Ben Rhodes was an aspiring novelist with dreams of book deals until he witnessed the 9/11 attack on New York City. That event altered his trajectory irrevocably, sending him instead into the world of foreign politics. Because, as he puts it, “You can’t change things unless you change the people making the decisions.”
A talented writer but unlikely political aide, he nevertheless showed a gift for gleaning clarity, organization and compelling narrative from tangled ideas, and worked his way into the administration of Barack Obama, where he occupied a critical role. As a speechwriter and later a deputy national security advisor to Obama, Rhodes acted as a close and influential confidant to the president during his tenure. He wrote the president’s speeches, planned his trips abroad and ran communications strategy — traveling the world with Obama, keeping in constant communication with the president and playing a powerful role in the administration. He was called “the boy wonder of the White House,” and journalists speculated that he was the single most influential voice shaping American policy aside from Obama himself.
In his new memoir, The World As It Is, Rhodes pulls back the curtain on his time spent working under Obama — from responding to the Arab Spring to confronting the resurgence of nationalism that led to Donald Trump’s election.
In this discussion, Rhodes will sit down with Brady Walkinshaw, CEO of Grist, to talk about his days in the White House and his unique perspective on the current state of American foreign policy.