The World as It Is | Ben Rhodes

Summary of: The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House
By: Ben Rhodes


Dive into the inner workings of the Obama White House with Ben Rhodes’ memoir, ‘The World as It Is.’ This book sheds light on the complexities of Obama’s foreign policy and decision-making processes, highlighting his views on diplomacy, America’s role in the world, and his ultimate struggle to translate his vision into reality. Throughout the book, Rhodes provides a unique insider’s perspective on pivotal moments during Obama’s presidency, from the Arab Spring to the Iran Nuclear Deal, and the challenges posed by fake news and disinformation. This memoir offers an enlightening look at the 44th President’s journey, exemplifying both the aspirations and the limitations of American power in a rapidly changing world.

Obama’s Foreign Policy

When Barack Obama first ran for the presidency, he promised change, including a shift in foreign policy by going against the establishment’s tough stance on countries like Iran. He embarked on a campaign tour to prove his ability to handle international diplomacy. One of the key pieces of the tour was a speech in Berlin delivered on the site of two iconic American presidential speeches. Despite a near-disastrous moment with a crucial line, the speech was a massive success, painting a powerful image of an African-American candidate addressing vast crowds on a historic stage.

Obama’s Complex View of America

Obama’s unique background and worldview heavily influenced his perception of America’s power and position in the world. He grew up with a nuanced view of America that was more complex than most Americans. While some appreciated his view as an expression of patriotism, others criticized him for not embracing American exceptionalism. The tensions within his administration, particularly when he tried to close Guantanamo Bay, also arose due to his complex view of the world.

Obama’s Cairo Speech

Obama’s attempt to improve the relationship between the US and the Muslim world by delivering a speech at Cairo University impacted Americas foreign policy on universal values.

In 2009, as tensions between the US and the Muslim world steadily grew, Barack Obama delivered a speech at Cairo University to try and build mutual respect. Despite pressure from Israeli supporters, Obama avoided discussing the Israel-Palestine conflict to focus on improving relations between the West and the Muslim world. He used the platform to urge the West to recognize Islam’s contributions to the world, while also calling for the Muslim world to embrace the universal principles and rights of the West.

Obama shared his childhood memories of a time when less conservative Islam was practiced in Indonesia, and used his speech to boldly call for women’s rights, religious tolerance, and government by the rule of law. The audience welcomed Obama with open arms and he used Arabic to greet them. He defended American Muslim’s right to wear the hijab and the audience interrupted him with applause when he discussed democracy. Activists even chanted “We love you!” during his speech.

Obama’s stimulating speech was a pure reflection of his optimistic outlook on the world. It brought hope for better relations between the US and the Muslim world and impacted America’s foreign policy on universal values. Obama’s vision of the world is one of constant struggle to live up to this standard.

Obama’s Young Advisors vs. Washington’s Old Guard

In “A Promised Land,” the author recounts the early days of the Arab Spring and how the divided Obama administration responded to the protests in Egypt. While younger staffers pushed for support of the protesters, others like Hillary Clinton favored stability and dialogue with the Egyptian government. Obama eventually sided with his young advisors and called for a new government, leading to the resignation of Hosni Mubarak. This marked a division between Obama’s young advisors and the older establishment in Washington.

Obama’s Pursuit of bin Laden

President Obama’s calculated decision-making process to take down Osama bin Laden is recounted, including his attention to the details of the plan and his ultimate decision not to release photographs of the operation.

In “The Room Where It Happened,” the nail-biting moment that led to the capture of Osama bin Laden is revisited. President Obama’s unwavering determination to follow through on his promise to bring the terrorist leader to justice is highlighted. Although the risk of failure was high, Obama’s knowledge and attention to detail demonstrated during meetings with his advisors confirmed his decision. The President’s photographer was even present to capture the moment no matter the outcome. As the raid was in progress, Obama remained calm by playing cards. In the end, the operation was a success, and the phrase “Geronimo EKIA” signalled that bin Laden had been killed. Despite the gory photographs taken of the dead terrorist, Obama ultimately chose not to release them publicly. This book excerpt skillfully relays the events of Obama’s pursuit of bin Laden and the President’s thoughtful approach to the mission.

A Constructive Relationship with Cuba

Former Obama advisor, Ben Rhodes, details his efforts to improve relations with Cuba through secret meetings with Alejandro Castro, son of the leader Raúl Castro. With the help of Pope Francis, a diplomatic agreement was eventually reached, leading to the first call between a US president and a Cuban leader since the revolution.

During his time in the Obama administration, Ben Rhodes dealt reactively with the complicated realities of the world, from managing the aftermath of George W. Bush’s wars to addressing emerging threats like Syria. However, the potential to proactively shape Obama’s foreign policy goals presented itself when Cuba opened up the opportunity for normalized relations between the two countries.

Rhodes began secret meetings with Alejandro Castro, Raul Castro’s son, in a secluded Canadian home to develop a constructive relationship. After their second meeting, the Cubans proved their commitment to improving their relationship with the United States by denying asylum to Edward Snowden, a US intelligence leaker.

With the assistance of Pope Francis, an agreement torestore diplomatic relations between the two countries was reached. The day before the deal was announced, Obama, Rhodes, and other advisors made the first call between a US president and a Cuban leader since the revolution.

During the call, Castro spent half an hour listing American efforts to sabotage his government over the years. Rhodes urged Obama to interrupt Castro, but Obama insisted that it had been a long time since Cuba had communicated with an American president, and there was a lot to say.

Rhodes’ account of his efforts to improve relations with Cuba highlights the potential for creative and proactive diplomacy to create relationships that are constructive and beneficial for all parties involved.

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