Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Discourse

Another interesting item from the long Times profile of Ben Rhodes concerns how the administration sold the nuclear deal with Iran.
As Malley and representatives of the State Department, including Wendy Sherman and Secretary of State John Kerry, engaged in formal negotiations with the Iranians, to ratify details of a framework that had already been agreed upon, Rhodes’s war room did its work on Capitol Hill and with reporters. In the spring of last year, legions of arms-control experts began popping up at think tanks and on social media, and then became key sources for hundreds of often-clueless reporters. “We created an echo chamber,” he admitted, when I asked him to explain the onslaught of freshly minted experts cheerleading for the deal. “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”

When I suggested that all this dark metafictional play seemed a bit removed from rational debate over America’s future role in the world, Rhodes nodded. “In the absence of rational discourse, we are going to discourse the [expletive] out of this,” he said. “We had test drives to know who was going to be able to carry our message effectively, and how to use outside groups like Ploughshares, the Iran Project and whomever else. So we knew the tactics that worked.” He is proud of the way he sold the Iran deal. “We drove them crazy,” he said of the deal’s opponents.
“We’re going to discourse the shit out of this” has to be one of the post-modern era’s greatest lines.


Anonymous said...

I understand you're at least partly citing this passage because it's funny. But for what it's worth, having read it, it strikes me that this article is a classic instance of an opinion piece, not journalism. It's clearly written from an anti-Obama, liberal hawk perspective: against Bush's Iraq war but opposed to American withdrawal from Iraq, and in favor of an aggressive and probably militarized approach to both Assad and Iran. The author's critique of spin is similar, in my view, to critiques of insiderism: the author disapproves of Rhodes' fiction-spinning less because it is fiction, than because it is in the service of a policy he disagrees with. I would have to say, since I wholeheartedly agree with Obama's policy, I found Rhodes and his actions untroubling.

John said...

I agree completely; it's a maddening article because it's meant to somehow expose Obama and make him and Rhodes look foolish and wicked. But it utterly fails. That a behind-the-scenes campaign was mounted to get public acceptance of the Iran deal in no way makes the deal less of a good thing. That's just how politics is done in a democracy. I suppose those other passages I cited about how great Rhodes is in meetings were included to make him seem like a sinister eminence grise. But that's just how government works; nobody rises to that level without a lot of skills that could be used for good purposes or ill.

But as you know it is my habit to ration my outrage and search for the useful side of everything, and this article is useful in 1) showing how a power player operates, and 2) including a couple of amusing moments.

Anonymous said...

I suppose people differ on what they are able to ration their outrage about. I challenge you to ration your outrage and find the good fun next time you're posting about a denial of freedom of speech. (Heh, heh)