Reviewed by Jim McCarthy
The 44-year-old Rhodes became President Obama’s deputy national security adviser in 2009 following a stint as the candidate’s speechwriter beginning in 2007. Presently, he appears regularly as an MSNBC commentator and hosts a podcast entitled Pod Save America.
After the Fall is not a mere apologia for the foreign policies of 2008-2016 but a retrospective and prospective view of an insider’s observations about the development of political movements abroad and at home. As valuable as the views are, they are, for the most part, personal. At the same time, the author is a seasoned narrator and chronicler of events.
Accompanying President Obama on a number of travels abroad provided Rhodes with firsthand information concerning the views of foreign leaders and the political environments in which they functioned. The book is a post-presidential update or chronicle on those initial experiences and an invaluable and informative collection of viewpoints for the reader to absorb.
Following his service in Washington, Rhodes embarked upon a personal world tour to inquire about the changes and dynamics of the globe’s politics as affected by the United States. Hence, the subtitle of this book is Being American in the World We’ve Made, defining the prism through which his narrative is written. It can be said that this is the genius of the book’s thesis, a view not often presented.
After the Fall is not a mere apologia for the foreign policies of 2008-2016 but a retrospective and prospective view of an insider’s observations about the development of political movements abroad and at home.
The opening section discourses on a definition of America and Americanism and its station among the nations of the world. Having set such criteria, Rhodes proceeds to meet with individuals in a number of European nations who were challenging the increasingly nationalist tendencies and sympathies of their home states. The dialogue with nationalist challengers and the means utilized by nationalist advocates and leaders complements that of the United States’ experience. This is a sobering insight.
Discussing the success of Vladimir Putin, Rhodes observes a mastery of social media in the rise of authoritarianism:
This ability to manipulate and mobilize the national psyche while keeping the stakes relatively low represented a breakthrough for Putin, making easy use of American unregulated and sensationalizing social media networks.
The ubiquity of tools to control or mold political developments is a pattern in the hands of nationalists merging culture and politics for desired results, often to sow discord among competing interests.
Subsequently, in his travels to Singapore and Hong Kong, Rhodes interviews activists opposed to the branding of populations by way of the Chinese Communist Party’s determination to create a world power capable of governing billions of people while generating a goliath of economic sway. The echoes of European authoritarians rang in the Far East although some strategies differed.
While it may be difficult to assign superlatives to After the Fall, a reader with interests in foreign policy and world politics will be pleased with this volume. Rhodes has made a valuable contribution, setting a place for the American view in contrast to its global competitors and allies – who are, on occasion, the same. Ben Rhodes has created an easily readable roadmap to understand the routes nations may take to make their mark on the rest of the world.