WASHINGTON — “The Final Year,” Greg Barker’s fly-on-the-wall documentary about the last year of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy team, takes on a much different meaning after 12 months of the Trump administration.
The project, opening in theaters this weekend, shows the successes of the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal and Cuban relations, but ends in the shock of the unexpected victory of Donald Trump. Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, is shown on election night, almost unable to put his reaction into words.
On the latest edition of Variety‘s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM, Rhodes says that the most difficult moments to watch in the movie are “the best experiences that we had, because those are the experiences that are clouded by the current moment, in some cases what we did is being reversed or rolled back or being messed with. Actually, the most normal thing to watch are the post-election pieces, because that’s what we live every day.”
He says that Obama, who he speaks to almost every day, is “serene as an individual. He takes an incredibly long view of history and his place in history and what he did. That is not to say he isn’t disappointed in certain things the current administration is doing, but he is able to foresee that not everything is as good as it looks on the best day in our government, and not everything is as bad as it looks on the worst day of the Trump administration.”
Rhodes also says that “there is a sense that the younger demographic is more aligned with what [Obama] did, and hopefully that is where the future is going to evolve.”
The movie also shows the disagreement among Obama’s team about what to do about the deteriorating situation in Syria, and the fleeting effort to forge a lasting cease-fire amid shifty moves by the Putin regime. Rhodes says that “you could watch [‘The Final Year’] and think, ‘Why did these people not do more in Syria?’ There are costs of inaction. There is this impossible place we ended up with the Russians. You can also watch it and think, ‘There are unintended consequences to going to war, and if we had gone into Syria, it could have been worse.'”
Barker says that as the year went on, “I came to think of [‘The Final Year’] as a band movie, a musical band that had been around for over a decade. They know they are breaking up. They are making their last album. There’s a ticking clock, and like any group of people who have been together for a decade, they have their disagreements.”
Rhodes also pushes back against a recent Politico story on how the Obama administration “derailed” a DEA campaign to combat drug trafficking linked to Iranian-backed Hezbollah, as the foreign policy team was trying to land an agreement with Tehran.
He thinks that the media has done a “very good job” of showing the sense of chaos at the Trump White House, but “the difficulty is balancing the reality show versus the real world consequences.”
“The story is at the EPA. The story is at the State Department. The story is the gutting of the U.S. government and the lack of core competence and the kind of ideological crippling of the U.S. government. That is a harder story to tell,” he says.
“PopPolitics,” hosted by Variety’s Ted Johnson, airs from 2-3 p.m. ET/11 a.m.-noon on SiriusXM’s political channel POTUS. It also is available on demand.