CPF Former Fellow Ben Rhodes Headshot
Center for the Political Future

Spring 2020 Fellow

Ben Rhodes is a contributor to Crooked Media and Co-Host of “Pod Save the World,” a weekly foreign policy podcast that averages nearly a million listeners per episode. He also is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book, The World As It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House (2018), and co-author of Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission (2006). Rhodes, was a veteran senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and served as the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting. In this position, he took part in nearly all of President Obama’s key decisions, oversaw President Obama’s national security communications, speechwriting, and more. He served as the senior advisor on all elements of President Obama’s international work and wrote all of President Obama’s speeches on national security and foreign policy. Rhodes acted as the lead negotiator for the secret two-year negotiations with the Cuban government which resulted in the re-establishment of relations between the United States and Cuba, and a normalization of relations between our countries. He was also the principal White House strategist responsible for securing sufficient congressional and public support to allow the ratification of the Iran Deal. Prior to serving the Obama Campaign and Administration, Rhodes worked as an advisor and speechwriter for the President of the Wilson Center and former congressman Lee Hamilton.

Being active in foreign affairs throughout his whole career in politics, Ben Rhodes is a co-chair of National Security Action, a political non-governmental organization (NGO) committed to restoring principled American leadership – at home and abroad. In addition, Rhodes is a Member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Council, appointed by President Obama.

As a political and national security analyst, Rhodes also regularly appears on all major U.S. television and cable news networks, as well as international media in Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. He also has written for The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, Time, and Crooked.com.

Course: The Global Authoritarian Trend- Strategies and Opposition

Over the last decade, there has been a steady rise of authoritarian politics and governance around the globe– from Xi’ China, Putin’s Russia, Erdogan’s Turkey, Orban’s Hungary, and increasingly in places varied as India, Brazil and the West. While there are important differences between these political models, there are also similarities that explain why this trend has been so pronounced and has spread into the world of advanced democracies. Opponents of authoritarian politics and governance are searching for new tools and strategies to reverse this trend. This course will examine the rise of authoritarianism, the different forms that it has taken in different countries, and the tools and approaches that different movements are using to combat it.


Spring 2020 Semester Recap

“It is absolutely invaluable to get a better understanding of how students are looking at the rapidly changing landscape of American politics and broader geopolitics,” Ben Rhodes said when reflecting on the semester. “My students had clearly been wrestling with many of the themes and issues that we were discussing: authoritarianism, nationalism, technology, disinformation, Us versus Them politics, and opposition movements. Their perspectives definitely gave me a better understanding of how the most important audience in the world – young people – are looking at the trends shaping our lives.”

Rhodes added, “It was both rewarding and incredibly helpful to plug my own ideas and perspectives into a vibrant, intelligent, and diverse community like USC. I knew that I would be enriched by the experience, while also being able to share my relatively recent government experience with students. CPF has clearly carved out an essential role for itself at USC and beyond. It is small enough to feel like a tight-knit community while also being fully integrated into the broader ecosystem of programs at USC.”


Milo Hammer, a senior majoring in Political Science, said,

“The opportunity to learn from Ben Rhodes has been extraordinary. After years of following his foreign policy work in the Obama Administration, hearing his insights first-hand has been invaluable. In discussing each country, Ben has been able to provide unique insight as to what makes these leaders tick and how American foreign policy has shifted around them over time.”


Shir Attias, a senior majoring in International Relations and Political Economy, said,

“Whether it be from his time in government working with leaders such as Modi and Putin, or from his travels and work after the Obama administration, Rhodes’ unique insights into the global authoritarian trend extended beyond simply a discussion of the trend in other countries. In Rhodes’ course, we analyzed the roots of what enables authoritarianism and America’s impact on the trend of global authoritarianism. Rhodes’ course further motivated my belief that engaging in U.S. politics and foreign policy is critical to challenging authoritarianism both domestically and globally.”


Thank you Ben for a great semester!

Ben shared his thoughts on the importance of politics, his first political experience, and his advice for having respectful political discourse in his “Quick Takes: Q&A with CPF Fellow Ben Rhodes” video.