One of President Barack Obama’s top foreign policy advisers sought to clarify his comments about the Iran nuclear deal on Sunday, insisting the administration used standard messaging tactics – and not deceit – to market the plan.
Ben Rhodes, who detailed to The New York Times Magazine last week his efforts to create an “echo chamber” around the Iran pact, wrote on Medium the White House had been straightforward in its longstanding efforts to broker an agreement with Tehran, seeking to explain its components to the American people while lawmakers debated final approval.
“We did aggressively make the case for the Iran deal during the congressional review mandated by statute last summer, as it was imperative that the facts of the deal be understood for it to be implemented,” Rhodes wrote. “This effort to get information out with fact sheets, graphics, briefings and social media was no secret – it was well reported on at the time. Of course the objective of that kind of effort is to build as much public support as you can – that’s a function of White House communications.”
Rhodes was the subject of a Times magazine profile last week that suggested the White House sales efforts around the Iran deal was deceptive, in which Obama and his deputies began negotiations before their purported starting point in 2013.
Rhodes, however, said Obama had always been transparent about his desire for a deal with Iran.
“We never made any secret of our interest in pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran,” Rhodes wrote. “President Obama campaigned on that position in 2008. We pursued several diplomatic efforts with Iran during the President’s first term, and the fact that there were discreet channels of communication established with Iran in 2012 is something that we confirmed publicly.”
Writing in an Independent Journal op-ed Monday, House Speaker Paul Ryan concluded “the Obama administration essentially misled the American people on the Iran deal – or at least misled itself.”
Without mentioning Rhodes or the Times profile, Ryan wrote that “everything the administration told us about the deal is starting to unravel,” citing new foreign investments in Iran as evidence that sanctions will be harder to impose should Iran violate its commitments.
“The defiant and emboldened regime in Tehran continues to sponsor terrorism across the regime, test-fire ballistic missiles inscribed with ‘Death to Israel,’ and abuse the basic human rights of its citizens,” Ryan wrote.
After the profile of Rhodes was published last week, backlash was swift. A Foreign Policy columnist described the deputy national security adviser as an “a–hole”; The Washington Post termed the profile “gross.”
Some of the criticism stemmed from Rhodes’ efforts to peddle the Iran deal to the media, which he described as young and inexperienced. In his response, Rhodes attempted to reverse his assessment, lauding “good reporting and analysis – positive, negative, and mixed – about the Iran deal.”
“I hardly remember last summer as a time of glowing reviews about the Iran deal. Opponents of the deal were more than capable of ensuring that their arguments were given prominent attention online, on opinion pages and on television. And that only made it more of an imperative for us to answer hard questions,” he wrote, going on to praise the work of State Department negotiators in hammering out the Iran deal.