“I don’t know anymore where I begin and Obama ends,” David Samuels quotes Ben Rhodes in an article that has something of the same confusion.
Samuels, we are told by our betters, “has nearly autistic command of minor details and facts” and “achieves the glorious breadth and detail of a mural painter.”
But much of the detail we have competence to evaluate in his article on Rhodes is just wrong, which makes one a little suspicion of the rest of his “long-form journalism”, whatever that is. He confuses, twice, Laos and Cambodia, something anyone not acquainted with Southeast Asia might well do, but not to be incorporated in a piece where discussion of “the bombing of Laos” takes on such importance. His discussion of one of the minor characters in his screed, Robert Malley, and Malley’s father, Simon, neglects to point out the elder Malley was a Communist as well as editor of a minor magazine, and at one point expelled from France.
His interpretation of relations between the Obama Administration and Iran talks about the President’s aim of cultivating the so-called Iranian moderates. But Samuels neglects to point out Washington turned its back on the 2009 appeal by the Green Movement after fraudulent elections led to widespread anti-regime demonstrations. “By eliminating the fuss about Iran’s nuclear program xxx” How is that again? Books on Rhodes’ bookshelves? I wonder, if not like mine, they may represent as much as anything else review copies that floated in and not the owner’s taste in serious reading material?
What a mish-mash this article is! If it has a central argument, it is that Rhodes exercises enormous influence over American foreign policy through his “melding” with the President. But then, we are told, he does it without the assistance of the Blob, the foreign policy experts, and any knowledge of the details of such places as the Middle East. It’s a hypothesis that is both frightening and perhaps could be true.
But except for a somewhat muddied description, ostensibly, of Rhodes successful campaign to overcome Congressional and other critics of “the deal”, it doesn’t really tell us much about how he operates. He never mentions, of course, that “the deal” should have been a treaty and it was by that hook and crook that the Obama Administration was able to achieve what it claims was the halt to Tehran’s nuclear weapons program. Samuels seems to be endorsing the Administration’s insistence that it purposely excluded other issues with Iran – its state sponsored terrorism around the world and its use of surrogates in Hezbollah and Hamas, the former until recently having killed more Americans than any other terrorist group.
In one of the many diversions, Samuels tells us how important Valerie Jarrett is as Obama’s “work wife”. But when he gets into how she and Obama have great empathy because they both spent time as children in foreign cultures is, to say the least, stretching credulity. It may be the case that Jarrett and Obama do cultivate that notion. But it is very unlikely that as a pre-adolescent as Obama was during his four years [six to 10] living with a step-father and his mother in Djakarta, he either understood or was affected by the attempted Communist coup and its massacres as an aftermath that had occurred three years before he was born.
One should not be surprised that Samuels is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker. This article like so many in that publication piles anecdote and digression, one on top of another, and suddenly without much warning just walks away from the whole pile.
Yes, it seems likely that Rhodes exerts a great deal of power within the Administration and in areas for which he has neither formal training nor accrued experience. That does not, by the way, distinguish him from most of what used to be called “the kitchen cabinet” that surrounds Obama. And it may be, too, that Rhodes implements the only strategy that the current President has: to abandon longtime post-World War II commitments of the U.S. as leader of the society of nations in an effort to preserve peace and stability. The results, although both Samuels and Rhodes justify it by using Iraq’s current quagmire as the way Syria would have gone had there been the original Obama intervention, are all too visible. That forgets of course Obama’s quit and run Iraq policy.
But all of these are speculations. And we thought Samuels was strong on detail.