Ben Rhodes (White House staffer)

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Ben Rhodes
Ben Rhodes, Obama staffer, Feb 2013.jpg
Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications
In office
January 20, 2009 – January 20, 2017
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byMichael Anton
Personal details
Born (1977-11-14) November 14, 1977 (age 45)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
SpouseAnn Norris
EducationRice University (BA)
New York University (MFA)

Benjamin J. Rhodes (born November 14, 1977) is an American writer, political commentator and former Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting under President Barack Obama. With Jake Sullivan, he is the co-chair of National Security Action, a political NGO.[1] He contributes to NBC News and MSNBC regularly as a political commentator.[2] He is also a Crooked Media contributor, and co-host of the foreign policy podcast Pod Save the World.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Rhodes was born on November 14, 1977, in the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan. He is the son of an Episcopal father from Texas and a Jewish mother from New York.[4][5] He attended the Collegiate School, graduating in 1996.[6][7] Rhodes then attended Rice University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 2000 with majors in English and political science.[5] He then moved back to New York, attending New York University and graduating in 2002 with an MFA in creative writing.[8] His brother, David Rhodes, is a former President of CBS News.[9][10]


President Barack Obama and Rhodes on board Air Force One, editing the speech for the Mandela memorial service
Hillary Clinton talks with the Obamas and Rhodes on board Air Force One

In the summer of 1997, Rhodes volunteered with the Rudy Giuliani mayoral campaign.[5] In the summer of 2001, he worked on the New York City Council campaign of Diana Reyna.[7] 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.[7] 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.[11][12]

Ben Rhodes and Aung San Suu Kyi discussing U.S. support for NLD-led government in Myanmar, July 2016

In 2007, Rhodes began working as a speechwriter for the 2008 Obama presidential campaign.[13]

Rhodes wrote Obama's 2009 Cairo speech "A New Beginning."[14] Rhodes was the adviser who counseled Obama to withdraw support from Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak,[5] becoming a key adviser during the 2011 Arab Spring.[4][10] Rhodes supported Israel in the 2012 Israel–Gaza conflict.[15]

Rhodes was instrumental in the conversations that led to Obama reestablishing the United States' diplomatic relations with Cuba,[16] 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.[17]

After leaving the Obama administration, Rhodes began working as a commentator.[18] He began contributing to Crooked Media, NBC News and MSNBC. In 2018, he co-founded National Security Action.[19]

In 2015-16, Rhodes defended U.S. political and military backing of Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen.[20] He later criticized Trump administration's involvement in the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen.[21][20] He wrote of the war in Yemen, "Looking back, I wonder what we might have done differently, particularly if we'd somehow known that Obama was going to be succeeded by a President Trump."[21]

Rhodes said Obama's administration was too worried about offending Turkey. He said Obama should have recognized the Armenian genocide.[22]

In 2018, Random House published Rhodes's memoir, The World as It Is, a behind-the-scenes account of Barack Obama's presidency. Rhodes has written opinion articles for newspapers and magazines including the New York Times and The Atlantic.[23][24] Rhodes was featured in the HBO documentary The Final Year, along with John Kerry, Samantha Power and Susan Rice. The documentary portrays the events of Obama's final year in office, with a focus on his foreign policy team.[25]

Opinion on Netanyahu government[edit]

In 2021, Rhodes, a liberal Zionist,[26] stated that, in the course of dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it became clear to the Obama administration that the Netanyahu government was not interested in working in earnest toward a peace treaty based on a two-state solution. He stated with respect to the U.S. government that, "nevertheless, we act like somehow Bibi Netanyahu believed in the two-state solution. We pretended to my shame at times in the Obama administration that he was interested in that. When I don't think he was, ever." Rhodes expressed concern that the Biden administration is making the same mistake.[27]


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.[28] The piece was criticized by numerous journalism outlets for Rhodes' apparent flippancy and cynicism in "pushing a 'narrative to media to sell the Iran nuclear deal".[29][30] Foreign Policy magazine, which had named Rhodes as one of the top 100 global thinkers[31] the year before, wrote:[32]

Perhaps the key sentence is this: “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.” But, as that quote indicates, he comes off like an overweening little schmuck.... I expect cynicism in Washington. But it usually is combined with a lot of knowledge... To be cynical and ignorant and to spin those two things into a virtue? That’s industrial-strength hubris.

Personal attack[edit]

In 2017, it was alleged that Israeli private intelligence agency Black Cube attempted to manufacture incriminating or embarrassing information about Rhodes and his wife, as well as about 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."[33] The effort continued well after the Obama administration ended.[34]

Awards and honors[edit]

In 2011, Rhodes was on Time magazine's "40 Under 40" list of powerful and prominent young professionals.[35] Rhodes was number 13 on Fortune magazine's "40 Under 40" list of the most influential young people in business in 2014.[36]

In 2015, Rhodes was named one of Foreign Policy magazine's top 100 global thinkers.[31]


  • Kean, Thomas H.; Hamilton, Lee H.; Rhodes, Benjamin D. (2007). Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission. London: Vintage Books. ISBN 978-0-30727-663-6.
  • Rhodes, Ben (2018). The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0525509356.
  • Rhodes, Ben (2021). After the Fall: Being American in the World We Made. New York: Random House. ISBN 9781984856050.

