National Security & Defense

Brilliant Fools: The Short Story of America’s Liberal Elite

From left: Ben Rhodes, Valerie Jarrett, and Susan Rice with President Obama (Pete Souza/White House)

For much of the last week, the very small world of pundits and policy wonks has been buzzing about the New York Times’s extended profile by David Samuels of Obama foreign-policy guru Ben Rhodes, the “aspiring novelist” (as the headline put it) with a master’s in fine arts who sneers with contempt at the president’s foes and has helped helm American foreign policy in the age of ISIS.

The story is rich with detail that should scandalize anyone who is concerned with either truth or humility in American policymaking. Rhodes apparently lied to sell the Iran deal to the American public, counting on ignorant, sympathetic leftist journalists and activists to peddle the administration’s foreign-policy line and dominate the public debate. The Obama administration has become inured to tragedy, Rhodes confessed, adding, “There’s a numbing element to Syria in particular,” where 450,000 lives have been lost. And, of course, when it comes to failures and disappointments, the buck stops with the traditional foreign-policy and military “establishment” that Obama (and Rhodes) despise.

For men like Rhodes, his “entire job” (according to former speechwriter Jon Favreau) was assisting in a “larger restructuring of the American narrative.” In other words, Obama and Rhodes and Jarrett had a new story to tell about our nation and the world; all facts and circumstances were shaped to fit that story. And so — to use one illustration from the piece — Iran’s capture and humiliation of American sailors wasn’t really a story of American weakness but in reality a story of American strength.

RELATED: Junior Obama NSC Staffers Lied About the Iran Deal and Are Running U.S. Foreign Policy

There is nothing unique about Rhodes. In fact, he’s a perfect stand-in for America’s arrogant, incurious elite — the class of brilliant fools who populate the upper echelons of government, academia, and media. Last week, Minding the Campus’s John Leo interviewed Harvard’s Harvey Mansfield, the lion of campus conservatism, and Mansfield noted:

Students doubt that there really is anything fundamentally that they need to learn. And they look at themselves and say, if I don’t need to learn anything fundamentally, my attitudes deserve to remain as they are right now.

These Harvard undergraduates, allegedly the best of the best, of course defend those values and “attitudes” zealously, and they do so with all their considerable intellectual and rhetorical gifts. But their attitudes are impervious to facts. And so it is in the Obama administration, where neither consistent failure nor bloody disappointment can alter his view of the world. In the memorable phrase of an unnamed official, “Clearly the world has disappointed [Obama.]” It stubbornly refused to conform to his expectations.

#share#We all form and hold strong beliefs well before they’re tested by experience. We reflect the views of our parents and peers — buttressed by selective readings and reinforced by antipathy towards our ideological enemies. But the wise person not only tests his views constantly against the best expressions of the other side; he also examines them in the cold light of reality.

RELATED: The Dangerous Fantasy behind Obama’s Iran Deal

There was a time when reality bested my beliefs. In January 2005, I listened to George W. Bush’s second inaugural and nodded right along as he declared that the “best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.” And while I wasn’t quite in agreement that the “call of freedom comes to every mind and soul,” I believed that the desire for freedom crossed cultures, faiths, and national boundaries.

Then I went to Iraq, and I saw what I should have known from the start, that there are desires that are much stronger than the desire for freedom — the desire for vengeance, for example, or the desire to follow Allah even through the oblivion of a suicide bomb. In the face of this reality, I had a choice: Shape the narrative to defend my beliefs, or surrender to the facts and adjust my worldview. I chose the latter.

RELATED: Obama, Iran, and the Kidnapping of Realism

There are modest signs that Obama has learned at least some bitter lessons. We’re back in ground combat in Iraq. We’re not leaving Afghanistan before the end of his term. But in all the larger ways, Obama, Rhodes, and the vast majority of the Left’s elites have stared reality in the face and have not only refused to acknowledge it, they’ve actively worked to deny its existence.

#related#The Obama administration has famously walled itself off from military officials — confident that it knows more about the Muslim world than the men and women who’ve been fighting in its midst for more than 14 years. It extols the virtues of the Muslim world against all available evidence. It dismisses thoughtful critics and has open contempt for the opposition. As one anonymous source said of Obama himself, “He has a real problem with what I call the assignment of bad faith.” In other words, “he regards everyone on the other side at this point as being a bunch of bloodthirsty know-nothings from a different era who play by the old book.”

That’s the left elite in a nutshell. Their virtue is presumed, their critics are despicable, and a self-flattering story always trumps the truth.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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