If you’re unfamiliar with the recent controversy surrounding Ben Rhodes, consider yourself fortunate. The New York Times Magazine published a profile on the influential figure of President Obama’s national security team a few weeks ago, and the ensuing chatter has caused quite a stir in Beltway circles.
The article has not exactly withstood scrutiny. As Matt Yglesias explained last week, “Conservative media has enthusiastically embraced a handful of sensational lines [from the Times’ piece] as proof of Obama’s duplicity, while stories in the Atlantic, Mother Jones, Politico, New York magazine, and Slate have sliced and diced it as riddled with errors.”
Nevertheless, the general premise proved too delicious for conservatives to pass up: the White House, the argument goes, took advantage of public ignorance and lazy reporters to sell the international nuclear agreement with Iran to the country with bogus claims. That’s not even close to true, but that was the right’s takeaway from the Times Magazine piece.
In fact, conservatives got themselves so worked up about this that the House Oversight Committee actually held a hearing yesterday to explore the lessons of the Times’ article. As Politico noted, the hearing didn’t go as well as Republicans hoped.
Republicans wanted to make a Tuesday hearing in the House all about how White House messaging guru Ben Rhodes, who refused to testify, supposedly sold a false narrative about the Iran nuclear deal.Instead, Democrats used the presence of another witness, former Bush administration official John Hannah, to hammer the Bush administration for allegedly peddling a false narrative about the Iraq War.
Democrats could hardly believe their eyes. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the committee’s ranking member, declared, “If our goal is to hear from an expert who actually promoted false, false White House narratives, then I think you picked the right person. This committee has basically created its own Republican echo chamber…. That is not just ironic, it’s hypocritical.”
It’s worth pausing to appreciate just how extraordinary the circumstances were yesterday: House Republicans are convinced the White House used bogus information to spin reporters, push bogus narratives, and sell the country on a misguided policy in the Middle East. And to that end, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and his committee colleagues invited John Hannah to offer expert testimony.
And who’s John Hannah?
MSNBC reported last year, “As deputy national security adviser to then-Vice President Dick Cheney, Hannah passed false information about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction that was used to justify the invasion. He also played a key role in writing a speech that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered in making a case for war to the United Nations, a speech Powell has since said will be a permanent ‘blot’ on his record.”
Mother Jones added this week that Hannah, during his tenure in the Bush/Cheney administration, “was a funnel for phony intelligence.”
It’s against this backdrop that House Republicans thought this guy would offer expert testimony on President Obama’s team using misleading information to sell a controversy foreign policy? Did GOP lawmakers give this any thought at all?
Of course, the broader point is a discouraging truth, which the establishment has struggled for years to accept: the Bush/Cheney architects of a disastrous war have no credibility. They’ve earned the public’s scorn. To treat them as knowledgeable experts who can shed valuable light on matters related to national security, U.S. policy in the Middle East, and public-information campaigns is painfully ridiculous.
And yet, because the political world doesn’t want to come to terms with these facts, few batted an eye when John Hannah’s name showed up on yesterday’s House Oversight Committee witness list. Maybe, if Chaffetz wants a second hearing on the subject, he can see if Dick Cheney and Judith Miller are available?