James Mann

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The World As It Is: A Mem­oir of the Obama White House by Ben Rhodes

The World As It Is:

A Mem­oir of the Obama White House by Ben Rhodes.

Ran­dom House, 450 pp., $30.00

When we look back at the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to­day, it seems as if it took place in a dif­fer­ent uni­verse. In the era of Don­ald Trump, we take no­tice of habits and pat­terns in the Obama years that didn’t stand out much at the time. We took for granted, for ex­am­ple, Obama’s gen­eral pref­er­ence for demo­cratic gov­ern­ments over au­thor­i­tar­ian ones and for al­lies over ad­ver­saries. We as­sumed he would go to in­ter­na­tional gatherings, be­have re­spect­fully, and try to find com­mon ground where pos­si­ble, rather than seek­ing to dis­rupt or pro­voke. This was, more or less, what other pres­i­dents had done. We can now see that what seemed like or­di­nary comity was, in fact, a re­flec­tion of a dis­tinct time and place and even a world­view— a be­lief in mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism that our cur­rent pres­i­dent does not share.

It is not only the ob­vi­ous con­trasts be­tween Obama and Trump that seem jolt­ing but also the hyp­o­crit­i­cal dou­ble stan­dards that have been ap­plied to them. It is star­tling to re­call Repub­li­can at­tacks on Obama’s for­eign pol­icy af­ter one of his aides said the United States was “lead­ing from be­hind” in the run-up to the 2011 Libyan war now that his Repub­li­can suc­ces­sor has openly re­jected any lead­er­ship role at all—and in­deed, at the re­cent G-7 sum­mit, po­si­tioned his ad­min­is­tra­tion more in op­po­si­tion to the world’s lead­ing in­dus­tri­al­ized na­tions than at their van­guard. It is vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to read about the brouhaha on the right over Obama’s cam­paign prom­ise that he would be will­ing to meet face-to­face with Ira­nian lead­ers and not think of the en­thu­si­asm over Trump’s de­ci­sion to meet with Kim Jong-un.

The mem­oirs of the of­fi­cials who served in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion are just start­ing to come out. None of these for­mer staffers is in a po­si­tion to give read­ers a clearer, more de­tailed ac­count of what it felt like to be in the Obama White House than Ben Rhodes. By ti­tle, he was first Obama’s speech­writer for for­eign pol­icy and then the deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser for com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Un­of­fi­cially, he was more than that. Rhodes was the White House of­fi­cial who de­cided which coun­tries Obama would visit and whom he would meet over­seas. He took on spe­cial as­sign­ments and port­fo­lios, in­clud­ing the se­cret ne­go­ti­a­tions that re­sulted in the es­tab­lish­ment of diplo­matic re­la­tions with Cuba. Above all, Rhodes was the ad­viser (col­leagues like Su­san Rice claimed) who had a kind of “mind meld” with the pres­i­dent— putting Obama’s ideas into words and speeches, de­cid­ing on the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s line about events, shar­ing ideas with Obama, trans­lat­ing for the bu­reau­cracy how Obama would think. Rhodes was just thirty-one when Obama ar­rived in the White House. He had come to Wash­ing­ton seven years ear­lier look­ing for work, his only cre­den­tial a year of grad­u­ate school in New York Univer­sity’s writ­ing pro­gram. He landed a job writ­ing speeches for for­mer con­gress­man Lee Hamil­ton, one of the Demo­cratic Party’s lead­ing for­eign pol­icy ex­perts, who was then run­ning a Wash­ing­ton think tank. When Hamil­ton was ap­pointed in 2006 as the Demo­cratic co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, set up by Con­gress to make rec­om­men­da­tions about the war, Rhodes joined the staff un­der Hamil­ton and helped write the fi­nal re­port. The next log­i­cal step, in his mind, was to join the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of a Demo­cratic can­di­date op­posed to the Iraq War. Rhodes signed on with Obama’s cam­paign in early 2007 and worked un­der him un­til Obama left the White House ten years later.

