A member of the Barack Obama administration reviews his eight years with the president with a mixture of pride and regret.
Rhodes, whose official title was Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication, was 29 and working at a Washington, D.C., think tank when he joined Obama's campaign team and then his administration. During that time, he was with Obama almost daily and wrote numerous speeches for the president, including the Nobel Peace Prize speech in which Obama spoke of the gap between “the world as it is” and “the world as it ought to be.” It's the former that takes center stage here, as Rhodes, in brief but information-packed chapters, describes the ways in which idealism—his more than the pragmatic president's—is ground down by the reality of deeply stubborn governments and institutions. Moving chronologically through Obama's two terms, the author clearly describes the president's responses to crises around the world, including those in Egypt, Syria, and Libya, and his own role in shaping Obama's response to a host of critical issues. Frustrated with playing only the role of mouthpiece, Rhodes began to take a larger role in shaping the relationships between the United States and nations like Cuba and Burma as the years went on, while still “wrestl[ing] with the concern that I was losing myself inside the experience, transformed into a cipher for the needs of this other person, who was, after all, a politician, playing the role of U.S. President.” Though he reveals a few details about Obama, including his affection for Nicorette gum and Scrabble and his occasional indulgence in anger directed at those working most closely with him, this is no tell-all. The narrative is a serious, even somber, inside look at the forces at work inside—and outside—a presidency.
Though necessarily biased, this is a highly thoughtful, thorough exploration of the grindingly slow workings of national security and the inevitable compromises of government.