Benjamin Rhodes

Benjamin Rhodes

Creative Commons Attribution - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license


  • Helped draft the final report of the 9/11 Commission
  • Helped write the Iraq Study Group report
  • Worked as a speechwriter and policy advisor for Barack Obama, 2009-2017
  • Helped shape Obama administration policies & public narratives
  • Believes that government should be empowered to control & edit people’s Facebook feeds in order to thwart the spreading of “fake news”


Born on November 14, 1977, Benjamin Rhodes was raised in New York City by a conservative-leaning Episcopalian father and a more liberal Jewish mother. He attended New York’s prestigious Collegiate School and then earned a B.A. from Rice University, where he majored in English and Political Science. In 1997 Rhodes worked briefly as an opposition researcher for the re-election campaign of New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani and subsequently earned an MFA in fiction writing from New York University.[1] While pursuing his master’s degree, Rhodes taught writing at NYU and John Jay College.

In 2001 Rhodes worked for the campaign of a Democratic New York City Council candidate. The following year, he moved to Washington, D.C. to work for former U.S. Representative Lee Hamilton (D-Indiana).

Work on the 9/11 Commission Report

Rhodes helped Hamilton draft the final report of the 9/11 Commission, which Hamilton vice-chaired. Rhodes also assisted Hamilton and 9/11 Commission chairman Thomas Kean in writing the 2006 book, Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission.

Lead Writer of Iraq Study Group Report

When Hamilton was named co-chair of the Iraq Study Group in 2006, Rhodes was the lead writer of that panel’s landmark report, which was published in December 2006, as well. Most notably, Rhodes wrote a majority of the chapter advocating direct U.S. diplomatic engagement with Iran and Syria, a recommendation that would have considerable influence on President Barack Obama beginning in 2009. That chapter read as follows:

Dealing with Iran and Syria is controversial. Nevertheless, it is our view that in diplomacy, a nation can and should engage its adversaries and enemies to try to resolve conflicts and differences consistent with its own interests. Accordingly, the Support Group should actively engage Iran and Syria in its diplomatic dialogue, without preconditions.

The Study Group recognizes that U.S. relationships with Iran and Syria involve difficult issues that must be resolved. Diplomatic talks should be extensive and substantive, and they will require a balancing of interests. […] Some of the possible incentives to Iran, Syria, or both include:

i. An Iraq that does not disintegrate and destabilize its neighbors and the region.
ii. The continuing role of the United States in preventing the Taliban from destabilizing Afghanistan.
iii. Accession to international organizations, including the World Trade Organization.
iv. Prospects for enhanced diplomatic relations with the United States.
v. The prospect of a U.S. policy that emphasizes political and economic reforms instead of (as Iran now perceives it) advocating regime change.
vi. Prospects for a real, complete, and secure peace to be negotiated between Israel and Syria, with U.S. involvement as part of a broader initiative on Arab-Israeli peace as outlined below.

RECOMMENDATION 9: Under the aegis of the New Diplomatic Offensive and the Support Group, the United States should engage directly with Iran and Syria in order to try to obtain their commitment to constructive policies toward Iraq and other regional issues. In engaging Syria and Iran, the United States should consider incentives, as well as disincentives, in seeking constructive results.

Iran. Engaging Iran is problematic, especially given the state of the U.S.-Iranian relationship. Yet the United States and Iran cooperated in Afghanistan, and both sides should explore whether this model can be replicated in the case of Iraq. Although Iran sees it in its interest to have the United States bogged down in Iraq, Iran’s interests would not be
served by a failure of U.S. policy in Iraq that led to chaos and the territorial disintegration of the Iraqi state. Iran’s population is slightly more than 50 percent Persian, but it has a large Azeri minority (24 percent of the population) as well as Kurdish and Arab minorities. Worst-case scenarios in Iraq could inflame sectarian tensions within Iran, with serious consequences for Iranian national security interests.

Our limited contacts with Iran’s government lead us to believe that its leaders are likely to say they will not participate in diplomatic efforts to support stability in Iraq. They attribute this reluctance to their belief that the United States seeks regime change in Iran.

Nevertheless, as one of Iraq’s neighbors Iran should be asked to assume its responsibility to participate in the Support Group. An Iranian refusal to do so would demonstrate to Iraq and the rest of the world Iran’s rejectionist attitude and approach, which could lead to its isolation. Further, Iran’s refusal to cooperate on this matter would diminish its prospects of engaging with the United States in the broader dialogue it seeks.

RECOMMENDATION 10: The issue of Iran’s nuclear programs should continue to be dealt with by the United Nations Security Council and its five permanent members (i.e., the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China) plus Germany.

RECOMMENDATION 11: Diplomatic efforts within the Support Group should seek to persuade Iran that it should take specific steps to improve the situation in Iraq. Among steps Iran could usefully take are the following:

• Iran should stem the flow of equipment, technology, and training to any group resorting to violence in Iraq.
• Iran should make clear its support for the territorial integrity of Iraq as a unified state, as well as its respect for the sovereignty of Iraq and its government.
• Iran can use its influence, especially over Shia groups in Iraq, to encourage national reconciliation.
• Iran can also, in the right circumstances, help in the economic reconstruction of Iraq.