In a way, this was a typ­i­cal Wash­ing­ton story. Many other pres­i­dents have had aides who signed on dur­ing the first days of the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, moved into the White House, and stayed un­til the end of the ad­min­is­tra­tion. Lyn­don John­son had his Tex­ans, Ron­ald Rea­gan his Cal­i­for­ni­ans, John Kennedy his “Ir­ish mafia.” Rhodes was one of sev­eral aides who worked for Obama from the ear­li­est days of his cam­paign un­til the end of the sec­ond term; oth­ers in­cluded Sa­man­tha Power, De­nis McDonough, and Rice. Un­der Trump, aides ei­ther burn out (Hope Hicks) or go off to make money (Corey Lewandowski). As a boss, Obama brought far greater sta­bil­ity.

The re­sult of Rhodes’s many years near the Oval Of­fice is that he can punc­tu­ate The World As It Is with glimpses of the pri­vate Obama. Some of these are amus­ing anec­dotes. In the ear­li­est days of his cam­paign, when there were oc­ca­sional crit­i­cisms that he wasn’t black enough, Obama quipped, “I’m black enough when I try to get a cab.” Oth­ers sug­gest a pres­i­dent who was an es­pe­cially gifted politi­cian at elec­tion time but dis­dained the day-to­day pol­i­tics in which most pres­i­dents en­gage. Obama had the in­stincts of a life­long pol. When Rhodes ar­gued that a demo­cratic open­ing in Burma could prove po­lit­i­cally ben­e­fi­cial to him, Obama re­sponded, “Ben, no one cares about Burma in Ohio.”

Near the end of the book, there is a painful story, un­flat­ter­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton, that calls at­ten­tion to this as­pect of Obama’s po­lit­i­cal skill. In 2016 Obama joined Clin­ton at a cam­paign rally in North Carolina, and the two of them stopped af­ter­ward at a lo­cal bar­be­cue joint. Clin­ton de­parted quickly, while Obama stayed for thirty min­utes. “We went in, or­dered some food, took pic­tures with the staff, and then she left,” Obama told Rhodes with sur­prise on the plane ride home.

I ended up shak­ing ev­ery hand in there. Most of the folks in these places have been watch­ing Fox News and think I’m the An­tichrist. But if you show up, shake their hand, and look them in the eye, it’s harder for them to turn you into a car­i­ca­ture.

Yet Obama had lit­tle ap­ti­tude for the Wash­ing­ton ver­sion of bar­be­cue joints—con­gres­sional chitchat and party-build­ing func­tions. He chafed at crit­i­cism that he was aloof, yet his very de­nials pointed to his sense of su­pe­ri­or­ity over run-of-the-mill politi­cians. “I just have a dif­fer­ent group of friends than peo­ple who’ve been run­ning for of­fice since they were twenty-two,” he said. “The thing is, I was a fully formed per­son be­fore I went into pol­i­tics.”

Obama’s am­biva­lence about pol­i­tics car­ried over into ques­tions of for­eign pol­icy. Be­cause he of­ten lacked a clear sense of where he wanted to go and how to get there, he at times found him­self ag­o­niz­ing over a de­ci­sion. Much of his first year was con­sumed by a de­bate over how many more troops to send to Afghanistan. Obama’s so­lu­tion, af­ter many months, was to give the mil­i­tary some of the ad­di­tional forces it wanted and at the same time or­der that these troops come home af­ter eigh­teen months, a short time­frame that un­der­cut what­ever use­ful­ness this “surge” was sup­posed to have.

Four years later, when Syr­ian govern­ment forces used chem­i­cal weapons in their war against rebel forces, thus cross­ing a “red line” that Obama had drawn, the pres­i­dent laid the ground­work for a mil­i­tary re­sponse, then held up at the last minute, and fi­nally de­cided he shouldn’t at­tack with­out con­gres­sional ap­proval, which he failed to ob­tain. His ad­min­is­tra­tion then ac­cepted, in­deed boasted about, an agree­ment with Rus­sia that was sup­posed to take the chem­i­cal weapons out of the coun­try—a res­o­lu­tion that did not stop the Syr­i­ans from con­tin­u­ing to use chem­i­cal weapons and to gas civil­ians again and again. Obama thereby wound up al­low­ing Syria to set a harm­ful prece­dent on the use of chem­i­cal weapons, a prece­dent that he had ini­tially sought to avoid; and he still failed to come up with a broader pol­icy to­ward Syria’s civil war. It was an ob­ject les­son in why pres­i­dents should re­frain from set­ting “red lines” in the first place if they’re un­will­ing to en­force them.

