The Ben Rhodes I Know...

The Ben Rhodes I know is a thoughtful and an experienced leader who spends more time figuring out how to elevate the people around him than himself. He is among a small handful of individuals who were hand-selected by President Obama to serve in his White House.
05/20/2016 03:16 pm ET Updated May 21, 2017
Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting Ben Rhodes speaks to reporters during a press
Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting Ben Rhodes speaks to reporters during a press briefing, Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, in Edgartown, Mass., on the island of Martha's Vineyard. Rhodes spoke on issues concerning the situation in Iraq and Ukraine. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

I have been disappointed at the recent public discussion about White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.

Some of this recent press is grounded in the usual Washington debates about President Obama's foreign policy. Ben does represent that policy to the outside world and helps shape it inside the administration. That's his job.

It's natural for outside observers to take issue with various elements of the President's foreign policy -- from Syria to Iran to Afghanistan -- and having a lively policy debate on these issues is a meaningful part of our democracy.

But much of our foreign policy ought not be controversial. Every day, a bit under the political radar, America works with others to fight hunger, disease, climate change, advance human rights, and create more opportunity for young people to aspire to be a force for hope and change on our planet. It sounds lofty, I know.

For many decades, in a truly bipartisan manner, America has been a force for good in some of the farthest corners of our globe. President Bush launched PEPFAR which dramatically altered the trajectory of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. President Obama continued that effort and embraced the opportunity to extend it. He launched Feed the Future, Power Africa, led the global fight against Ebola, and accelerated efforts to save children who die of simple, preventable diseases such as diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria.

All along, and over the two terms of the Obama Administration, Ben Rhodes has been a steady, committed leader working behind the scenes to make much of this happen. Ben's job requires dealing with and responding to urgent crises -- from hostage situations to terrorist threats to major acts of military aggression. Despite being bombarded with crisis after crisis, Ben somehow overcame the pressure to simply react to the urgent and became a steady leader on efforts to create a more peaceful, just, and hopeful world.

I know as I served for more than five years as the Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Even when other foreign policy crises were dominating the airwaves, Ben put his time and effort into answering President Obama's call to end extreme poverty and advance our nation's proud bipartisan legacy as the world's humanitarian and development leader. Ben led the effort to reopen the Burma USAID office and program to support civil society and the very poor.

Despite a schedule crammed with meetings on challenges from Syria to Iran to the DPRK, Ben hosted meeting after meeting and led a half a dozen federal agencies to create programs for young leaders in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America. Today, tens of thousands of young people from these parts of the world are better connected to America, our institutions and our values thanks to Ben's leadership. I have met with young African civic leaders and entrepreneurs who have told me their entire lives and hopes have changed for the better as a result of their participation in the Young African Leaders Initiative.

Much has been made of whether Ben channels President Obama's voice and instincts on foreign affairs. Everyone who has been a part of the President's decision making will note that President Obama, usually after careful deliberation, makes his own decisions. But there is no question that Ben is a trusted, consistent advisor and implementer for the President. I always have felt that Ben also represents and advocates for this President's natural inclination to fight for those who otherwise lack a champion -- displaced refugees from Syria, survivors of sexual trafficking in Nepal, girls who should have every right to go to school in Pakistan.

The Ben Rhodes I know is a thoughtful and an experienced leader who spends more time figuring out how to elevate the people around him than himself. He is among a small handful of individuals who were hand-selected by President Obama to serve in his White House. He is a listener and a learner and I am grateful that amongst his many responsibilities he chose to support so many efforts that really do project the best of America's values around the world.

I am proud to have served with him and hope many others follow the great example Ben has set.

Dr. Rajiv Shah served in the Obama Administration as the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development from 2010-2015.