If you take a walk in downtown Hawler and ask random Kurds if they know of Ben Rhodes, you will likely get blank stares and, “Nope, never heard of him.”
If you were to do the same thing in Shengal, the Yezidi town in Kurdistan-Iraq, you should get grateful acknowledgements like:
“Ben Rhodes is a goodhearted American. When Peshmerga (the Kurdish death facers), abandoned the Yezidis to the tender mercies of Islamic State cutthroats in August of 2014, he met with our leaders at the White House and played a critical role in saving Yezidi lives.”
I talked to some of those Yezidi leaders after that August meeting and have been following Mr. Rhodes in the media ever since.
With Obamas out of the White House, Mr. Rhodes no longer enjoys the limelight. But last month, he was in the news again with the publication of his memoir, The World as It Is. I got curious about his take on our hapless Kurds and downloaded the Kindle version into my iPad.
The book is full of interesting tidbits as well as pet projects of Mr. Rhodes that were fully supported by President Obama.
He writes of meeting Yezidi Kurds in the Roosevelt Room and how they spoke of their “dashed” hopes after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and how “a patriarch with a white handlebar mustache” tearfully related the rape of Yezidi women.
Does that mean the Yezidi Kurds were happy under Saddam Hussein?
The same patriarch, continues Mr. Rhodes, pleaded, “No one will help us! Not Maliki. Not Barzani. Only you, the most powerful nation in the world, can help us.”
“I began to tear up,” says Mr. Rhodes, and by way of raising their spirits, added, “The Yezidi people are a resilient people. You have endured for thousands of years, and you will endure this.”
After their departure, “I walked down to my office and collapsed into my chair.”
Millions of patriotic Kurds and thousands of their friends had also collapsed upon hearing the news. Although reluctant, President Obama ordered the United States Air Force to blunt the expansion of Islamic State, but not before they had enslaved some 7,000 of our sisters.
Mr. Rhodes minces no words to call Vice President Joe Biden an “unguided missile” and compares his definition of relations between nations, “All foreign policy is an extension of personal relationships,” to an empty platitude. Practicing what he preached, Mr. Biden had made a point of learning, for example, all the names of Masoud Barzani’s grandsons.
How about his granddaughters? Does Mr. Barzani believe in segregation of sexes the way Americans at one time believed in segregation of races? Can we afford to withhold the participation of 20 million Kurdish women in the liberation of Kurdistan? Did Mr. Biden tease Abu Masrour about this retro habit of his? Did Mr. Rhodes tell with Mr. Biden to treat all the grandchildren of the world the same?
Mr. Rhodes is quiet on these points.
But don’t let his lack of interest in the freedom of kinder sex bother you too much. He was also capable of becoming the epitome of passionate advocacy when Iran was the subject. He once boasted to the New York Times that while ramrodding President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, he created an “echo chamber” by getting “often-clueless” reporters to unwittingly regurgitate what they had been fed by the Obama White House to dupe its opponents.
Mr. Rhodes worked at the White House for “2,920 days,” and gives you the feeling that he typed all of Mr. Obama’s speeches except two: candidate Obama wrote his own statement when he addressed race relations in Philadelphia and President Obama did the same when he accepted his Nobel Prize for Peace in Oslo.
This friend of Yezidi Kurds was only 27 years old when he worked for Senator Obama and 29 when he moved into the White House. That seems somewhat green, despite his big heart.
It turns out Iraq turned Senator Obama into President Obama and Saddam Hussein catapulted young Rhodes into his Deputy National Security Advisor. Mr. Obama had opposed the invasion of Iraq and Mr. Rhodes had written the congressionally mandated The Iraq Study Group Report.
Americans didn’t want to be associated with a losing war and elected Mr. Obama who in turn found in Mr. Rhodes a kindred spirit.
But if the war in Iraq was a fiasco for President Bush, the one in Syria became one for President Obama.
As an Illinois politician, Mr. Obama had criticized President Clinton for not doing enough to prevent the genocide in Rwanda. As a candidate for the presidency of the United States, he had promised Americans, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”
In moving to the Oval Office, he had ordered a new carpet with a quote of Dr. King weaved into it: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
It didn’t bend that way for freedom-loving Kurds, did it?
If anything it moved towards the rise of Islamic State and another genocide on Obama’s watch.
In reading Mr. Rhodes, you get the sense that the Obama Administration wanted to atone for the sins of the United States. Cuba is hailed for opposing the Apartheid system before Uncle Sam—for the normalization of relations, but the dictatorship of Castro brothers and the one party rule in Havana are hardly mentioned in the book.
Iran too gets favorable treatment. There is justifiable criticism of Eisenhower Administration for toppling an elected government in Tehran. President Obama wants to make up for that past mistake and doesn’t care if the new clerics are as impervious to the human rights as the old shah. Kurdish dissidents who are often hanged from cranes get no sympathy from the disciple of Dr. King.
The American that could have helped both the Kurds and the Cubans was Benjamin Franklin. At the birth of America, he noted, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” The president that weaves it into the Oval Office carpet will be a natural ally of Kurdish and Cuban freedom.
Till then the Kurds and the Cubans need to look inward. Nation building is within notwithstanding the French support for the American example.
Kani Xulam on Twitter: @AKINinfo