Personal life[edit]

Rhodes is married to Ann Norris, who was chief foreign policy adviser to former U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer. They have two daughters.[37][38]


  1. ^ Gearan, Anne (February 27, 2018). "Democrats marshal strike force to counter Trump on national security in 2018, 2020 elections". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 10, 2018.
  2. ^ "Former Obama Adviser Ben Rhodes Joins NBC News and MSNBC". Retrieved December 10, 2018.
  3. ^ "Crooked Media Announces New Site, Pod, Store, and Network of Very Fine People on Both Sides". Crooked Media. Retrieved December 10, 2018.
  4. ^ a b Landler, Mark (March 16, 2013). "Worldly at 35, and Shaping Obama's Voice". The New York Times.
  5. ^ a b c d Fields, Sarah (October 22, 2018). Summary: Ben Rhodes' The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House. HSP via PublishDrive.
  6. ^ "Election 2008: Ben Rhodes '96, Speechwriter and Advisor to Barack Obama". Collegiate School. October 27, 2008. Retrieved September 24, 2013.
  7. ^ a b c Jason Horowitz (January 12, 2010). "Obama speechwriter pens a different script for the world stage". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on April 19, 2013. Retrieved September 24, 2013.
  8. ^ "Election 2008: Ben Rhodes '96, Speechwriter and Advisor to Barack Obama". Collegiate School. October 27, 2008. Retrieved September 24, 2013.
  9. ^ Brian Steinberg (November 20, 2014). "David Rhodes To Take Over CBS News As Jeff Fager Steps Down". Variety. Retrieved May 29, 2015.
  10. ^ a b Landler, Mark (March 15, 2013). "Worldly at 35, and Shaping Obama's Voice". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 15, 2019.
  11. ^ "White House Profile: Ben Rhodes". Retrieved September 23, 2013 – via National Archives.
  12. ^ Samuels, David (May 5, 2016). "The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama's Foreign-Policy Guru". The New York Times Magazine. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 15, 2019.
  13. ^ Samuels, David (May 5, 2016). "The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama's Foreign-Policy Guru". The New York Times Magazine. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 30, 2016.
  14. ^ "Who Wrote Obama's Cairo Speech?". June 5, 2009.
  15. ^ "White House says Israel 'has a right to defend itself' in Gaza". Politico. November 17, 2020.
  16. ^ De Young, Karen (November 16, 2016). "How Obama's Trip to Havana finally ended the cold war". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 15, 2019.
  17. ^ Davis, Julie Hirschfeld; Baker, Peter (August 13, 2015). "A Secretive Path to Raising U.S. Flag in Cuba". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 30, 2016.
  18. ^ Rhodes, Ben (October 12, 2018). "A Fatal Abandonment of American Leadership". The Atlantic. Retrieved January 15, 2019.
  19. ^ "National Security Action — Who We Are". National Security Action. Retrieved January 15, 2019.
  20. ^ a b "When Will Obama Aides Come Clean About U.S.-Saudi War Crimes?". In These Times. October 22, 2018.
  21. ^ a b "A Fatal Abandonment of American Leadership". The Atlantic. October 12, 2018.
  22. ^ "Top Obama aides 'sorry' they did not recognize Armenian genocide". Politico. January 19, 2018.
  23. ^ Rhodes, Ben; Sullivan, Jake (November 25, 2018). "Opinion | How to Check Trump and Repair America's Image". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 10, 2018.
  24. ^ Rhodes, Ben (October 12, 2018). "A Fatal Abandonment of American Leadership". The Atlantic. Retrieved December 10, 2018.
  25. ^ Glasser, Susan B. "How Does Obama's Foreign Policy Look a Year Into Trump?". Politico Magazine. Retrieved December 10, 2018.
  26. ^ Rhodes, Ben; Vietor, Tommy. "Time to call for a ceasefire in Gaza". Crooked Media. Crooked Media. Retrieved January 26, 2022.
  27. ^ Conversation with Peter Beinart, February 10, 2021 "Former Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes with Peter Beinart", excerpts of transcript available at Mondoweiss, News & Opinion about the Palestine, Israel & The United States, February 23, 2021 "Biden Team Forgets ‘History:' Israel And Its Lobby Dissed Obama in ‘Borderline Offensive' Racial Terms–Ben Rhodes"
  28. ^ Farhi, Paul (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.
  29. ^ Hounshell, Blake; Gass, Nick (May 8, 2016). "White House aide Ben Rhodes responds to controversial New York Times profile, cleans up his mess". Politico. Retrieved May 11, 2016.
  30. ^ Levitz, Eric (May 10, 2016). "10 Problems With That New York Times Magazine Profile of White House Aide Ben Rhodes". New York Intelligencer. Retrieved December 10, 2018.
  31. ^ a b "The Leading Global Thinkers of 2015 - Foreign Policy". Retrieved December 10, 2018.
  32. ^ Ricks, Thomas E. (December 28, 2017). "A stunning profile of Ben Rhodes, the asshole who is the president's foreign policy guru". Foreign Policy. Retrieved October 10, 2022.
  33. ^ 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.
  34. ^ Shear, Michael D.; Bergman, Ronen (May 7, 2018). "Opponents of Iran Deal Hired Investigators to Dig Up Dirt on Obama Aide". The New York Times.
  35. ^ "Ben Rhodes: 40 Under 40". Time. October 14, 2010. Archived from the original on October 17, 2010. Retrieved April 9, 2012.
  36. ^ "Ben Rhodes". Fortune. October 9, 2014. Archived from the original on December 10, 2018. Retrieved December 10, 2018.
  37. ^ Jack Shafer (March 18, 2013). "Beat sweetener: The Benjamin J. Rhodes edition". Archived from the original on March 21, 2013. Retrieved May 17, 2016.
  38. ^ Julian Borger (January 13, 2017). "Ben Rhodes: 'Obama has a serenity that I don't. I get more exercised'". The Guardian. Retrieved February 17, 2018.

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