David Samuels in his May 5 New York Times Magazine article, paints a picture of the scene leading up to the successful implementation of the landmark agreement with Iran to end its quest for a nuclear weapon that left me shaking my head in wonder. I lived that period in an intimate way as one of the chief "whips" in the House encouraging my Democratic colleagues to vote for it. I found Samuels' storyline that portrays Ben Rhodes, the President's Deputy National Security Advisor, as the Manipulator in Chief to be a work of fiction and extremely condescending to members of Congress and all others who supported it.
In July of last year, anticipating a vote after the August recess, there were near daily meetings in Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi's office to plan the campaign to approve the deal. The team that gathered was led by members who had lobbied our colleagues for a NO vote on the Iraq War plus about a dozen newer members.
Leader Pelosi, a brilliant strategist who didn't need Ben Rhodes or anyone else to tell her what to do or say, had a simple plan: provide members with all the information that they wanted and needed to make a fact-based decision that they felt comfortable enough to take to their constituents. "The only question I asked when calling people was 'do you have the information you need'." To that end, we made sure that they had access to the individuals most informed about the intricacies of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA.
Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz, a nuclear scientist and one of the negotiators made himself available to groups and individual members. Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama spoke to our caucus and called members who wanted to discuss particulars. Hillary Clinton gave us background on the multi-year build-up to the agreement which she had led. One of the most compelling briefings came from the Ambassadors of the P5+1 countries, our European allies plus Russia and China who all said unequivocally that, if the United States walked away from the deal, it would be dead. They were adamant in saying there was not a better deal to be had, and that Iran had no intention, nor did they, of returning to the negotiating table if Congress voted to disapprove it and ultimately killed it.
Ben Rhodes played an important role as well, answering sophisticated questions from skeptical House members in the White House situation room -- detailed questions about types of centrifuges, duration of each part of the agreement, facilities at Parchin and Arak, "snap-back" provisions for reinstating sanctions of Iran cheated, and every aspect of the inspection regime. Some were satisfied and a few were not, but Rhodes was always respectful and informative. The tough questioning actually helped shape the plan for the better, we were told. Republicans meanwhile were just saying "No."
And yes, members listened to experts -- prestigious individuals who Samuels suggests were all Rhodes recruits, "used" to tell a "story" to "actively mislead" the public about the Iran deal. Apparently this included Israeli security, intelligence and military officials, scientists and nuclear arms experts including Nobel Prize winners and one of the inventors of the H-bomb, hundreds of Rabbis and other faith community leaders, bi-partisan members of the U.S. military, security and intelligence establishment, former U.S. Ambassadors to many countries including Israel, and diplomats from around the world -- all of whom explained why they supported the agreement.
August 2015, the period when members are home in their districts, was anticipated to be dominated by the well-funded, well-organized opponents of the Iran deal. Tens of millions of dollars were, in fact, spent on highly negative ads. Scores of face-to-face meetings with constituents adamantly opposed to the deal, were held.
But at the end of the day when members returned from their recess, 162 out of 188 Democrats voted to support the JCPOA, and 151 wrote thoughtful public statements giving their reasons for doing so.
So what happened? For one, members read and studied the entire agreement. Secondly, they heard from tens of thousands of constituents who supported the deal and saw the polls indicating the wide support from the American people who wanted to give peace a chance.
Samuels spun quite a tale, and his narrative reflected his own, but never revealed in the article, history of outspoken opposition to the Iran deal. Samuels is quoted by Eric Lewis in his May 10 article in the New York Magazine as saying the Iran deal would lead to "the greatest surge in nuclear proliferation that we've seen since the Second World War." His bias showed through enough to ignite House and Senate Republicans to demand the appearance of Rhodes at a hearing and even call for his dismissal.
Samuels accuses the Obama Administration with using the Iran deal to "effectively begin the process of a large-scale disengagement from the Middle East." What the American people saw was the truth of the message that Ben Rhodes and an entire community of experts articulated, a "choice between peace and war" and an opportunity to "disengage" from the real possibility of yet another in the region, this time, nuclear war.
Ben Rhodes acknowledges that he did "create an echo chamber," but far from the fiction Samuels crafted, it was an echo chamber of facts.