Syria. Although the U.S.-Syrian relationship is at a low point, both countries have important interests in the region that could be enhanced if they were able to establish some common ground on how to move forward. This approach worked effectively in the early 1990s. In this context, Syria’s national interests in the Arab-Israeli dispute are important and can be brought into play.

Syria can make a major contribution to Iraq’s stability in several ways. Accordingly, the Study Group recommends the following:

RECOMMENDATION 12: The United States and the Support Group should encourage and persuade Syria of the merit of such contributions as the following:

• Syria can control its border with Iraq to the maximum extent possible and work together with Iraqis on joint patrols on the border. Doing so will help stem the flow of
funding, insurgents, and terrorists in and out of Iraq.
• Syria can establish hotlines to exchange information with the Iraqis.
• Syria can increase its political and economic cooperation with Iraq.

Preident Obama ultimately adopted most of the report’s 79 suggestions. Critics have noted that the report’s “expert list” was heavily weighted with pro-Arab apologists who directed a number of rebukes pointedly at Israel. According to the American Thinker, “Some of the experts who were interviewed were appalled by the final written report because they felt it did not reflect facts, their testimony, or reality.”

Becoming a Trusted Advisor & Speechwriter for Obama

While still working with Hamilton, Rhodes met then-U.S. Senator Obama for the first time when he helped him with debate-preparation one May afternoon in 2007. He the worked for a few months as a speechwriter for former Virginia governor Mark Warner’s short-lived 2008 presidential campaign. When Warner eventually withdrew from the presidential race to pursue a U.S. Senate seat, he encouraged Rhodes to ally himself with Obama’s White House bid at that point. Rhodes did in fact join Obama’s presidential campaign as a volunteer foreign-policy advisor, and soon thereafter he was hired as a full-time senior speechwriter for Obama. From that point forward, he became one of Obama’s closest foreign-policy aides.

Rhodes played a key role in writing some of President Obama’s most significant speeches—e.g., the unveiling of America’s new strategy in Afghanistan; the outline of a plan for troop withdrawal from Iraq; a Nowruz message to Iran; and, most famously, Obama’s June 2009 Cairo address to the Muslim world. The latter—largely a public-relations maneuver intended to flatter Muslims—whitewashed Islamic tradition as one of “religious tolerance and racial equality,” and erroneously attributed accomplishments such as printing, navigation, and medicine to the Islamic world. Some noteworthy excerpts from the speech:

  • “We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world — tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate.  The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of coexistence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars.  More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.  Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.”
  • “Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims.  The attacks of September 11, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights.  All this has bred more fear and more mistrust.”
  • “I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition.  Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”
  • “As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam.  It was Islam — at places like Al-Azhar — that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.  It was innovation in Muslim communities —  it was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed.  Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation.  And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.”
  • “I also know that Islam has always been a part of America’s story.  The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco.  In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President, John Adams, wrote, ‘The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims.’  And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States.  They have fought in our wars, they have served in our government, they have stood for civil rights, they have started businesses, they have taught at our universities, they’ve excelled in our sports arenas, they’ve won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch.  And when the first Muslim American [Keith Ellison] was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers — Thomas Jefferson — kept in his personal library.”
  • “[F]reedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion.  That is why there is a mosque in every state in our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders.  That’s why the United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it.”
  • “Let me also address the issue of Iraq.  Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world.  Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible.”
  • “Today, America has a dual responsibility:  to help Iraq forge a better future — and to leave Iraq to Iraqis.  And I have made it clear to the Iraqi people — (applause) — I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources.  Iraq’s sovereignty is its own. And that’s why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August.  That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq’s democratically elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all of our troops from Iraq by 2012.”
  • “[J]ust as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter or forget our principles.  Nine-eleven was an enormous trauma to our country.  The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals.  We are taking concrete actions to change course.  I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.”
  • “Threatening Israel with destruction — or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews — is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve. On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.  For more than 60 years they’ve endured the pain of dislocation.  Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead.  They endure the daily humiliations — large and small — that come with occupation.  So let there be no doubt:  The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable.  And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.”
  • “For decades then, there has been a stalemate:  two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive.  It’s easy to point fingers — for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought about by Israel’s founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond.  But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth:  The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.”
  • “Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s.  The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace.  It is time for these settlements to stop.”
  • “And Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society.  Just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.”
  • “No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons.  And that’s why I strongly reaffirmed America’s commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation — including Iran — should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  That commitment is at the core of the treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I’m hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.”
  • “Issues of women’s equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam.  In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, we’ve seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead.  Meanwhile, the struggle for women’s equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.”
  • “Many Gulf states have enjoyed great wealth as a consequence of oil, and some are beginning to focus it on broader development.  But all of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century — (applause) — and in too many Muslim communities, there remains underinvestment in these areas.  I’m emphasizing such investment within my own country.  And while America in the past has focused on oil and gas when it comes to this part of the world, we now seek a broader engagement.”

President Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications & Speechwriting

In September 2009 Rhodes became President Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting. Having established himself also as a trusted policy advisor, Rhodes was given an open invitation to attend national security meetings whenever he wished.

According to Michael McFaul, who worked with Rhodes in the National Security Council and was later named the American ambassador to Russia, Rhodes “became, first in the speechwriting process, and later, in the heat of the Arab Spring, a central figure” in the Obama administration. “Because of his close personal relationship with the president,” added McFaul, “Ben can always make policy through the speeches and statements made by President Obama.”

A May 2016 New York Times profile reported that Rhodes was, “according to the consensus of the two dozen current and former White House insiders [whom author David Samuels] talked to, the single most influential voice shaping American foreign policy aside from [President Obama] himself; that according to Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough, the president and Rhodes communicated “regularly, several times a day”; and that “part of what accounts for Rhodes’s influence is his ‘mind meld’ with the president.” “Nearly everyone I spoke to about Rhodes,” wrote Samuels, “used the phrase ‘mind meld’ verbatim, some with casual assurance and others in the hushed tones that are usually reserved for special insights. He doesn’t think for the president, but he knows what the president is thinking, which is a source of tremendous power. One day, when Rhodes and I were sitting in his boiler-room office, he confessed, with a touch of bafflement, ‘I don’t know anymore where I begin and Obama ends.’”

The likemindedness between Rhodes and Obama had long been apparent to close observers. “Watching him and the president work,” deputy national security adviser Denis McDonough had said years earlier, “it’s obvious that there’s a lot of shared world view.” Obama advisor and confidante David Axelrod concurred: “He [Rhodes] really understands the president’s voice. They’ve got a great mind-meld on these issues.”

In the aforementioned New York Times profile of May 2016, David Samuels discussed the large degree to which Rhodes and his colleagues in the Obama White House viewed themselves essentially as storytellers tasked with shaping public perceptions. For instance, Samuels wrote that when he had asked Rhodes’s close friend Jon Favreau, Obama’s lead speechwriter in the 2008 campaign, “whether he or Rhodes or the president had ever thought of their individual speeches and bits of policy making as part of some larger restructuring of the American narrative,” Favreau replied, “We saw that as our entire job.” Added Samuels:

“Like Obama, Rhodes is a storyteller who uses a writer’s tools to advance an agenda that is packaged as politics but is often quite personal. He is adept at constructing overarching plotlines with heroes and villains, their conflicts and motivations supported by flurries of carefully chosen adjectives, quotations and leaks from named and unnamed senior officials. He is the master shaper and retailer of Obama’s foreign-policy narratives, at a time when the killer wave of social media has washed away the sand castles of the traditional press. His ability to navigate and shape this new environment makes him a more effective and powerful extension of the president’s will than any number of policy advisers or diplomats or spies. His lack of conventional real-world experience of the kind that normally precedes responsibility for the fate of nations — like military or diplomatic service, or even a master’s degree in international relations, rather than creative writing — is still startling.”

In his 2016 interview with Samuels, Rhodes described how easy it was for him to fool most reporters into accepting and parroting the Obama adminstration’s narrative regarding its policies: “All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus. Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. 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.”

Influence in Shaping Obama Policies & Public Narratives

When massive anti-government revolutions erupted in Egypt and Libya in 2011, Rhodes helped persuade President Obama to reverse three decades of U.S. support for then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and also to lead an intervention against then-dictator Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. For the Libyan campaign, Rhodes, carefully avoiding the use of the word “war,” coined the euphemism “kinetic military action.”[2]

In early 2013, Rhodes became a strong advocate for more aggressive U.S. efforts to support the Syrian opposition—which included many Islamist, al Qaeda-affiliated elements—against President Bashar al-Assad.

Also early that year, Rhodes, speaking about the ongoing Mideast conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors, said: “Israel needs to take into account the changing dynamic and the need to reach out to public opinion across the region as it seeks to make progress on issues like Israeli-Palestinian peace and broader Arab-Israeli peace.”

In May 2013, journalist Stephen Hayes reported that Rhodes had likely been a key player behind the Obama administration’s effort to cover up the fact that a deadly September 11, 2012 attack against a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya was a premeditated act of terrorism rather than—as the administration initially depicted it—an unplanned, spontaneous escalation of a nonviolent demonstration against an obscure anti-Islam YouTube video that had recently been produced in the United States. Hayes wrote that the “frantic process” of editing and re-editing the talking points involved senior officials from the State Department, the National Security Council, the CIA, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the White House. And he mentioned Ben Rhodes by name, explaining that on September 14, 2012, Rhodes had advised those involved in the process that all the edits would be finalized the following morning in a White House meeting of top administration officials. ABC News confirmed that on September 14, 2012, Rhodes wrote the following to his high-level colleagues in the Obama administration: “We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation. We thus will work through the talking points tomorrow morning at the Deputies Committee meeting.”

