The Obama administration decided early on that the only way to get the United States out of the Middle East was to replace it with Russia and Iran.
Remember the Iran deal? Of course you do. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was one of the greatest diplomatic agreements of our time, a last-ditch effort to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb and thus avert inevitable military action by the United States and its allies. Hard negotiations provided a verifiable inspections plan that would keep Iran walking the straight and narrow for at least a decade, if not longer. The media, of course, served only as the impartial platform for analysis and debate.
Anyone who doubted this narrative or raised almost any objections to the deal was just a hater, maybe even a racist with a personal grudge against Barack Obama. (Also against the deal, of course: Jews with divided loyalties.) After all, the experts—non-partisan, of course—assured us that everything was in order.
This was all nonsense. What really happened was that the White House put out a set of talking points, not all of them true or accurate, to a trusted circle of journalists and advocacy groups. Those groups worked with experts in other groups, who then supported those talking points in media already friendly to the White House narrative. Asked for comment, the White House agreed with the experts it had primed, then fed more talking points back into the loop.
We no longer have to speculate about this. As anyone paying attention now knows, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes—it’s so hard to type those words—couldn’t help but take a victory lap in front of The New York Times. Rhodes named names and organizations, crowing that the White House had created “an echo chamber” mainly composed of journalists who are “27 years old and…literally know nothing.”
Follow the Money, Indeed
Critics of the Rhodes story have pushed back, in some cases with justification. Rhodes’s shot at Jeffery Goldberg of The Atlantic, for example, was inexplicable and gratuitous; Goldberg is neither 27 nor a greenhorn. On the other hand, Rhodes also named Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen, to absolutely no one’s surprise. As Mark Hemingway has noted, “Rozen’s slavish devotion to Obama’s Iran policy has been something to behold,” and Rhodes naming her seems almost beside the point now.
Iran deal defenders claim this is all a nothingburger. Rhodes never had that much influence, they say, and no one really adopted his talking points. The experts he claims to have pulled along on the deal were impartial analysts who liked the JCPOA anyway. After all, it’s not like anyone was spreading money around; indeed, the accusation of being on the take was mostly aimed at the deal’s opponents, who ostensibly stood to benefit from another war in the Middle East.
Except there was plenty of money out there. The Ploughshares Fund has been completely upfront about the cash it dumped on other groups before and during the Iran deal debate. Let’s leave aside some of the arms-control experts, since I think it’s fair to say there is no circumstance in which those organizations would oppose a nuclear deal between Obama’s White House and the Iranians. (Whether they sugar-coated aspects of the deal is another matter, but we’ll get back to that.)
What should raise more eyebrows was that Ploughshares didn’t limit its largess to like-minded groups about nuclear weapons (the issue to which Ploughshares, in theory, is dedicated). Ploughshares and its chairman, Joe Cirincione, also dropped some serious coin on National Public Radio, to the tune of some $700,000 since 2005, with grants since 2010—spoiler alert—specifically mentioning Iran. NPR then had Cirincione on to explain the awesomeness of the nuclear deal, at least once forgetting to mention he’d given them several hundred thousand dollars.
Later, Cirinicione hammered home his totally non-partisan and completely independent expert view in a Huffington Post article, in moment replete with both chutzpah and irony.
Neoconservatives are furious that their efforts to trick the country into another unnecessary war in the Middle East failed. They spent tens of millions of dollars in an orchestrated campaign to kill diplomacy with Iran. They lost. The nuclear agreement with Iran is in place and working. It has prevented an Iranian bomb and prevented a new war.
“They can’t stand it,” Cirinicione mugged, as though Iran deal opponents had lost a vote for class president. (Rhodes put it differently: “We drove them crazy.”) Cirincione went on like that, but you get the idea.
We’re Spending Money for No Reason At All
The idea that the Obama administration was ever going to go to war over the Iranian nuclear program is ridiculous, but it was a central talking point during the fight over the JCPOA. To believe Obama would have used force against Iran would have represented either incredible credulity, or revealed a conscious effort to participate in a campaign meant to create an echo chamber, in which…
As if that wasn’t enough of a margin of safety, Ploughshares shot some money over to that well-known group of physicists and nuclear strategists, J Street. Of course, J Street isn’t an arms-control group. It’s a political organization, in theory dedicated to greater Israeli security but in reality a progressive advocate for any number of policies which are inimical to Israeli interests.
This isn’t the place to rehash J Street’s left-wing record, which speaks for itself. But why was Ploughshares giving money—over a half million dollars—to a political advocacy group? Good question. J Street’s response was a vow that it took the money “to advance the nuclear agreement with Iran out of the belief that this is an important agreement which contributes mightily to Israel’s security.”
Ploughshares and everyone else involved in this hackery quickly responded by promising that their motives were only of the purest public interest. In a laugh-out-loud moment, Ploughshares spokeswoman Jennifer Abrahamson actually said that dropping a pile of money on NPR “does not influence the editorial content of their coverage in any way, nor would we want it to.” That’s because, remember, Ploughshares is non-partisan: just because Cirincione has said that “President Obama’s political opponents try to block everything he does,” that doesn’t make him a partisan.
He said that on NPR, by the way.
What’s the Real Game Here?
The smug admissions by Rhodes and others that the “echo chamber” was real and did its job are grating. But to focus on Rhodes and Cirincione spiking the football is to miss a more important question: Why did everyone go to such lengths over a deal that was supposed to be so good?
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