Ben Rhodes (White House staffer)

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Ben Rhodes
Ben Rhodes, Obama staffer, Feb 2013.jpg
U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting
In office
January 20, 2009 – January 20, 2017
President Barack Obama
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Michael Anton
Personal details
Born (1977-11-14) November 14, 1977 (age 40)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Ann Norris
Children 2
Education Rice University (BA)
New York University (MFA)

Benjamin J. Rhodes (born November 14, 1977) is an American political adviser and former White House staff member who served as the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications for U.S. President Barack Obama and as an adviser on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran.

During the Obama Administration, Rhodes's official title was "Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting".[1] He served as Obama's foreign policy speechwriter from 2007 until the end of Obama's presidency.

In February 2018 he co-founded the political action committee National Security Action with Jake Sullivan, a former senior foreign policy advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden. The organization is designed to promote a progressive vision for foreign policy and national security solutions.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Rhodes was born in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. He is the son of an Episcopalian father from Texas and a Jewish mother from New York.[3] He attended the Collegiate School, graduating in 1996.[4][5] Rhodes then attended Rice University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 2000 with majors in English and political science. He then moved back to New York, attending New York University and graduating in 2002 with an MFA in creative writing.[6] His brother, David Rhodes, is President of CBS News.[7]

Early political career[edit]

In the summer of 1997, Rhodes volunteered with the Rudy Giuliani mayoral campaign. In the summer of 2001, he worked on the New York City Council campaign of Diana Reyna.[8]

Foreign policy speechwriter and adviser[edit]

President Barack Obama and Rhodes on board Air Force One, editing the speech for the Mandela memorial service.

In 2002, James Gibney, editor of Foreign Policy, introduced Rhodes to Lee Hamilton, former member of the House of Representatives and director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who was looking for a speechwriter.[5] Rhodes then spent five years as an assistant to Hamilton, helping to draft the Iraq Study Group Report and the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.[9]

In 2007, Rhodes began working as a speechwriter for the 2008 Obama presidential campaign.[10]

Rhodes wrote Obama's 2009 Cairo speech "A New Beginning".[11] Rhodes was the adviser who counseled Obama to withdraw support from Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, becoming a key adviser during the 2011 Arab Spring.[3]

Rhodes was instrumental in the conversations that led to Obama reestablishing the United States' diplomatic relations with Cuba, which had been cut off since 1961. The New York Times reported that Rhodes spent "more than a year sneaking off to secret negotiations in Canada and finally at the Vatican" in advance of the official announcement in December 2014.[12]

In March 2013, Rhodes declined to comment on his role in Obama administration policy decisions, saying, "My main job, which has always been my job, is to be the person who represents the president’s view on these issues."[3] In a May 2016 New York Times profile about him, Rhodes' colleagues in the White House said he spent two to three hours a day with Obama, and Rhodes himself said, "I don’t know anymore where I begin and Obama ends."[10]

Rhodes has been described as "at least one of the architects" of the Obama administration's supposed policy of inaction in Syria during that country's civil war.[13]

Rhodes was also a key player in the Obama administration's media campaign to build support for the Iran nuclear deal.[10][14] Rhodes acknowledged in the May 2016 profile, which was published in The New York Times Magazine,[10][14] that he was the one who pushed the Obama Administration's "narrative" to sell the deal to the media.[10][14] Rhodes apologized for feeding the press a false timeline of when the negotiations took place.[10][14]


In a controversial profile in The New York Times Magazine, Rhodes was quoted "deriding the D.C. press corps and boasting of how he created an 'echo chamber' to market the administration's foreign policy", including the international nuclear agreement with Iran.[14][15][16] The response to the piece was critical, with Fred Kaplan writing that Rhodes came across as "insular and self-centered".[16] Many in foreign policy circles also criticized his lack of relevant education or experience in the field.[17][18]

In a post on Medium following the article's publication, Rhodes argued "that the administration had made no attempt to mislead" but offered "an apology of sorts to any reporters he might have offended"; Rhodes denied "his efforts to build support for the deal were disingenuous".[15]

In August 2017, House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes wrote to Admiral Michael S. Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, asking for "the total number of unmasking requests made by" Rhodes during "the run-up to the 2016 presidential election".[19] As Deputy National Security Advisor, Rhodes would have had legal authority to unmask U.S. citizens. Rhodes later testified before the Intelligence Committee.[20]

The controversial "echo chamber" which Rhodes built helped sway public opinion to seal the Iran nuclear deal.[10][14] He built this "chamber" by feeding false information to inexperienced reporters that negotiations had started after moderate Hassan Rouhani was elected President of Iran, which lead to regular journalists echoing their claims.[10][14] This and other details concerning the negotiations were proven to be false, as negotiations had actually started before Rouhani's election.[10][14] This prompted some to accuse the Obama administration of attempting to make Rouhani more favorable towards US interests.[10][14] Rhodes even promoted the Iranian President as a reformer by claiming that he was more willing to negotiate the agreement than his more hardline predecessor.[10][14]