On April 29, 2014, previously unreleased internal Obama administration emails—obtained by Judicial Watch via the Freedom of Information Act—confirmed that Rhodes indeed had sent emails to top White House officials such as David Plouffe and Jay Carney just a day before Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice would make her infamous appearances on five Sunday news programs, where she portrayed the attacks as spontaneous reactions to an obscure YouTube video rather than as premeditated acts of terror.

According to one of Rhodes’s emails, the “goal,” was “to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure or policy.” His email also advised Rice and other administration officials to articulate that: “[W]e’ve made our views on this video crystal clear. The United States government had nothing to do with it. We reject its message and its contents. We find it disgusting and reprehensible. But there is absolutely no justification at all for responding to this movie with violence. And we are working to make sure that people around the globe hear that message.”

Rhodes further instructed Rice and the others to say something to the effect of: “I think that people have come to trust that President Obama provides leadership that is steady and statesmanlike. There are always going to be challenges that emerge around the world, and time and again, he has shown that we can meet them.”

David Samuels’s May 2016 New York Times profile of Rhodes explains how Rhodes willingly and proudly used his storytelling skills to deceive the American public regarding the details and implications of the nuclear deal that the Obama administration had recently negotiated with Iran—an agreement allowing the terrorism-supporting regime in Tehran to inspect its own Parchin nuclear weapons research site, conduct uranium enrichment, build advanced centrifuges, buy ballistic missiles, fund terrorism, and have a near-zero breakout time to a nuclear bomb. Key excerpts from the Times piece include the following:

“Rhodes’s innovative campaign to sell the Iran deal is likely to be a model for how future administrations explain foreign policy to Congress and the public. The way in which most Americans have heard the story of the Iran deal presented — that the Obama administration began seriously engaging with Iranian officials in 2013 in order to take advantage of a new political reality in Iran, which came about because of elections that brought moderates to power in that country — was largely manufactured for the purpose for selling the deal. Even where the particulars of that story are true, the implications that readers and viewers are encouraged to take away from those particulars are often misleading or false. Obama’s closest advisers always understood him to be eager to do a deal with Iran as far back as 2012, and even since the beginning of his presidency….

“In the narrative that Rhodes shaped, the ‘story’ of the Iran deal began in 2013, when a ‘moderate’ faction inside the Iranian regime led by Hassan Rouhani beat regime ‘hard-liners’ in an election and then began to pursue a policy of ‘openness,’ which included a newfound willingness to negotiate the dismantling of its illicit nuclear-weapons program. The president set out the timeline himself in his speech announcing the nuclear deal on July 14, 2015: ‘Today, after two years of negotiations, the United States, together with our international partners, has achieved something that decades of animosity has not.’ While the president’s statement was technically accurate — there had in fact been two years of formal negotiations leading up to the signing of the J.C.P.O.A. [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] — it was also actively misleading, because the most meaningful part of the negotiations with Iran had begun in mid-2012, many months before Rouhani and the “moderate” camp were chosen in an election among candidates handpicked by Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The idea that there was a new reality in Iran was politically useful to the Obama administration. By obtaining broad public currency for the thought that there was a significant split in the regime, and that the administration was reaching out to moderate-minded Iranians who wanted peaceful relations with their neighbors and with America, Obama was able to evade what might have otherwise been a divisive but clarifying debate over the actual policy choices that his administration was making. By eliminating the fuss about Iran’s nuclear program, the administration hoped to eliminate a source of structural tension between the two countries, which would create the space for America to disentangle itself from its established system of alliances with countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and Turkey. With one bold move, the administration would effectively begin the process of a large-scale disengagement from the Middle East.

“The nerve center for the selling of the Iran deal to Congress, which took place in a concentrated three-month period between July and September of last year, was located inside the White House, and is referred to by its former denizens as ‘the war room.’ Chad Kreikemeier, a Nebraskan who had worked in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, helped run the team, which included three to six people from each of several agencies, he says, which were the State Department, Treasury, the American delegation to the United Nations (i.e., Samantha Power), ‘at times D.O.D.’ (the Department of Defense) and also the Department of Energy and the National Security Council. Rhodes ‘was kind of like the quarterback,’ running the daily video conferences and coming up with lines of attack and parry. ‘He was extremely good about immediately getting to a phrase or a way of getting the message out that just made more sense,’ Kreikemeier remembers. Framing the deal as a choice between peace and war was Rhodes’s go-to move — and proved to be a winning argument….

“In the spring of 2015, 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,’ [Rhodes] admitted, when I [reporter David Samuels] 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 [Samuels] 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.”

