the facts. But Rhodes was extremely frank in the article, showcasing the cunning mind behind the president’s major foreign policy initiatives.
As the article itself explicitly reveals, Rhodes, who has an MFA in creative writing under his belt, deliberately rewrote history to create a foreign policy narrative that was used to make the idea of negotiating with Iran, a longtime US nemesis, palatable to the American public. According to Rhodes’ narrative, Iran’s June 2013 presidential election, in which the “moderates” beat out the “hardliners,” caused the country to pursue a policy of “openness” that included a willingness to conduct negotiations on its nuclear program. The White House then wisely seized this opportunity, which would eventually culminate in the official announcement of the Iran nuclear deal two years later. In fact, President Obama himself used this storyline when he declared in July 2015 that “after two years of negotiations, the United States...has achieved something that decades of animosity has not.”
The problem was that that statement did not cover the full story. Serious negotiations had in fact already begun in 2012, well before Iran’s 2013 election. But according to the article, the election provided “the idea that there was a new reality in Iran,” an idea that was “politically useful to the Obama administration.” In other words, the election was the perfect pretext for Obama to justify something he had wanted to do since the beginning of his presidency regardless of what occurred in Iran’s domestic political scene—a deal with a longtime adversary and state sponsor of terrorism.
This narrative would find itself being parroted by the media, which Rhodes was extremely skilled at manipulating. The article says that he pushed for the deal by recruiting “legions of arms-control experts,” who then became “the key sources for hundreds of often-clueless reporters.” Rhodes also admitted that his team “created an echo chamber,” in which these experts “were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.” Ultimately, the media played along with the Iran deal push because the average reporter, according to him, is “27 years old” and “literally knows nothing.” And just like that, an aspiring novelist proved himself to be an important architect in changing America’s role in the Middle East.
While the NYT article is stunning, its content should not be so surprising. Obama’s worldview boils down to one of his favorite quotes that originates from a 19th-century abolitionist: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Obama views himself as a participant who facilitates this inevitable arc, which explains why he was very willing to conclude a deal with a hostile nation, despite a lack of substantive concessions to ensure that its pathway to a nuclear weapon was permanently cut off. It also goes without saying that Obama knew that his foreign policy legacy was at stake, with Rhodes himself believing that the nuclear deal was the president’s second term equivalent of Obamacare. Furthermore, many members of the mainstream media have been more than willing to go to bat for the Obama White House and its policies. So in essence, the president proved that he would stop at nothing to push a dangerous and controversial foreign policy agenda by craftily persuading White House acolytes in the mainstream media.
Liberal media spin is an obstacle to conservatives succeeding in any policy arena; however, it’s not an insurmountable one, and there are ways around it. One way is quite simple: stand for something. For the past few years, Republicans on Capitol Hill have been all too eager to cave in to the demands of congressional Democrats and the White House. What was the point of getting a Republican House in 2010 and then a Republican Senate in 2014? There is nothing to show for it. If Republicans actually fight for conservative principles in the face of opposition, especially if they have majorities on both sides of the Capitol, they will have significant leverage to influence the legislative game and national debate. That would be pretty useful in the future because when it comes to big issues regarding foreign policy and national security, they are too important to be mainly influenced by another spin doctor in another Democratic administration.
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