January 3, 2018 – This is a documentary covering the last year of the Obama Administration, primarily focusing on the State Department and foreign policy. It is an insider's look at the top foreign policy makers in the White House in the final year of an eight year administration.
The prime movers and shakers in this documentary, in addition to President Barack Obama himself, are Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, Ben Rhodes.
The impression one gets from this documentary is that these people are very smart, well-spoken, literate and they work very hard. In addition to working on foreign policy, Ben Rhodes is also a speech writer. He is shown working on speeches for the president and others several times during the movie. A controversial profile in the New York Times Magazine that got Rhodes into hot water with the White House press corps is included in the film.Samantha Power, who is an author and has a background in journalism, said her goal as ambassador is to visit people in hot spots like Darfur and talk to those directly involved in conflicts. In the film, she is seen doing just that, and in some dangerous places, too.
Ben Rhodes, also with a background in writing, as well as political science, was won over by Barack Obama's keynote speech to the Democratic National Convention in 2004. He said he became determined soon after that to go to work for Obama. Rhodes and Power both worked for Obama's campaign before he became president.
The film mentioned that Rhodes played a key role the U.S. re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. The film also covers work by Kerry and others to complete the agreement with Iran regarding nuclear weapons, and the international climate accord. It also mentions an agreement with Columbia.
Greg Barker, the film's director, managed to get impressive, candid access to top Obama Administration officials in this film. Clearly, the most difficult decision faced by this group was how to handle the conflict in Syria. In the film, it appears that Kerry and Power favored military intervention, while Rhodes and Obama did not, and Obama won out. Obama has been widely criticized for failing to back up his “red line” warning on the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.
Rhodes says some things in the film that seem very prophetic. In one scene, talking about Russian planes attacking a United Nations food convoy, “The error we may have made is that (Vladimir) Putin doesn't seem to pursue Russia's national interests. He pursues Putin's interests.” He also said the world doesn't need more walls. What he said then seems hauntingly familiar now.
At the end of the film, Rhodes and Power are both clearly stunned when Donald Trump wins the election. They fully expected Hillary Clinton to win and to carry on the work they had begun. Following the election they are determined to actively resist Trump, but the election was clearly disheartening to them. Since the election, Trump has been busy dismantling as much of Obama's legacy as he can. That is the conclusion to this story, for now, at least. This film rates a B.
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