What Rhodes’s book shows is that in too many cases, for­eign pol­icy de­ci­sions were turned into ques­tions of iden­tity and self-definition, thus mak­ing them a func­tion of Obama’s per­sonal his­tory. Try­ing to ex­plain a de­ci­sion, Obama some­times de­cided that a par­tic­u­lar course of ac­tion is “who I am” or “who we are.” In the fi­nal hours of his de­ci­sion on Syria, when he was look­ing for a rea­son not to launch a mis­sile strike, an aide re­minded him that dur­ing the ear­li­est stages of his cam­paign, he had told The Bos­ton Globe that he would not launch mil­i­tary ac­tion with­out con­gres­sional ap­proval. Obama jumped on the mem­ory. “That quote from me in 2007—I agree with that guy. That’s who I am,” he said.

One is left to won­der who Obama was when he de­cided against ask­ing Con­gress for ap­proval be­fore he launched mil­i­tary ac­tion against Libya in 2011, or drone strikes and spe­cial op­er­a­tions at­tacks through­out his pres­i­dency. (In his book, Rhodes barely men­tions Obama’s re­liance on drones, though he used them far more than his pre­de­ces­sors had. Rhodes does say, in pass­ing, that at the be­gin­ning of Obama’s sec­ond term, when he asked for some new re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, he told the pres­i­dent, “I’m tired of just be­ing the guy who defends drones.”) In other re­spects, too, Obama’s definition of “who I am” or “who we are” var­ied with time and cir­cum­stance. He took of­fice as a de­ter­mined for­eign pol­icy real­ist, cit­ing Brent Scowcroft as a model; when Ira­nian protesters took to the streets in 2009, he said lit­tle by way of sup­port or en­cour­age­ment. Two years later, he be­came a fer­vent and ide­al­is­tic sup­porter of the Arab Spring, em­brac­ing the no­tion that it rep­re­sented a his­toric wave that would trans­form the Mid­dle East. See­ing the swelling crowds in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, he pushed Egyp­tian pres­i­dent Hosni Mubarak to step down, where a real­ist in the Scowcroft or Kissinger mold would have rec­om­mended con­tin­ued sup­port for a leader who had long sup­ported the United States. Then within a year, as the Arab Spring turned in­creas­ingly messy, pro­duc­ing not smooth demo­cratic change but var­i­ous forms of up­heaval in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Ye­men, Bahrain, and even Jor­dan, Obama re­versed course again. When Rhodes protested to him in 2012 that the ad­min­is­tra­tion was be­ing too

def­er­en­tial to Egypt’s mil­i­tary lead­ers and not do­ing enough to pro­mote democ­racy, Obama told him, “Our pri­or­ity has to be sta­bil­ity and sup­port­ing the SCAF [Egypt’s mil­i­tary coun­cil] . . . . Even if we get crit­i­cized. I’m not in­ter­ested in the crowd in Tahrir Square.”1 When Ukrainian protesters took to the streets in 2013–2014, and Rus­sia re­sponded by in­vad­ing Ukraine and seiz­ing Crimea, Obama like­wise spurned rec­om­men­da­tions that he give Ukraine some sort of mil­i­tary aid. “This was one of the few oc­ca­sions I can re­call in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in which just about ev­ery se­nior of­fi­cial was for do­ing some­thing that the pres­i­dent op­posed,” Obama’s as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of de­fense Derek Chol­let later wrote.2 If there was any un­der­ly­ing co­her­ence to these poli­cies, it lay in the fact that Obama in his sec­ond term be­came more cau­tious about the abil­ity of the United States to change the course of events over­seas, in­creas­ingly less keen to em­ploy mil­i­tary force, and ever-less in­clined to in­ter­vene in in­ter­na­tional dis­putes. One rea­son for his sec­ondterm cau­tion, cer­tainly, was that he and his team had been burned by the fail­ure of the Arab Spring. When Ukrainian protesters massed in Kiev much the way Egyp­tians had in Cairo, Rhodes ad­mit­ted that his hopes were con­sid­er­ably more lim­ited. “This was not the place or time for a rev­o­lu­tion to suc­ceed,” he ob­serves.

