Thursday, June 7, 2018

When Benny Met Barry - Lloyd Billingsley

by Lloyd Billingsley

The Obama era, as portrayed by proud supporter of the Iran deal and “Cuba opening.”

As a speechwriter and deputy national security advisor, Ben Rhodes wielded considerable clout, but his true claim to fame flowed from comments he made about the Iran deal. Reporters were young and “literally know nothing,” so Ben had been able to create an “echo chamber” in which “they were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”

Rhodes makes a lame attempt to disown the connection, but he is on record that “I’d made myself an easy mark,” and that he wanted a deal “even if Iran doesn’t change.”  Rhodes was ideal for this task, critics said, because he trained as a writer of fiction. He was a storyteller, like David Axelrod, and his boss was down with that.

“The notion that there’s something wrong with storytelling,” Rhodes has his president saying. “I mean, that’s our job. To tell a really good story about who we are.” This one could use some stool softener, and readers should see it in context.

Rising Star, by Pulitzer Prize winner David Garrow, was the authorized account of The making of Barack Obama. Ben Rhodes’ The World As It Is, as the subtitle explains, is the authorized memoir of the Obama White House, but it doubles as a press release for Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

The deputy national security advisor finds hints of Russian influence on “made-up stories about Hillary, her ill health, her corruption, her crimes.” Rhodes found it “impossible to know where they all began; which ones came from the American right and which ones came from the Russians; how they spread; whether this flood of content was coincident or coordinated with the Trump campaign.”

Trump is “a tabloid punch line,” and in 2016 Rhodes warned that “someone who is a clear and present danger to American values and international order could win.” The aspiring White House novelist often loads up on italics, and as the copyright page explains, the book is “a work of nonfiction” but “some names and identifying details have been changed.”

Here the 2012 terrorist attack on Benghazi is entirely due to “a video entitled Innocence of Muslims, a crude and seemingly obscure movie intended to humiliate the Prophet Muhammad.” U.S. embassies had asked for statements that “distanced U.S. government from this video and condemned attacks on the Prophet Muhammad.” And the president “directed that the military do what was necessary to secure U.S. facilities in Libya and across the region.”

Only the “right-wing media” thought otherwise and the faithful Rhodes never deviates from the party line. He freighted his 400-page account with hagiographical filler and let key episodes go missing.

Readers will find nothing about POTUS 44 in 2009 scrapping a missile defense system for U.S. allies Poland and the Czech Republic, and authorization of the most intrusive inspection regime the United States had ever accepted. Nothing here about Nidal Hasan’s murder of 13 unarmed American soldiers at Fort Hood in 2009. Rhodes does not say if he composed the White House response of “workplace violence.”

Rhodes recalls that Russian president Dmitry Medvedev “had always gotten along well with Obama. Together they had improved relations between the United States and Russia.” But the author excludes the American president telling Medvedev that “after my election I have more flexibility.”

In this account the president warns, “any world order that elevates one group of people over another will fail.” Rhodes fails to include the president’s 2012 proclamation that “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” or what role Rhodes may have played in crafting it.

Nothing here on the president’s many lies about keeping your doctor or how the also unmentioned IRS targeting scandal involved “not even a smidgeon of corruption.” POTUS 44 wanted to know what FBI drones Strzok and Page were doing but Ben Rhodes won’t say what the president knew or when he knew it.

“I wanted to work for Barack Obama,” Ben says. He read Dreams from My Father multiple times but this account fails to note that a year ago in Rising Star David Garrow found Dreams “a work of historical fiction” and the author a “composite character.” Any unhypnotized reader would have spotted that, but trained fiction writer Ben Rhodes won’t go there. He’s a story-teller, an industrial-strength hagiographer.

His boss is “a symbol for the aspirations of billions of people” and a smashing success as a president. As he says here, “five percent unemployment, gas two bucks a gallon, 20 million covered. We had it all teed up!” So in this account he’s baffled why he lost and wonders “whether I was ten or twenty years too early.” Sure you were Barry.

Readers will get the feeling POTUS 44 knew he was a bust on the domestic side. On the other hand, he’s happy with the Iran deal and his preservation of Cuba’s Stalinist regime, which gets a lot of ink in Rhodes’ account. As he explains, “I was proud of what I’d done over the last year, with the Cuba opening and the Iran deal.”

Rhodes hails Cuba’s “education and healthcare systems, their stance against apartheid in South Africa.” Fidel departs in 2016 but brother Raúl takes over and down in Havana, Rhodes jollies it up with the hereditary Communist dictator.

“We drank rum and talked about hurricanes and weather modeling,” Rhodes recalls, “liberation struggles in Angola and Namibia, the period after the Soviet Union fell and Cuba’s economy, me making my normal pitches for change.” Sure you did Benny.

Lloyd Billingsley


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