Iran, So Far Away?-Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘Rhodes To Ruin’

Full piece here.

Garfinkle responds to the much-talked about piece on Ben Rhodes, and a relatively inexperienced foreign policy team:

‘Setting aside for the moment the credulous hubris of that last remark, I wrote (again, two years ago), as follows:

Rhodes’s highly articulate intelligence matches the President’s tastes in repartee–and … sitting together pouring over language in speech texts can have a deeply influential impact on a principal who has little prior experience in the subject. They both believe deeply in the independent power of words. And it probably helps the relationship that Rhodes, because of his youth, is not a threat to the President’s ego.’

A few points I’d like to make:

  1. One explanation for bypassing much experience and wisdom of many establishment foreign-policy figures, is that many of the President’s views do not align with most establishment figures. Thus, a quite logical strategy to pursue lies in attracting the younger and often less experienced to fill the gap. Similar strategies have been a hallmark of this Presidency, especially during the initial campaign: Images, messaging, social media, data and words; all have been deployed in order to generate populist appeal and to leverage real political power.
  2. These views, rather than being particularly realist, can be just as well explained as those of a peace-activist, and at times; a pretty standard Western anti-war secular humanist/idealist.  This is a President who has consistently advertised his moral center to be closer to Nelson Mandela’s cooled Communist radicalism into rock-hard moral resistance to apartheid, or MLK’s non-violent resistance.  The liberation theology of the church he attended for 20 years, perhaps aptly described as advocating a form of ‘baptized Marxism,’ seems a reasonable source informing the views the President might actually hold.
  3. Whether or not these principles have led to policies with consequences advantageous to American interests is a better question to ask. Regarding Iran, this blog has not found ‘Iran-deal or War’ rhetoric a necessary framing of the issue.  Reaching out to Tehran is a seriously risky (possibly fruitful) business, but leaving a vacuum in Damascus and leaning on Moscow to exert its historical influence over both Damascus and Tehran demonstrates a serious myopia.  The goal, as I see it, is preventing the people who’ve been running the Iranian government since 1979 from getting deliverable nukes, while also balancing the region’s powers in a way most advantageous to American interests.  While some real world gains and real world success have been made on this front (bringing the shadowy networks of nuclear tech intelligence sharing and underground Iranian nuclear activity out under some sunlight), the instability of the deal made, the lack of serious threat and bite in dealing with such people, and the kinds of rhetoric, inexperience and amateurishness demonstrated by this administration are deeply troubling.

Thanks for hanging in there, dear reader.  It’s pretty obvious where some of my sympathies lie:

As previously posted:

Obama’s West Point speech here

Dan Drezner on Rhodes:

‘I’m not going to lie — whenever Ben Rhodes starts talking to the press, I get worried about the Obama administration’s foreign policy trajectory.  Rhodes tends to have a few simple international relations memes that he likes to get out into the public square’

He finishes with:

‘So if this speech says: a) military action is risky; but b) we have no positive economic agenda; and c) no plan for what to do if matters get even worse — then this is not going to be a very good speech at all.

Am I missing anything?’

Well, having read Obama’s speech, I don’t think he’s missed much.


‘You see, American influence is always stronger when we lead by example. We cannot exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everyone else. We can’t call on others to make commitments to combat climate change if a whole lot of our political leaders deny that it is taking place’

Does leading by example involve waiting on the U.N in Syria, emboldening Putin and Tehran’s interests by hedging on a redline, and sitting back while terrorists fill in the opposition? Does leading by example involve avoiding hard decisions and watching a long, protracted Civil War unfold, with Assad still hunkered down in power, using chemical weapons, while over a hundred thousands Syrian are dead? Does leading by example involve a humanitarian crisis in full bloom, destabilizing the region many times over, and posing new security threats for all of us?

Is that the kind example we want to set, even for ourselves?

Adam Garfinkle offered the Rhodes hypothesis‘ a little while back:

Rhodes is the main one, I believe, who either convinced or strongly reinforced the President’s intuition that the United States is vastly overinvested in the Middle East, that we need to pivot to Asia at the expense of our investments in the Middle East and Europe, that in the absence of traditional American “Cold War-era” leadership benign regional balances will form to keep the peace, and that the world is deep in normative liberalism and well beyond the grubby power politics of earlier eras.

All of this is very trendy and sounds “progressive” and smart, but, of course, it is mostly wrong.

What am I missing?

Addition: More from David Rothkopf at Foreign Policy here.

‘Further, as Obama has shown, the problems we face today cannot simply be addressed by undoing the mistakes of past American presidents. Genuine new thinking is needed. Precious little, unfortunately, was offered in the president’s West Point remarks.’

I’ve been referred to Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech to show the framework upon which he hangs his foreign policy. He’s been called a realist, or one who generally deals with the world as it is, not as he’d like it to be.  In the speech, Obama sets an expectation of using force against evil in the world if necessary. He’s willing to part company with Gandhi and MLK in the face of a genuine possible evil and the grim choices events may require.

Naive foreign policy is naive foreign policy.

I don’t believe that we can appease Islamic extremists, which is the whole premise of this administration’s approach…blunt American power and incentivize Muslim societies to drive the extreme elements out through international cooperation: Via Youtube-Uncommon Knowledge With Fouad Ajami And Charles Hill

Just how far Left is this administration anyways? Is Bernhard Henri-Levy actually influencing U.S. policy decisions..? From New York Magazine: ‘European Superhero Quashes Libyan Dictator’Bernhard Henri-Levy At The Daily Beast: ‘A Moral Tipping Point’Charlie Rose Episode On Libya Featuring Bernhard Henri-Levy, Les Gelb And Others


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