Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Think Tanks Suckered Into White House Talking Points on Iran?

Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Adviser to President Obama, recently admitted that the White House spoon-fed talking points about the Iran nuclear deal to think tanks and others in order to sell it to the US Congress, the US public, and others.

He made the comments in a profile in the New York Times Magazine.  Here is an excerpt:
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.”

Interestingly, he defended his approach at a Washington think tank - the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).  Well, more precisely, at an event sponsored by CNAS at the swanky Willard Hotel.

The media, members of Congress, and others seem to be shocked, but the White House frequently passes along its talking points to numerous think tanks around town.  [Whether that information was meant to deceive is another question.]

And Rhodes is quite familiar with think tanks, having worked for one himself.  Here is more from the NYT piece about how Rhodes snagged his think tank job:
The editor at Foreign Policy...suggested that he apply for a job with Lee Hamilton, the onetime congressman from Indiana, who was looking for a speechwriter.
“I was surprised,” Hamilton remembered. “What the hell does a guy who wanted to write fiction come to me for?” But he had always found writers useful, and Rhodes’s writing sample was the best in the pile. So he hired him on at the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan think tank. Though Rhodes never said a word in meetings, Hamilton says, he had a keen understanding of what was going on and a talent for putting the positions of distinguished participants down on paper.

In response to the whole flare-up with Rhodes, Brookings Middle East scholar Suzanne Maloney came out in defense of Rhodes, saying that claims of deception were never substantiated.

Here is what Peter Apps, Founder and Executive Director of the think tank Project for the Study of the 21st Century (PS21), had to say.

In related news, it was recently reported that the arms control non-profit Ploughshares Fund worked alongside the White House to sell the Iran deal.  Ploughshares, which is financed by billionaire George Soros' Open Society Institute, the Buffett Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, Rockefeller Foundation, and others, funds a number of think tanks, including Brookings and Atlantic Council.

Also, here is an interesting Slate article, entitled "The Little Think Tank That Could," about Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), the pro-Israel think tank that led the attack on President Obama's Iran deal.