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The World as It Is
Cover of The World as It Is
The World as It Is
A Memoir of the Obama White House
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From one of Barack Obama's closest aides comes a revelatory behind-the-scenes account of his presidency—and how idealism can confront harsh reality and still survive—in the tradition of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House.

For nearly ten years, Ben Rhodes saw almost everything that happened at the center of the Obama administration—first as a speechwriter, then as deputy national security advisor, and finally as a multipurpose aide and close collaborator. He started every morning in the Oval Office with the President's Daily Briefing, traveled the world with Obama, and was at the center of some of the most consequential and controversial moments of the presidency. Now he tells the full story of his partnership—and, ultimately, friendship—with a man who also happened to be a historic president of the United States.

Rhodes was not your typical presidential confidant, and this is not your typical White House memoir. Rendered in vivid, novelistic detail by someone who was a writer before he was a staffer, this is a rare look inside the most poignant, tense, and consequential moments of the Obama presidency—waiting out the bin Laden raid in the Situation Room, responding to the Arab Spring, reaching a nuclear agreement with Iran, leading secret negotiations with the Cuban government to normalize relations, and confronting the resurgence of nationalism and nativism that culminated in the election of Donald Trump.

In The World as It Is, Rhodes shows what it was like to be there—from the early days of the Obama campaign to the final hours of the presidency. It is a story populated by such characters as Susan Rice, Samantha Power, Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates, and—above all—Barack Obama, who comes to life on the page in moments of great urgency and disarming intimacy. This is the most vivid portrayal yet of Obama's worldview and presidency, a chronicle of a political education by a writer of enormous talent, and an essential record of the forces that shaped the last decade.
Advance praise for The World as It Is
"Ben Rhodes is one of the most brilliant minds and powerful storytellers I've ever known. In The World as It Is, he doesn't just bring you inside the room for key moments of Obama's presidency, he captivates you with the journey of an idealistic young staffer who becomes the president's closest friend and advisor—a journey that both cynics and believers will find riveting and hopeful."—Jon Favreau
From one of Barack Obama's closest aides comes a revelatory behind-the-scenes account of his presidency—and how idealism can confront harsh reality and still survive—in the tradition of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House.

For nearly ten years, Ben Rhodes saw almost everything that happened at the center of the Obama administration—first as a speechwriter, then as deputy national security advisor, and finally as a multipurpose aide and close collaborator. He started every morning in the Oval Office with the President's Daily Briefing, traveled the world with Obama, and was at the center of some of the most consequential and controversial moments of the presidency. Now he tells the full story of his partnership—and, ultimately, friendship—with a man who also happened to be a historic president of the United States.

Rhodes was not your typical presidential confidant, and this is not your typical White House memoir. Rendered in vivid, novelistic detail by someone who was a writer before he was a staffer, this is a rare look inside the most poignant, tense, and consequential moments of the Obama presidency—waiting out the bin Laden raid in the Situation Room, responding to the Arab Spring, reaching a nuclear agreement with Iran, leading secret negotiations with the Cuban government to normalize relations, and confronting the resurgence of nationalism and nativism that culminated in the election of Donald Trump.

In The World as It Is, Rhodes shows what it was like to be there—from the early days of the Obama campaign to the final hours of the presidency. It is a story populated by such characters as Susan Rice, Samantha Power, Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates, and—above all—Barack Obama, who comes to life on the page in moments of great urgency and disarming intimacy. This is the most vivid portrayal yet of Obama's worldview and presidency, a chronicle of a political education by a writer of enormous talent, and an essential record of the forces that shaped the last decade.
Advance praise for The World as It Is
"Ben Rhodes is one of the most brilliant minds and powerful storytellers I've ever known. In The World as It Is, he doesn't just bring you inside the room for key moments of Obama's presidency, he captivates you with the journey of an idealistic young staffer who becomes the president's closest friend and advisor—a journey that both cynics and believers will find riveting and hopeful."—Jon Favreau
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  • From the book Chapter 1

    IN THE BEGINNING



    The first time I met Barack Obama, I didn't want to say a word.It was a sleepy May afternoon in 2007, and I was sitting in my windowless office at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a D.C. think tank like dozens of others. I was underemployed and debating moving back home to New York when I got a call from Mark Lippert, who was Obama's top foreign policy aide in the Senate. Lippert was a young guy, like me, and I had come to expect phone calls from him every few days with random taskings; he was working for the most exciting politician to come along in years, and he clearly enjoyed the fact that anyone would take his call at any time.
    "Ben," he said, "I was wondering if it's not too much trouble for you to come over and do debate prep with Obama?"
    I gripped the phone a little more tightly. For the last few months I'd been doing everything I could to work my way onto the Obama campaign—writing floor statements on Iraq, drafting an op-ed on Ireland ("O'Bama"), editing speeches and debate memos. I had never gotten near the man, and I was starting to wonder if my volunteer work would ever turn into anything else.
    "When is it?" I asked. "It's right now."