In 2017 it was alleged that Israeli private intelligence firm Black Cube attempted to manufacture incriminating or embarrassing information about Rhodes and his wife, as well as fellow former National Security Council staffer Colin Kahl, in an apparent effort to undermine supporters of the Iran nuclear deal. Rhodes said of the incident, "This just eviscerates any norm of how governments should operate or treat their predecessors and their families. It crosses a dangerous line."[21]

Awards and honors[edit]

In 2011, Rhodes was on Time magazine's "40 Under 40" list of powerful and prominent young professionals.[22]


  • (with Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton): Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission. Vintage Books, 2007, ISBN 978-0-30727-663-6.
  • The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House. Random House, 2018, ISBN 978-0525509356.

Personal life[edit]

Rhodes is married to Ann Norris, who was chief foreign policy adviser to former U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA). They have two daughters.[23][24]


  1. ^ "White House Profile: Ben Rhodes". Retrieved September 29, 2013.
  2. ^ Anne Gearan (February 27, 2018). "Democrats marshal strike force to counter Trump on national security in 2018, 2020 elections". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 10, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c Landler, Mark (March 16, 2013). "Worldly at 35, and Shaping Obama's Voice". New York Times.
  4. ^ "Election 2008: Ben Rhodes '96, Speechwriter and Advisor to Barack Obama". Collegiate School. October 27, 2008. Retrieved September 24, 2013.
  5. ^ a b Jason Horowitz (January 12, 2010). "Obama speechwriter pens a different script for the world stage". Washington Post. Retrieved September 24, 2013.
  6. ^ "Election 2008: Ben Rhodes '96, Speechwriter and Advisor to Barack Obama". Collegiate School. October 27, 2008. Retrieved September 24, 2013.
  7. ^ Brian Steinberg (November 20, 2014). "David Rhodes To Take Over CBS News As Jeff Fager Steps Down". Variety. Retrieved May 29, 2015.
  8. ^ Jason Horowitz (January 12, 2010). "Obama speechwriter pens a different script for the world stage". Washington Post. Retrieved September 24, 2013.
  9. ^ "White House Profile: Ben Rhodes". Retrieved September 23, 2013.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Samuels, David (2016-05-05). "The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama's Foreign-Policy Guru". The New York Times Magazine. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  11. ^ "Who Wrote Obama's Cairo Speech?". June 5, 2009.
  12. ^ Davis, Julie Hirschfeld; Baker, Peter (2015-08-13). "A Secretive Path to Raising U.S. Flag in Cuba". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  13. ^ Samuel Smith (8 September 2017). "Holocaust Museum Pulls Study Accused of Justifying Obama's Inaction in Syria". The Christian Post. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Paul Farhi (May 6, 2016). "Obama official says he pushed a 'narrative' to media to sell the Iran nuclear deal". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 11, 2016.
  15. ^ a b Blake Hounshell; Nick Gass (May 8, 2016). "White House aide Ben Rhodes responds to controversial New York Times profile". Politico. Retrieved May 11, 2016.
  16. ^ a b Fred Kaplan (May 9, 2016). "Ben Rhodes Needs Some Fresh Air: Why Obama's foreign-policy adviser comes across as insular and self-centered in a New York Times Magazine profile". Slate. Retrieved May 11, 2016.
  17. ^ "A stunning profile of Ben Rhodes, the asshole who is the president's foreign policy guru". Foreign Policy.
  18. ^ "The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama's Foreign-Policy Guru". The New York Times. May 5, 2016.
  19. ^ "Ben Rhodes new focus of 'unmasking' investigation", Fox News (August 2, 2017).
  20. ^ Daniel Chaitin (Oct 24, 2017). "House Intelligence Committee to meet with Ben Rhodes". The Washington Examiner. Retrieved Feb 17, 2018.
  21. ^ Farrow, Ronan (May 6, 2018). "Israeli Operatives Who Aided Harvey Weinstein Collected Information on Former Obama Administration Officials". The New Yorker. Retrieved May 8, 2018.
  22. ^ "Ben Rhodes: 40 Under 40". TIME. October 14, 2010. Retrieved April 9, 2012.
  23. ^ Jack Shafer (March 18, 2013). "Beat sweetener: The Benjamin J. Rhodes edition". Retrieved May 17, 2016.
  24. ^ Julian Borger (Jan 13, 2017). "Ben Rhodes: 'Obama has a serenity that I don't. I get more exercised'". The Guardian. Retrieved Feb 17, 2018.

External links[edit]