Lying About Edward Snowden, Who Exposed the Massive Spying of Obama’s NSA

In his 2018 memoir,  entitled The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House, Rhodes inadvertently acknowledged that, for years, he had been lying about Edward Snowden, a former computer-intelligence consultant who leaked highly classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013, when he was an employee and subcontractor for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Snowden’s revelations exposed numerous global surveillance programs, many of which were administered by the NSA and the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance. On August 31, 2021, investigative journalist and author Glenn Greenwald published a Substack article proving, incontrovertibly, that Rhodes and the entire Obama administration had been lying when they claimed, for years, that Snowden, who had lived under asylum in Russia since 2013, likely had ties to Communist China and Russia. Following are key excerpts from Greenwald’s piece:

“Ever since Edward Snowden received asylum from Russia in 2013, Obama officials have repeatedly maligned his motives and patriotism by citing his ‘choice’ to take up residence there. It has long been clear that this narrative was a lie: Snowden, after meeting with journalists [Greenwald and others] in Hong Kong [to provide details about the NSA program], intended only to transit through Moscow and then Havana on his way to seek asylum in Latin America. He was purposely prevented from leaving Russia — trapped in the Moscow airport — by the very Obama officials who then cynically weaponized his presence there to imply he was a civil-liberties hypocrite for ‘choosing’ to live in such a repressive country or, even worse, a Kremlin agent or Russian spy.

“But now we have absolute, definitive proof that Snowden never intended to stay in Russia but was deliberately prevented from leaving by the same Obama officials who exploited the predicament which they created. The proof was supplied unintentionally in the memoir of … Ben Rhodes […] While repeatedly emphasizing how traumatic the Snowden revelations were for the Obama administrations, Rhodes boasts of the crucial role he played in preventing Snowden from leaving Russia as the NSA whistleblower was desperately attempting to do so — exactly the opposite of what people like Rhodes and Hillary Clinton were telling the public about Snowden. […]

“One chapter of Rhodes’ book is devoted to the Obama administration’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba. Rhodes explains that … [an important signal] sent by Cuba showing its genuine desire to improve relations was their capitulation to Rhodes’ threats that they had better withdraw the permission they had [already] granted Snowden to allow him to pass through Havana once he left the Moscow airport as planned, on his way to Latin America where he intended to seek asylum.

“In other words, Rhodes — who has spent years insinuating that Snowden is a Russian spy and traitor given his ‘choice’ to flee to Russia — knew in real time that Snowden never planned to stay even one day in Russia. He had only flown to Moscow from Hong Kong with the intent to immediately fly from Moscow to Havana, and then on to either Ecuador or Bolivia to obtain asylum. […]

“The only reason Snowden is [still] in Russia [today] is because of the actions of Rhodes and his fellow Obama officials to deliberately trap him there: first by invalidating his passport so that he could not board any international flights, and then by threatening the Cuban government that any chance for normalization with the U.S. would be permanently destroyed unless they withdrew their guarantee to Snowden of safe passage through Havana, which they then did. Here’s Rhodes in his own words, boasting about what he regards as his success: […] Reportedly, [Snowden] wanted to go to Venezuela [actually Bolivia or Ecuador] , transiting through Havana. I pulled Alejandro Castro [the son of Cuban President Raul Castro] aside and said I had a message that came from President Obama. I reminded him that the Cubans had said they wanted to give Obama ‘political space’ so that he could take steps to improve relations. ‘If you take in Snowden,’ I said, ‘that political space will be gone.’ I never spoke to the Cubans about this issue again. A few days later, back in Washington, I woke up to a news report: ‘Former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden got stuck in the transit zone of a Moscow airport because Havana said it would not let him fly from Russia to Cuba, a Russian newspaper reported.’ I took it as a message: The Cubans were serious about improving relations.

“Could this admission be any clearer? From the very beginning, Obama officials including Rhodes knew that Snowden had not traveled to Russia with the intention of staying there, but instead was — in Rhodes’ own words — ‘stuck in the Moscow airport’ and was ‘trying to find someone who would take him in.’”

Notwithstanding the foregoing facts, Rhodes and his fellow Obama officials spent years casting Snowden as unpatriotic and traitorous, citing his “choice” to go to Russia as evidence of their claims. Consider, for instance, what Rhodes told his fellow former Obama national security official Tommy Vietor in a February 2017 podcast: “Cause again like, a whistleblower doesn’t conspicuously pass through China [actually Hong Kong] to Russia, you know, reporters are always saying ‘Are you telling me that you know that he was working for the Russians?’, or what have you, I’m like, I’m not, I’m telling you what I see, which is this guy went to China [actually Hong Kong] and Russia, the two most adversarial intelligence competitors to the United States; he could’ve gone to some very liberal European country that probably would’ve taken him in, or he could have faced the music here; the choice of those destinations speaks volumes.”