    The session was at a law firm a couple of blocks away, and I walked slowly, gathering my thoughts. Like all the work I'd done for the campaign, this felt like some sort of test, only no grade was issued at the end and no one would tell me if I'd passed. When I got there, I was directed to a set of glass doors that led into a large conference room. I could see at least fifteen people around a long table strewn with binders, stacks of paper, and soda cans. Obama was seated at the head of the table with his feet up. Lippert met me at the door, pulled me outside, and told me they were debating whether Obama should vote for a spending bill in Congress that would fund the so-called surge in Iraq. "I thought, why not call the Iraq guy?" he said.
    A few months earlier, I had finished working for the Iraq Study Group, a collection of former officials and foreign policy experts who had been asked to come up with a strategy for the Iraq War. My boss at the time, Lee Hamilton, was cochair, along with James Baker. Hamilton was a throwback—a crew-cut Democrat from southern Indiana who had served thirty-four years in Congress. He wasn't just a moderate—he was a pragmatist who approached government without a trace of ideology. Baker was what the Re- publican Party used to be—a business-friendly operator who took governing as seriously as making money. Throughout our work, in meetings with members of the Bush administration that he'd helped put into power through his efforts on the Florida recount after the 2000 election, Baker's understanding of the scale of the mess that had been made in Iraq seemed to morph into a kind of paternal disappointment—he'd given the keys to his kids and they'd crashed the car.
    For me, the project opened a window into a war that I'd watched unfold with swelling anger. As part of our work, we'd gone to Iraq in the summer of 2006, flying into Baghdad in a cargo plane with a group of servicemembers starting their tour, sitting in silence be- cause the roar of the engine made it too difficult to be heard. I looked closely at the faces of these men and women who would soon be threatened by car bombs and improvised explosive devices, but they betrayed no emotion at all—just blank stares. The plane dropped sharply into Baghdad International Airport, making tight corkscrew turns to avoid antiaircraft fire. We flew in helicopters to the Green Zone. Down below, I could smell burning sewage and...
About the Author-
  • From 2009 to 2017, Benjamin Rhodes served as deputy national security advisor to President Barack Obama, overseeing the administration's national security communications, speechwriting, public diplomacy, and global engagement programming. Prior to joining the Obama administration, from 2007 to 2008 Rhodes was a senior speechwriter and foreign policy advisor to the Obama campaign. Before joining then–Senator Obama's campaign, he worked for former congressman Lee Hamilton from 2002 to 2007. He was the co-author, with Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, of Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission. A native New Yorker, Rhodes has a BA from Rice University and an MFA from New York University.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 11, 2018
    Many frustrations and a few victories emerge in this sometimes hopeful, often disillusioned memoir of foreign policy in the Obama administration. Rhodes (Without Precedent) was deputy national security adviser to Barack Obama, tasked with speech-writing, some diplomacy, and frequently giving advice to the president. His narrative is a study in the limits of American power: he advocated strong U.S. support for democratic reform after the Arab Spring uprisings, as well as military intervention in Libya and Syria, only to see U.S. initiatives flounder amid the region's intractable political dysfunctions, Republican obstructionism, and media hysteria. (His emails concerning the assault on the American consulate in Benghazi, he notes, provoked right-wing conspiracy-mongering.) Rhodes records triumphs as well, including the thawing of relations with Cuba, which he helped negotiate, and the nuclear agreement with Iran. Much of the book is an insider's perspective on Obama as he strategizes in the Situation Room, fences with Putin on the hotline, and broods on Air Force One; the president is rational, thoughtful, exasperated when the world doesn't follow suit, and grimly realistic. (The "Obama doctrine," per the president, is "Don't do stupid shit.") Rhodes's analyses of problems in foreign countries can be superficial, but his account of policy sausage-making is well-observed and riveting. Photos.

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