Senior Speech Writer for Former President Barack Obama Ben rhodes, who has traveled the world with the 44th President and been involved in some of the administration’s biggest foreign policy decisions, stopped in Northeastern on Monday evening to share his thoughts on the collapse of the liberal world order traditional.
Rhodes, in front of a crowded audience of students at the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex for the annual Civic Experience lecture series, recounted an anecdote about him with Obama in 2017, as they both stayed at a hotel in Shanghai. Obama was no longer president at the time and was replaced in the Oval Office by Donald Trump.
“Some Chinese officials wanted to come see me,” Rhodes recalls, “basically to warn me that Obama shouldn’t meet the Dalai Lama on his next trip to India.”
Rhodes said what he found disconcerting was that no meeting between the two had been publicly announced. Beijing calls the current Dalai Lama, exiled in India, a separatist and instead recognizes someone else as Tibet’s highest religious figure.
“These people were basically like, ‘Yeah, we read your emails, and we don’t like what we see. And we don’t care that the guy down the hall [Obama] is the most famous politician in the world. He shouldn’t either, ”recalls Rhodes.
The meeting took place later as expected. But the incident was one of many examples of rising global nationalism and authoritarianism that Rhodes cites in his new book, After the Fall: Being American in the World We Created. The New York Times best-seller follows his memoirs, The world as it is.
Rhodes, now a television commentator on world affairs, told the interviewer Mai’a Cross, Professor Edward W. Brooke of Political Science and International Affairs at Northeastern, that he could sense a sense of increasing authoritarianism around the world around the second half of Obama’s second term.
“I set out to investigate,” he said, “and what I knew I was going to find out was that there was kind of a big trend in the world that America was a part of. , and she was not separate from. The more I pulled on that thread, the more I discovered America’s fingerprints on this world that I think we would like to recognize.
This discovery prompted Rhodes to focus After the fall on three areas: first, the period from 1990 to today, what he described as “unbridled capitalism, the explosion of globalization and deregulated capitalism”.
He found that in every country that has experienced an authoritarian wave, political leaders have exploited citizens’ dissatisfaction with globalization and the feeling that the system is biased in favor of others. “It’s only for the rich and it’s only for Americans,” Rhodes described the sentiment at the time.
This, in turn, has made some people turn to authoritarian figures like Hungarian Viktor Orban and Russian Vladimir Putin.
The second area covered by his book is America’s post-9/11 security policy, which Rhodes says has worked to the advantage of the world’s strongmen. “Putin has justified his cancellation of the direct election of governors in Russia in 2002 as part of a war on terrorism. Viktor Orban built a wall along the Hungarian border before Trump tried to build one here, ”Rhodes said.
Technology, social media in particular, was the third axis of the book. “These perfect tools of connection and empowerment become perfect tools of disinformation and surveillance,” Rhodes said.
Asked about Afghanistan, Rhodes said President Biden, who was Obama’s vice president, made the right choice in withdrawing US forces, but the exit could have been handled differently. What made America’s involvement in the conflict interesting for Rhodes was that it was essentially two wars going on.
“Get out of al-Qaeda, eliminate Osama bin Laden,” he said. “Then there was a second effort, the nation-building enterprise, which was already failing” when Biden became president.
“The tragedy primarily concerns the Afghan people, but it is a tragedy that goes beyond withdrawal. This is the tragedy of 40 years of American engagement.
Afghanistan is what attracted Hannah sumrall, a sophomore major in health, science and finance, to come and hear Rhodes in person. The event was also broadcast live on Facebook and job for future viewing.
“I got really interested in all of the proceedings regarding Afghanistan and Biden’s response and thought it would be interesting to hear from someone who has sort of worked on this side of the political aisle.” , she said.
Considering that many of the people Rhodes interviewed for the book aren’t much older than the students at Northeastern, it makes sense for young people to hear her message, she added.
“Young people are normally at the forefront of disruptive change,” Sumrall said.
Northeastern’s Civic Experience Lecture Series, now in its third year, was designed to connect students with emerging young leaders to talk about the issues of the day.
Rhodes remembers making his debut in politics in his early twenties when, on September 11, 2001, he was a graduate student in creative writing while also working on a local political campaign in New York City.
“I saw the second plane crash into the World Trade Center. I saw the first tower fall, ”he recalls. “I wanted to be involved in foreign policy, I wanted to be involved in politics, and writing was my entry point.”
At 29, Rhodes went to work for then-candidate Obama, and the following year he ended up in the White House. “My life wasn’t planned,” he smirked, “let’s just say that.”
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