An­other fac­tor lead­ing to the dif­fer­ent tone in the sec­ond term was a change in per­son­nel: dur­ing Obama’s first term, Clin­ton was sec­re­tary of state, and the sec­re­taries of de­fense were Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, all of them older and more hawk­ish than Obama and his team in the White House. By the sec­ond term, they had de­parted, and the mem­bers of Obama’s in­ner cir­cle, like Rice, McDonough, and Rhodes, had con­sid­er­ably more au­thor­ity to en­force his will over the State and De­fense De­part­ments.3 Rhodes does not hide that, in­side the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, he in par­tic­u­lar and the Obama in­ner cir­cle in gen­eral (in­clud­ing Power and Rice) viewed them­selves as a new gen­er­a­tion in for­eign pol­icy, sep­a­rate and dis­tinct from those who had served ear­lier. When Obama first ap­pointed Clin­ton, Gates, and Lawrence Sum­mers to top po­si­tions in his new ad­min­is­tra­tion, Rhodes un­der­stood the ra­tio­nale, but in his book he ad­mits, “Cu­mu­la­tively, it felt like a punch in the gut. To those

1While mostly un­fo­cused and dis­ap­point­ing, Ro­nan Far­row’s re­cent book, War on Peace: The End of Diplo­macy and the De­cline of Amer­i­can In­flu­ence (Nor­ton, 2018), con­tains a good short ac­count of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s un­will­ing­ness to con­front Egypt’s bru­tal leader, Gen­eral Ab­del Fat­tah al-Sisi. 2Derek Chol­let, The Long Game: How Obama De­fied Wash­ing­ton and Re­de­fined Amer­ica’s Role in the World (PublicAf­fairs, 2016), p. 175.

3In his book Al­ter Egos: Hil­lary Clin­ton, Barack Obama, and the Twi­light Strug­gle over Amer­i­can Power (Ran­dom House, 2016), Mark Lan­dler de­scribes well how Clin­ton, soon af­ter leav­ing the State De­part­ment, made clear her for­eign pol­icy dif­fer­ences with Obama. She at first put her­self in a po­si­tion to be able to dis­tin­guish her­self from Obama dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, but once the cam­paign started, she aligned her­self closely with the pres­i­dent. of us who worked on the cam­paign, it made us feel as if our sear­ing crit­i­cisms of the es­tab­lish­ment may have been just pol­i­tics af­ter all.”

But then, what did Obama’s younger gen­er­a­tion be­lieve? In his mem­oir, Rhodes po­si­tions him­self to the left of Obama: more con­cerned about democ­racy and hu­man rights, less will­ing to sup­port au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes. He ac­knowl­edges his oc­ca­sional dis­ap­point­ment with his boss. “Of­ten, I felt as though I cared more about the global pro­gres­sive icon Barack Obama than Barack Obama did,” he writes.

Be­yond these gen­er­al­i­ties, how­ever, it was some­times hard to tell. The one lodestar in their think­ing was op­po­si­tion to the war in Iraq. The war had been, af­ter all, one of the main rea­sons that Obama had de­feated Clin­ton in the first place. Through­out The World As It Is Rhodes re­turns to it not only as the dis­as­ter it was, but also as an allpur­pose ex­pla­na­tion for other dis­as­ters, in­clud­ing ones on Obama’s watch. Try­ing to ex­plain the chaos in Syria, Rhodes first tar­gets the war in Iraq:

It was far eas­ier for me to see how the war in Syria was in part an un­in­tended con­se­quence of other Amer­i­can wars, no mat­ter how well-mean­ing they might have been. The top­pling of Sad­dam Hus­sein had strength­ened Iran, pro­voked Putin, opened up a Pan­dora’s box of sec­tar­ian con­flict that now raged in Iraq and Syria, and led to an in­sur­gency that had given birth to ISIL.