Role in Shaping U.S. Policy Toward Cuba

Diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba were officially resumed on July 20, 2015. Rhodes was in attendance that day at a ceremony where the Cuban flag was raised over the newly re-established Cuban embassy on 16th Street NW in Washington, D.C.  Other notables who were present included Phyllis Bennis, Patrick Leahy, Amy Klobuchar, Chris Van Hollen, Karen Bass, Barbara Lee, Jose Serrano, Raul Grijalva, Andrea Mitchell, and Danny Glover.

On November 29, 2016, the Obama White House announced that Rhodes and Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the top U.S. diplomat to Cuba, would represent the United States by attending the memorial service for the former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, who had died four days earlier. White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters: “The president has decided not to send a presidential delegation to attend the memorial service today. Those of you who have been following this story closely over the last couple of years know that Mr. Rhodes has played a leading role in crafting the normalization policy [with Cuba] that President Obama announced about two years ago. He has been the principal interlocutor with the Cuban government from the White House in crafting this policy and implementing it successfully.”

Hostility Toward Israel’s Netanyahu

Rhodes, who backed a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, felt that then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposed such a plan. “We pretended to my shame at times in the Obama administration that he [Netanyahu] was interested in that [a two-state solution]. When I don’t think he was, ever.” Rhodes also claimed that the Netanyahu government had “made our lives hell every day that he could” during the Obama years.

End of Tenure with Obama Administration

When President Obama’s presidency came to an end in January 2017, Rhodes’ time as Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting was over.

Co-Chair of National Security Action

In February 2017, Rhodes and and Jake Sullivan, who had served as a national security advisor to former Vice President Joe Biden, co-founded the leftwing foreign-policy advocacy group National Security Action (NSA), which, according to Influence Watch, “works to advance global policies and oppose the foreign policy of the Trump administration.” Rhodes and Sullivan co-chaired the organization during the Trump administration. Their intent from the outset was to make NSA a temporary phenomenon that would dissolve in 2021.

Advocating Government Control over People’s Facebook Feeds

In a June 2018 appearance on MSNBC, Rhodes told host Andrea Mitchell that the federal government should be empowered to control and edit people’s Facebook feeds in order to thwart the spreading of “fake news” during an election season. Said Rhodes: “The government didn’t have a lot of capacity to deal with this. I mean, we can’t edit people’s Facebook feeds and say ‘that’s fake news, and that’s not.’  And what worries me today, Andrea, is that we still don’t have a lot of capacity, and frankly our government’s probably not doing anything to prevent this.” He then speculated that because the government could not exert unlimited control over Facebook feeds, the “likelihood” of Russian disinformation being used to affect future elections “is very high.”

Denouncing Trump’s Call for NATO Countries to Pay Their Fair Share

After President Donald Trump had repeatedly called for America’s NATO partner countries to begin contributing their fair share of funds to the alliance’s operational costs — both in absolute terms and as a share of their respective GDPs — Rhodes tweeted on July 11, 2018:

  • “[Russian President Vladimir] Putin has NATO in disarray, GOP members of Congress talking down his attack on our democracy, US standing abroad in free fall, and a summit with the US President that will upstage the western alliance. A pretty good return on his investment.”
  • “NATO has succeeded for seventy years because it was unified, committed to common defense, and shared democratic values. Trump is shredding all of that before our eyes.”

In an appearance on MSNBC that same day, Rhodes told host Chris Hayes:

“I mean, Chris, what’s very clear is that he [Trump] has a continued hostility towards our democratic allies, and he’s continually reaching out, praising, trying to get next to, trying to create these spectacles with people like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un. I don’t think it’s possible to overstate what is happening this week. The biggest danger to the national security of the United States is the president of the United States, who is single-handedly, before our eyes, blowing up the international architecture that the United States has relied upon for our own security for 70 years. This 2% defense spending thing is just a lever that he’s using to clobber NATO. Let’s be very clear, if you shred the credibility of America’s commitment to our allies, it doesn’t matter how much people spend on defense. The fact of the matter is, by antagonizing our allies, he’s making it less likely that they’re going to stand with us the next time we need them, as they did in Afghanistan after 9/11. He’s playing right into the hands of Putin, who’s been trying to create a wedge between the United States and Europe since he came back into office. And he’s raising serious questions about whether the United States of America wants to play the role that we’ve played for 70 years as the leader of alliances like NATO.”

Characterizing Trump as a White Supremacist & Threat to National Security

During an August 9, 2019 appearance on MSNBC’s Deadline, anchor Nicholle Wallace asked Rhodes if he thought President Trump was a white supremacist, to which he replied:

“Well, I certainly agree. Check the videotape. This is a man who built the program where my old boss [Barack Obama] wasn’t born in the United States. Would he possibly be saying that if Barack Obama was white? No. In his first speech, he calls Mexicans rapists, and on and on. The fact the massive uptick in white supremacy violence is somehow just coincidental, that they say the same things the white supremacists say on message boards, you know beggar’s belief here, Nicolle. We have to call a thing what’s they are.

