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NYT: The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru


visionary

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http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/08/magazine/the-aspiring-novelist-who-became-obamas-foreign-policy-guru.html?_r=0

The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru

 

Picture him as a young man, standing on the waterfront in North Williamsburg, at a polling site, on Sept. 11, 2001, which was Election Day in New York City. He saw the planes hit the towers, an unforgettable moment of sheer disbelief followed by panic and shock and lasting horror, a scene that eerily reminded him, in the aftermath, of the cover of the Don DeLillo novel “Underworld.”

 

Everything changed that day. But the way it changed Ben Rhodes’s life is still unique, and perhaps not strictly believable, even as fiction. He was in the second year of the M.F.A. program at N.Y.U., writing short stories about losers in garden apartments and imagining that soon he would be published in literary magazines, acquire an agent and produce a novel by the time he turned 26. He saw the first tower go down, and after that he walked around for a while, until he ran into someone he knew, and they went back to her shared Williamsburg apartment and tried to find a television that worked, and when he came back outside, everyone was taking pictures of the towers in flames. He saw an Arab guy sobbing on the subway. “That image has always stayed with me,” he says. “Because I think he knew more than we did about what was going to happen.” Writing Frederick Barthelme knockoffs suddenly seemed like a waste of time.

 

“I immediately developed this idea that, you know, maybe I want to try to write about international affairs,” he explained. “In retrospect, I had no idea what that meant.” His mother’s closest friend growing up ran the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which then published Foreign Policy. He sent her a letter and included what would wind up being his only piece of published fiction, a short story that appeared in The Beloit Fiction Journal. It was titled “The Goldfish Smiles, You Smile Back.” The story still haunts him, he says, because “it foreshadowed my entire life.”

Haven't had to time to really read this myself, but I've been seeing a lot of comments about it today.

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Ok, well, if there is to be a  novelist in the next administration to replace Ben Rhodes I want it to be Burgold.   Accomplished creative writers have an acknowledged capacity for out-of-the-box thinking. 

And I know I can trust his character and, better still, his balanced judgement.   I've caught a number of his posts give even-handed voice to different and opposing points of view.   

 

Burgold For (whatever Ben's job title is I forget)!!!!

 

 

To the point of visionary's mention of the comments: at least as far as the comments section of the article itself,  the extreeeeme cliffsnotes for those mildly curious yet not having the time to check it out, the prevailing sentiment seems critical of the the administration's foreign policy in various ways as well as Ben Rhodes' involvement.

 

 

 

 

velocet

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To the point of visionary's mention of the comments: at least as far as the comments section of the article itself,  the extreeeeme cliffsnotes for those mildly curious yet not having the time to check it out, the prevailing sentiment seems critical of the the administration's foreign policy in various ways as well as Ben Rhodes' involvement.

I didn't read the comment section, and I've only glanced at parts of the article so far, but most of the comments I saw were on twitter by activists, journalists, foreign policy folks, and ex-admin officials.  

 

Most of the comments seemed to be either about it being an interesting profile or/and and him being an 'asshole', though I hadn't seen that later bit in the parts of the article I glanced at.

So I'm unsure why they said that about him. 

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I didn't read the comment section, and I've only glanced at parts of the article so far, but most of the comments I saw were on twitter by activists, journalists, foreign policy folks, and ex-admin officials.  

 

Most of the comments seemed to be either about it being an interesting profile or/and and him being an 'asshole', though I hadn't seen that later bit in the parts of the article I glanced at.

So I'm unsure why they said that about him. 

 

They (activists, journalists, foreign policy folks, and ex-admin officials) come across as not too bright and pretty easily manipulated in the story.

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Oh, I read the thread title, thought it was about Burgold. 

Spiff just alerted me that somehow the link in my signature wasn't working. It sent clickers to some erotica novel instead of mine. It should be working now. Thanks for the head's up!

 

Sorry for those disappointed.

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https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/book-party/wp/2016/05/06/why-the-ben-rhodes-profile-in-the-new-york-times-magazine-is-just-gross/?tid=ss_tw

Why the Ben Rhodes profile in the New York Times Magazine is just gross

 

I just don’t know anymore where David Samuels begins and Ben Rhodes ends.

 

Samuels’s massive New York Times magazine profile of Rhodes, President Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, is already prompting debates over the administration’s truthfulness in promoting the Iran nuclear deal, as well as over the disdain with which Rhodes regards the Washington press corps, the U.S. foreign policy establishment — basically anyone who is not himself, President Obama, or fellow West Wing narrative pushers.

 

So the piece, posted Thursday and titled “The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru,” is, in straightforward terms, a real talker, a success. Even if it is, as a piece of nonfiction writing, kind of gross.

 

The grossness emerges on several levels and on multiple occasions.

 

It is the knowing chumminess of a journalist finishing sentences for a White House official who is mocking other prominent Washington journalists for getting so easily spun – and then quoting himself as he finishes the sentence, even letting us know that he did so with a chuckle. (It takes a special kind of journalist to quote his own chuckle.) It is the blindness of a writer who declares that Rhodes is “not an egotist” while offering countless examples of that subject’s gargantuan self-regard, and not bothering to note the contradiction. It is letting a speechwriter colleague praise Rhodes for giving “zero [expletive] about what most people in Washington think,” when the entire exercise in which the writer, subject and source are engaged – a lengthy and access-heavy profile portraying Rhodes as the “Boy Wonder” of the Obama White House and revealing Rhodes’s contempt for the Washington foreign-policy establishment – proclaims precisely the contrary.

 

The grossness is also evident in the profile’s literary pretentiousness. Don DeLillo is a frequent reference point, from the first paragraph of the story, in which the horror of 9/11 becomes a convenient inflection point in the arc of Rhodes’s professional aspirations (from wannabe fiction writer to guy who wants to “try to write about international affairs”), to the bizarre exchange later when Samuels and Rhodes wonder who would best write the novel of Rhodes’s experiences. “I don’t know how you feel about Don DeLillo,” Rhodes suggests. “I love Don DeLillo,” Samuels responds.

 

Also, we are told not once but twice that Ben Rhodes is something like Holden Caulfield of J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye.” Once it is Samuels who thinks so (Rhodes is “an only slightly updated version of what Holden Caulfield might have been like if he grew up to work in the West Wing”), and next it is Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who “volunteers” the comparison, Samuels emphasizes. “He hates the idea of being phony,” she says to Samuels, “and he’s impetuous, and he has very strong views.” Never mind that Caulfield is one of the most overused literary references for every brooding, self-involved young man. It’s that the work of spin and manipulation that Rhodes performs every day – and that Samuels appears so enthralled by – takes phoniness to an art form.

 

It is one thing for a journalist to let his subject reveal himself, in his own words and terms, and let readers make up their minds. But there is plenty of room between that and an uncritical, almost credulous approach to a story. You don’t even have to fight over whether the communications strategy surrounding the negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal deserves pride of place over the, you know, actual diplomacy. Just look, for instance, at Rhodes’s critique of the press covering foreign policy. “The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.” This from someone who has been writing speeches for Obama since he was in his late 20s, and surely understands that age and insight can have a nonlinear relationship. Yet, the only word that Samuels is able to summon to describe Rhodes’s own lack of the usual credentials for his lofty position? “Startling.”

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