Yet the lessons of Iraq did not stop Obama from in­ter­ven­ing in Libya, when he was con­fronted with the re­al­ity that Muam­mar Qaddafi’s troops were on the verge of slaugh­ter­ing op­po­si­tion forces and civil­ians. Rhodes not only de­fended Obama’s de­ci­sion but, in a re­veal­ing pas­sage in his book, re­ports that he was then hor­ri­fied to find him­self mocked on Jon Ste­wart’s Daily Show (Ste­wart had specif­i­cally jibed at the way he had re­ferred to the use of force as “ki­netic mil­i­tary ac­tion”):

My own world­view had been shaped, in part, by read­ing books like [Sa­man­tha Pow­ers’s “A Prob­lem from Hell”: Amer­ica and the Age of Geno­cide] and watch­ing lib­er­als go on shows like Ste­wart’s to pro­mote movies like Ho­tel Rwanda .... In my mind, I was part of a group of peo­ple act­ing to im­ple­ment a hu­man­i­tar­ian prin­ci­ple. Now it felt as if I was be­ing pun­ished for it, and as if I had ar­gued for Obama to do some­thing that his own base re­coiled against.

Libya en­cap­su­lated both the strengths and the fail­ures of Obama’s for­eign pol­icy. In prin­ci­ple, he was right to act when he did, as Rhodes ar­gues. Obama in­ter­vened to pre­vent an im­mi­nent slaugh­ter of large num­bers of civil­ians along the lines of Rwanda— and he would have been as­sailed with crit­i­cism if he had not acted and there had been mass killings. (More­over, Amer­ica’s two clos­est Euro­pean al­lies, Bri­tain and France, were plead­ing with Obama to in­ter­vene.) Yet ab­stract prin­ci­ples are not enough. Once Obama de­cided on mil­i­tary ac­tion, he had the fur­ther obli­ga­tion to make sure Libya did not col­lapse into pro­longed chaos. In this, he failed.

The

HBO doc­u­men­tary The Fi­nal Year, an ac­count of the last year of Obama’s pres­i­dency, in­cludes the night of the elec­tion in 2016. Asked for his thoughts, Rhodes stam­mers. “I can’t...I can’t...I can’t put it into words,” he fi­nally mum­bles.

But one of the strengths of Rhodes’s book is that, in pass­ing, he shows the grad­ual emer­gence of the right-wing, faux-pop­ulist move­ment that pro­duced Trump. He notes, for in­stance, that when Sarah Palin be­came the Repub­li­cans’ vice-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in the sum­mer of 2008 she “broke a seal on a Pan­dora’s box.” Obama’s suc­cess, he re­flected, “had only made a whole slice of the coun­try that much an­grier.” Rhodes de­scribes, too, the way Repub­li­cans in Con­gress ob­structed Obama in ev­ery way, aban­don­ing the path of at least oc­ca­sional bi­par­ti­san co­op­er­a­tion that ear­lier Repub­li­can lead­ers, from Arthur Van­den­berg to Ger­ald Ford to Robert Dole, had all pur­sued. “With the kinds of op­po­si­tion par­ties [in Con­gress] that John­son or Rea­gan had, Obama would have been re­form­ing the tax code and re­build­ing Amer­i­can in­fra­struc­ture,” Rhodes mourns. When Obama sought con­gres­sional ap­proval for a mis­sile strike in re­sponse to Syria’s use of chem­i­cal weapons, the ever-treach­er­ous Mitch McCon­nell, then Se­nate mi­nor­ity leader, re­fused to give his sup­port and then pub­licly crit­i­cized Obama for hav­ing failed to take mil­i­tary ac­tion. When Trump gained strength as a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in the run-up to the 2016 elec­tion, Rhodes viewed him as “just a cruder ex­pres­sion of what we’d heard from Repub­li­cans for years.”

The Rus­sians, too, be­gan to be­have dif­fer­ently. In 2013, amid the Ukraine cri­sis, Vic­to­ria Nu­land, Obama’s as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for Europe, dis­cussed strat­egy over the phone with the Amer­i­can am­bas­sador in Kiev. “Fuck the EU!” Nu­land said in pass­ing at one point. Shortly af­ter­ward, this pri­vate call showed up on YouTube, cre­at­ing pre­dictable di­vi­sions be­tween the United States and Europe. Rhodes recorded his re­ac­tion:

I was stunned. The Rus­sians had al­most cer­tainly in­ter­cepted the phone call. That was hardly

sur­pris­ing .... What was new was the act of re­leas­ing the in­ter­cepted call and do­ing it so brazenly, on so­cial me­dia . . . . Do­ing so vi­o­lated the un­spo­ken un­der­stand­ing be­tween ma­jor pow­ers—we col­lect in­tel­li­gence on one an­other, but we use it pri­vately, for our own pur­poses.