“This is a national security crisis I would say, Nicolle. The number one threat to the American people in terms of their personal security is a threat of white supremacist terrorism. That’s not just my view, that’s the view of the director of the FBI. A normal president would be running meetings on this in the White House. A normal president would be putting more resources on this challenge. A normal president would have Department of Justice and Homeland Security trying to figure out what the radicalization process that is leading to these shootings. If you look at Donald Trump, what we hear from the reporting is the Department of Homeland Security scrubbed mentions of white supremacist terrorism in favor of just focusing on Islamic terrorism because they don’t want to upset Trump. Just think about that, because they don’t want to upset the feelings of the president of the United States, his own team is avoiding bringing to him the number one threat to the American people. If we look at the juxtaposition of guns, another national security white supremacist terrorism and Russian interference in our election, these are the national security challenges confronting the United States, and the president is willfully ignoring them. I would like to see Democrats make these national security arguments, getting guns off the streets, getting the white supremacists that lead to violence and securing our elections.”

Wallace then said: “I want to ask a yes or no question: is Donald Trump a threat to our security, Ben?”

Rhodes answered: “Absolutely. if you have a president who is willfully preventing his own administration from defending our democracy against election interference, from going after white supremacists who are propagating violence in this country and from getting AR-15s guns off the streets that are weapons of war, how is that not a threat to our security?”

Condemning Trump’s Killing of Iran’s Soleimani

In very early January 2020, President Trump ordered a drone strike that killed Qasem Soleimani, the notorious general who: (a) headed Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; (b) headed terrorist operations that trained Iran proxies who were responsible for more than 600 American deaths; and (c) was believed to be in the process of preparing additional attacks on U.S. diplomats in the Middle East. Almost immediately after news of the killing, Rhodes posted a series of tweets in which he condemned it as a reckless and potentially catastrophic move:

  • “[N]o question that Soleimani has a lot of blood on his hands. But this is a really frightening moment. Iran will respond and likely in various places. Thinking of all US personnel in the region right now.”
  • “Trump may have just started a war with no congressional debate. I really hope the worst case scenario doesn’t happen but everything about this situation suggests serious escalation to come.”
  • “Congress has to assert itself and determine exactly what our Iran policy is. Did we mean to do this? Do we have any plan for what comes next? What is the legal basis for all this?”
  • “There are real world consequences to having Trump as President. They are becoming increasingly clear and he is the one who is going to have to navigate incredibly complicated and dangerous messes of his own creation. This is not reality TV.”
  • “Iraq and Lebanon are just two of the places where we have to be very concerned about the potential Iranian response which could play out over time – not to mention Iran’s nuclear program. Again, QS was as bad a guy as there was, but what is the strategy here?”
  • “What is the strategy? We have no explanation about what happens now and what we are trying to achieve in a very serious international crisis.”

Denouncing Trump for Claiming Fraud in the 2020 Election

In a December 9, 2020 appearance on the MSNBC program Deadline, Rhodes condemned President Donald Trump for claiming that fraud had affected the outcome of the 2020 presidential election:

“We have to take seriously the power Donald Trump has on an enormous share of the American population…. He’s seeking to convince a significant part of the American public that this election was illegitimate and that it was stolen. Let’s be very clear; what he’s saying is insane and absurd. It’s akin to pointing to the sky and saying it’s not blue. It’s green. Yet we’ve seen because of the spread conspiracy theory because of the size of the megaphone Donald Trump has and nature of social media, people are more than willing to live inside that reality, and the Republicans are going along with it.

“From a national security perspective, how many warning signs do you need? We had a plot to kidnap and potentially kill the Governor of Michigan. We’ve had people showing up armed in front of places. We’ve had Republican officials sounding alarm, as you said. The warning signs are there. If someone gets hurt, if someone gets killed, the blood is on all of their hands, the people who are saying nothing, the people who are going along with this. This isn’t a game. This isn’t a charade. This is a deliberate effort to make a big chunk of this country live inside of a conspiracy theory that could radicalize them to commit acts of violence. And this needs to be taken seriously and shut down by responsible adults before this becomes just a part of the political backdrop of this country for the next several years.”

Calling for Government Censorship of Conservatives

During MSNBC’s coverage of President Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021, Rhodes stated that if social media companies like Twitter did not intensify their regulation of speech that Democrats and the Biden administration deemed objectionable, then government would have to impose its own regulatory measures. Said Rhodes: “I think from a policy perspective … there are big questions about the future of social media in this country, whether or not someone has to step in and regulate these platforms so that it’s not left to the CEO of Twitter to make a decision to kick President Trump off a couple weeks before his term ends and after the Democrats have won back control of government. But rather, can government work with these tech companies to determine how they can at least slow the spread of this poisonous disinformation?” “All of us have a responsibility now, starting from the presidency, starting from the White House, but to those social media companies, to Facebook, and to all of us as citizens to realize, to wake up to just how close we came to losing it all,” Rhodes continued. “We need everybody to step up here and that includes social media, and if they won’t, that means that government’s going to have to step in as well.”

