What we learn from Ben Rhodes: Obama believed he was entitled to rule and anyone thinking otherwise was a bitter clinger
Former White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes has his book out, and you can tell which reporters got the free copies of it based on who has a review out about it now. (Still waiting for mine in the mail.) There's much to learn about how the Obama administration was run, based on the points they zero in on, and what their take is on it.
In short, Rhodes conveys that Obama was convinced he was entitled to power and completely believed that "progress" (read: left-wingery) was inevitable, because, you know, "history," just as classical Marxists do. He also maintained his lip-curling contempt for America's voters. And Rhodes himself maintains his reputation as a "twerp."
Here are the money quotes nearly all of the reviewers cite, starting with Obama's sense of entitlement to power, back on election night 2016, when the news of his repudiation by voters was sinking in. It begins with his court eunuchs fanning him with icky flattery:
His aides reassured him that he still would have won had he been able to run for another term and that the next generation had more in common with him than with Mr. Trump. Mr. Obama, the first black man elected president, did not seem convinced. "Sometimes I wonder whether I was 10 or 20 years too early," he said.
Here's his contempt for America's voters. Actually, it's two passages, the first beginning with his disappointment after President Trump was elected:
"What if we were wrong?" he reportedly asked his aides in late November. "Maybe we pushed too far. Maybe people just want to fall back into their tribe."
The old bitter clingers canard, in other words, still bitterly clinging to Obama's psyche after all these years.
Here's more of the same loathing for voters:
But days later, Mr. Obama seemed less sanguine. "I don't know," he told aides. "Maybe this is what people want. I've got the economy set up well for him. No facts. No consequences. They can just have a cartoon."
As Salena Zito famously observed, leftists take President Trump literally but not seriously. Voters take Trump seriously and not literally. Obama fits the former group to a T. After eight years in the White House, guy hasn't changed a bit – and with all his views on his entitlement to rule, Rhodes's memoir presents a picture of a man who's "learnt nothing and forgotten nothing," as Talleyrand said of the Bourbons.
Some of the reviews are worth reading, starting with a somewhat satisfying one from a former chief diplomatic correspondent of the Wall Street Journal, Carla Anne Robbins, who hates Trump even more than Rhodes. She writes in the Washington Post:
Rhodes also exhibits less self-knowledge than one might wish. He insists that Obama made the right decision to keep the United States out of Syria despite the many horrors President Bashar al-Assad inflicted on his own country. But he replays Syria so often – yo-yoing between his desire "to do something" and "world as it is" futility – that it's clear (if not to Rhodes) he still has a lot to work through about Obama's responsibilities and his own.
As Congress considered whether to authorize a military strike, Rhodes writes, he realized that the president "was comfortable with either outcome. If we won authorization, he'd be in a strong position to act in Syria. If we didn't then we would potentially end the cycle of American wars of regime change in the Middle East." I've heard a lot of explanations for why Obama backed away from his own red line, but never that it was supposed to be a teachable moment, to break Americans of their appetite for Middle East war.
At one point in the discussions, the younger Castro proposed that Cuba take back the U.S. naval base and prison at Guantanamo Bay, along with its remaining prisoners. "Cuba is very good at holding people securely," he said. (Rhodes seems unaware of how creepy that statement is.) Obama rejected the offer.
What can we say about this? It conveys the basic loathing the press had for Rhodes, who was always considered a "twerp" and a "flimflam man" by the press corps. Now Rhodes is offering nothing we didn't already know from foreign policy maven Thomas Ricks, who wrote That Famous post for Foreign Policy, with an unprintable word describing Rhodes in the headline. According to Ricks:
Rhodes and others around Obama keep on talking about doing all this novel thinking, playing from a new playbook, bucking the establishment thinking. But if that is the case, why have they given so much foreign policy power to two career hacks who never have had an original thought? I mean, of course, Joe Biden and John Kerry. I guess the answer can only be that those two are puppets, and (as in Biden's case) are given losing propositions like Iraq to handle.
Fact check: Obama's hasn't been an original foreign policy as much as it has been a politicized foreign policy. And this Rhodes guy reminds me of the Kennedy smart guys who helped get us into the Vietnam War. Does he know how awful he sounds?
That statement, and this analysis from Diplopundit, following the suck-up profile the New York Times did of Rhodes as President Obama's "mind meld," pretty well is verified by this new book, put out by America's most famous creative writing major.