Monday, May 16, 2016

Ben Rhodes

Sar Shalom

While plenty of others have laid out the know-it-all attitude of President Obama as conveyed by the New York Times Magazine profile of his communications director Ben Rhodes, there's another angle I would like to cover. To get at my angle, it would help to look at Nicholas Kristof's column from last week about Obama's responses to the Ebola crisis in 2014 and the Zika crisis now. During the Ebola crisis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicted that without intervention, the epidemic in Liberia could mushroom to 1.4 million cases. An epidemic of that scale would have been a vastly greater threat to us than a handful of medical experts traveling there, coming back, and monitoring themselves during the potential incubation period for the disease.

However, the balance of risks did not stop the self-appointed experts like Phyllis Schlafly, Donald Trump, and the Republicans in Congress from declaring that America had to be "kept safe" by stopping all flights to Africa. In actuality, the intervention by western medical crews brought and end to the Ebola epidemic in western Africa and there was not a single fatality from western-contracted Ebola. What this episode demonstrates is that there is such a thing as expertise and that those crafted Obama's response, presumably from the CDC, knew what they were doing. However, until the epidemic was contained, to the self-appointed experts, the public health community was simply what one might call "The Blob."

Just as there is such a thing as expertise in public health, there is also such a thing as expertise in international relations. Unfortunately, as David Samuels' profile of Ben Rhodes demonstrates, Obama's attitude towards international-relations expertise is the same of the self-appointed experts' attitude towards public-health expertise. There are legitimate reasons to challenge the community of experts. For instance it would be useful to call attention to facts that most experts ignore and there is nothing inherently wrong with having values (that is, view of what ought to be) that differ from those of most experts. However, there is a difference between an experts' professional assessment (that is, view of what is) and the application of that expert's values (what ought to be). Spurning the experts' advice, in effect dismissing their analysis because you dislike their conclusions, and treating their assessments of what is as if they were their assessments of what ought to be, creates a substantial risk for disaster. That is what Obama and Rhodes have done.


  1. Obama strikes me as a guy with a "my way or the highway" approach to issues.

    It is certainly true that in terms of Middle East foreign policy he seems to have an ideological intransigence which causes him to repeat mistakes or refuse to acknowledge mistakes as mistakes.

    I argued as early as 2010 that Obama killed the so-called peace process through his counterproductive demand for "total settlement freeze."

    And, yet, he just never gave up on it despite the fact that it drove dictator Abbas up his tree, where he squats to this day.

    Hillary, who I have my money on - although I definitely will not vote for her - will probably be a little better with an emphasis on the word little.

    1. I think Hillary does have the potential to be a LOT better. Some of the reasons; she and Bill are liked in Israel, but also, since Hillary knows the black turnout Obama had in 2008/2012 can't last forever, and she also knows Israel is more popular among white voters than black ones (in part due to historical black/Jewish animus Obama has done nothing to heal, nonetheless, more blacks support Israel than Palestinians see, and thus wants to get the white voters back who left the party during Obama (not just because white gentiles like Israel, but because supporting Israel is part of their worldview, instead of the Jeremiah Wright/far-left/Jesse Jackson/Edward Said "critical race" worldview).

      Also, she and Bill are true moderates at heart, merely paying lip service to the fact Obama has moved the party to the left. Also, with "neo-cons" ditching the GOP because of Trump's channeling Charles Lindbergh, she will like the support (and donor base) of people like Max Boot, Kagan, etc. Hillary is also having a fundraiser in Israel too

      What I'm doing; voting Hillary for POTUS, but GOP for my House of Rep and Senate. The Congressional GOP has done a good job and will do one of blocking the Iran deal and styming it, supporting anti-BDS stuff, etc.

    2. One question I would pose is what metrics would you use to assess how good Clinton would be?

      One measure I suggest in this post is willingness to concede limitations in ones own knowledge and therefore trust the knowledge of those who have specialized in the subject. As Rabbi Nehorai put it, "Do not rely on your own understanding."

    3. Trump is a realist, less driven than Clinton by ideology. That seems preferable in the real world.

      Clinton's track record for decision making is abysmal. She is no moderate, either, and unprincipled in her chase for power.

      Seriously, is Ben Rhodes ant different than Sidney Blumenthal?


    This is why I'm likely to go HRC this election. Trump is an isolationist and even Republican Israel-hawks do not like Trump (Bill Kristol, Bob Kagan, Max Boot, etc.) Also, Saban helps beat the narrative of Adelson and the GOP, helping make Israel bipartisan.

    I'll still vote GOP for congress to further
    1. punish Dems for the leftward move
    2. push HRC to the center as Prez