Rhodes on Women in the Military & “Extremism … on the Far Right”

During a March 11, 2021 appearance on MSNBC’s Deadline, Rhodes condemned Fox News host Tucker Carlson for having said the following about pregnant women serving on the frontlines in the U.S. military: “So we’ve got new hairstyles and maternity flight suits. Pregnant women are going to fight our wars. It’s a mockery of the U.S. military. While China’s military becomes more masculine as it’s assembled the world’s largest navy, our military needs to become, as Joe Biden says, more feminine, whatever feminine means anymore since men and women no longer exist. The bottom line is it’s out of control, and the Pentagon is going along with this. Again this is a mockery of the U.S. Military.” In response to Carlson’s remarks, Rhodes said:

“We’ve had hundreds of thousands of women serve since 9/11 heroically. Fox News and Tucker Carlson likes to wrap themselves in an American flag when it suits their purposes, and then runs them down when it suits their culture war purposes. The danger is, don’t bring the culture war into our military. We need cohesion in our military. We need our military fights together as one team, serving together as one team and to be provoking this at a time, by the way, that the military has acknowledged it wants to take steps to make sure the extremism we have seen in our society, particularly on the far right, doesn’t creep into the ranks. To have Tucker Carlson stirring this kind of pot, that’s both an insult to the tens of thousands of women serving, some in harm’s way, and also an effort to sow division inside the military itself. I cannot think of anything more unpatriotic than the type of garbage that Tucker Carlson is spewing on his program.”

Condemning the Kyle Rittenhouse Jury Verdict

On August 25, 2020 — during a violent Black Lives Matter/Antifa riot which followed an incident where a white Kenosha, Wisconsin police officer had shot and permanently disabled a knife-wielding black criminal named Jacob Blake — Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old white youth from Antioch, Illinois, drove to Kenosha, where his father resided, with the intent of: (a) helping to prevent further vandalism in that city, and (b) providing medical aid to people injured in the melee. At the scene of the unrest, Rittenhouse was armed with a semi-automatic rifle that had been purchased (with his money) and held for him by his friend Dominick Black, a resident of Kenosha. When white rioter and Kenosha resident Joseph Rosenbaum — who had spent 15 years in prison for multiple child molestation convictions that included anal rape — chased Rittenhouse, threatened to kill him, and tried to take away his rifle, Rittenhouse fatally shot Rosenbaum. While subsequently being chased by a crowd of approximately a dozen rioters, Rittenhouse ran down a street toward police vehicles, in hopes that the officers might protect him from his pursuers. But the fleeing Rittenhouse tripped and fell to the ground, at which point he was struck on the head by a 39-year-old white man who jump-kicked him. Then, while Rittenhouse was still on the ground, white Silver Lake resident Anthony Huber — a domestic abuse repeater and an ex-convict who in 2013 had pleaded guilty to multiple felony counts of strangulation, suffocation, and false imprisonment — struck him on the head and neck with a skateboard and attempted to pull away his rifle, at which point Rittenhouse killed Huber with a single gunshot to the chest. And when white West Allis resident Gaige Grosskreutz — who had a long arrest history that included multiple misdemeanors and felonies — then approached the fallen Rittenhouse and pointed a handgun directly at him, Rittenhouse shot him once in the right arm, wounding but not killing the man. Rittenhouse was subsequently tried on six criminal charges which included homicide, reckless endangerment, and possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under the age of 18. A large number of leftists portrayed him as a racist, Trump-supporting white vigilante who had recklessly fired his gun at “social justice” and “racial justice” demonstrators in Kenosha.

After a jury found Rittenhouse not guilty on all counts on November 19, 2021, Rhodes described the verdict as “a very dark message sent to all the other heavily armed would-be vigilantes out there.”

Additional Information

Rhodes’ wife, Ann Norris, was a senior foreign-policy and defense advisor to former Senator Barbara Boxer.

Rhodes’s brother, David Rhodes, was the president of CBS News from 2011-19 and then became the head of News UK TV, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

In 2011, Rhodes was on Time magazine’s “40 Under 40” list of powerful and prominent young professionals.

In 2014, Rhodes was number 13 on Fortune magazine’s “40 Under 40” list of the most influential young people in business.

In 2015, Rhodes was named one of Foreign Policy magazine’s top 100 global thinkers.


  1. Before turning permanently to politics, Rhodes, an aspiring fiction writer, penned an unfinished novel titled Oasis of Love, wherein, he explains, “a woman breaks the guy’s heart because she becomes a member of a megachurch.”
  2. In both Egypt and Libya, the U.S.-assisted revolutions ultimately resulted in the ascendancy of jihadist organizations and movements; in Egypt, the reins of post-Mubarak governance were taken up by Mohammed Morsi, a longtime leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Additional Resources:

Ben Rhodes’ Book Proves Obama Officials’ Lies, and His Own, About Edward Snowden and Russia
By Glenn Greenwald
August 31, 2021

© Copyright 2024,