That episode was a pre­cur­sor to the re­lease of a va­ri­ety of ma­te­ri­als, like the e-mails of John Podesta, Clin­ton’s cam­paign man­ager, in the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

De­spite all the ob­vi­ous con­trasts be­tween Obama and Trump, there are some ways in which, decades from now,

his­to­ri­ans may come to think that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion was as much a con­tin­u­a­tion of the Obama years as a turn­about from them. Rhodes him­self rec­og­nizes this un­com­fort­able con­ti­nu­ity, start­ing with mat­ters of cam­paign­ing: “When you dis­tilled it, stripped out the racism and misog­yny, we’d run against Hil­lary eight years ago with the same mes­sage Trump had used: She’s part of a cor­rupt es­tab­lish­ment that can’t be trusted to bring change.” That sim­i­lar­ity helps ex­plain the con­sid­er­able num­ber of Amer­i­cans who voted for Obama and then switched to Trump. In for­eign pol­icy, Obama and Trump are the first two pres­i­dents to be elected in the after­math of the Iraq War. Trump did not op­pose the war at the out­set, as Obama did, but in a Repub­li­can Party where neo­con­ser­va­tives had been in as­cen­dance for the pre­vi­ous two decades, Trump sub­se­quently re­versed po­si­tion, claimed he had been against the Iraq War, and aligned him­self with the pub­lic’s fury over that fi­asco.

Af­ter Iraq, both Obama and Trump sought to limit Amer­ica’s in­volve­ments over­seas, par­tic­u­larly mil­i­tary ones. Both of them re­jected the set of ideas, put for­ward by pres­i­dents and sec­re­taries of state since the end of World War II, that Amer­ica was the “in­dis­pens­able na­tion” and must lead the way in re­solv­ing in­ter­na­tional prob­lems. “Obama oc­ca­sion­ally pointed out that the post–Cold War mo­ment was al­ways go­ing to be tran­si­tory,” Rhodes re­ported. Trump cer­tainly agrees, though for dif­fer­ent rea­sons: Obama be­lieved the United States no longer had the means or the moral right to be the world’s hege­monic power; Trump

claims it is too costly (a “bad deal”) to take that re­spon­si­bil­ity.

In the end, how­ever, the com­par­isons break down. Trump has been un­do­ing Obama’s in­ter­na­tional agree­ments— the Iran nu­clear deal, the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, the Paris Cli­mate Ac­cord—with re­mark­able speed. Obama led the US into what might be called a mul­ti­lat­eral re­trench­ment. When he al­tered Amer­i­can pol­icy—as he did, for ex­am­ple, in first tight­en­ing and then eas­ing sanc­tions against Iran— he usu­ally did so in close co­op­er­a­tion with Amer­ica’s friends and al­lies, mov­ing cau­tiously and de­lib­er­ately. Trump is now en­gaged in a uni­lat­eral re­trench­ment, flout­ing and pro­vok­ing Amer­ica’s old­est al­lies, tear­ing up past agree­ments, and mak­ing clear that he wants no part of the in­ter­na­tional or­der that Amer­ica once not only led but helped to cre­ate.

Pres­i­dent Obama dur­ing tap­ing for the White House Cor­re­spon­dents’ Din­ner, April 2013; pho­to­graph by Pete Souza from his book Shade: A Tale of Two Pres­i­dents, to be pub­lished by Lit­tle, Brown in Oc­to­ber

Michelle and Barack Obama watch­ing a 3-D com­mer­cial dur­ing the Su­per Bowl in the White House fam­ily the­ater, Fe­bru­ary 2009; pho­to­graph by Pete Souza from his ear­lier book, Obama: An In­ti­mate Por­trait, pub­lished by Lit­tle, Brown last year

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