Elections

Five More Things You Probably Didn’t Know about Susan Rice

Susan Rice speaks at a Center for American Progress conference in Washington, D.C., 2017. (Aaron Bernstein/Reuters)
Ineptitude is the theme that runs throughout her diplomatic and national-security career.

Joe Biden is reportedly considering Barack Obama’s former national-security adviser Susan Rice to be his running mate. National Review’s Jim Geraghty recently told us “20 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Susan Rice.”

I worked with Rice during the Clinton administration and have five more things the public needs to know.

1. Rice was obsessed with U.N. peacekeeping to solve world conflicts. Rice was a key architect of a disastrous Clinton-administration policy — Presidential Decision Directive 25. PDD-25, as the document was called, sought to implement “assertive multilateralism” to address all global conflicts with U.N. peacekeepers. This concept, the brainchild of Rice’s mentor Madeleine Albright, former ambassador to the United Nations, rested on the assumption that due to the end of the Cold War, the U.S. and U.N. peacekeepers could be used to address global conflicts instead of U.S. troops. PDD-25 was so radical that at one point an early draft advocated giving the U.N. the ability to tax international phone calls to pay for new peacekeeping missions. Assertive multilateralism was a spectacular failure since it led to the deployment of lightly armed, often poorly disciplined U.N. peacekeepers in war zones such as Bosnia, Haiti, Liberia, and Somalia, where many were killed or taken hostage.

2. Rice disliked hearing opposing views. As part of my duties as a CIA analyst covering U.N. issues, I briefed Susan Rice on classified and unclassified information related to her job. It was clear that she was not interested in — and objected to — hearing intelligence that contradicted her personal views. She and her NSC boss Richard Clarke were determined to ram through PDD-25 and tried to silence officers from other government agencies (including myself) who expressed skepticism about deploying U.N. peacekeepers to war zones and civil wars. Rice also made clear to me that she did not want to hear about U.N. waste and corruption. During the one occasion when I tried to brief her on an incident of serious U.N. corruption, she cut me off by saying, “Do you know how much a B-1 bomber costs?” Her point was she did not care how much money the U.N. wasted because she believed the U.S. government wasted more.

3. Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice did not get along because Rice refused to abide by the State Department’s chain of command. There were many reasons for tension between then–secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Rice, who at that time was U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Rice had been a close adviser to Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign, when Clinton ran against him. Obama gave Clinton the post of secretary of state, but the two were not close. Rice, on the other hand, received the plum job of ambassador to the U.N., maintained her close relationship with Obama, and was given cabinet rank equal to that of Clinton. Rice’s tendency to go around Clinton and the State bureaucracy to work directly with the White House caused considerable tension with the secretary of state and her staff. A State Department officer who worked with Rice in the 1990s told me that the relationship between Clinton and Rice and their staffs was “poisonous.”

While it’s easy to understand why anyone would have poisonous relations with Hillary Clinton, this high-stakes history raises questions as to whether Rice would assume the proper back-set role of a vice president under Joe Biden, or whether she would seek to usurp the mentally declining presidential nominee and use him as a Trojan horse to make herself de facto president in terms of foreign policy and national security.

4. Rice, not Clinton, took the fall for the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi because Clinton outsmarted her. One of the low points of Susan Rice’s career was when she appeared on five Sunday-morning talk shows on September 16, 2012, and made several inaccurate claims about the attack five days before on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and others. Rice’s disastrous conduct included making the widely discredited, false claim that the attack was in response to an obscure anti-Muslim video and was not a pre-planned act of jihadist terrorism intended to coincide with the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda attacks on the United States. Rice received so much criticism for these farcical interviews that they scuttled her bid to be nominated to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Geraghty quoted an unnamed Obama official who said Rice’s interviews were “dishonest and driven by ego.” From my own experience, I believe this was the case. It’s also important to note how unusual it was for the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. to do these sensitive interviews instead of the secretary of state. Clinton declined to respond when invited, almost certainly because she knew that such an interview was a hopeless assignment. She also did not warn Rice — effectively letting her rival walk into this media trap. Rice’s mother, Lois Dickson Rice, realized this before the interviews and told her daughter: “Why do you have to go on the shows? Where is Hillary? I smell a rat.”

Clinton’s outmaneuvering of the egotistical and intemperate Rice on the Benghazi interviews raises serious questions about how Rice would fare in dealing with wily and cunning U.S. adversaries such as Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un, especially since she could be running U.S. foreign policy as vice president with Biden’s mental decline.

5. Rice was a key player in the Clinton administration’s bungling of African conflicts and genocide. Geraghty recounts how Rice suggested during a teleconference that the U.S. government should not use the term “genocide” to describe the 1994 massacre of about 800,000 ethnic Tutsis in Rwanda because of the effect this term could have on the 1994 midterm election. I worked on related issues for the CIA at the time and remember the CIA being pressured not to call these killings genocide. While I don’t doubt that Rice made this argument, I remember other Clinton officials also said this at the time. Rice and other Clinton loyalists also prevented the U.N. from taking any action in Rwanda — contrary to what Rice would have argued in PDD-25 — because they feared it would play into the hands of congressional Republicans who had harshly criticized the Clinton administration’s series of U.N. peacekeeping fiascos.

Rice also has been accused of condoning an invasion of the Democratic Republic of Congo led by Rwanda and supported by Uganda in the late 1990s. In response to concerns about this intervention in Congo and reports of genocide, Howard W. French, a former correspondent for the New York Times, wrote that Rice said, “the only thing we have to do is look the other way.”

Geraghty wrote that Rice’s mishandling of Rwanda and Congo continued during the Obama administration, when she “softened the U.S. response to mass killings in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and [Rwandan President Paul] Kagame’s support of violent rebel forces.”

Although Rice later expressed regret over her poor judgment on the 1994 Rwanda genocide, she played a central role in two other major African humanitarian catastrophes. Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens wrote in 2012 that Rice tried to mediate a peace agreement in 1998 between Ethiopia and Eritrea, its former province. After she announced a final peace plan that Eritrea had not agreed to, the peace talks broke down and each country bombed the other’s capital. This was such a diplomatic disaster that Rice reportedly was summoned back to Washington and “put on probation” by a furious Secretary of State Albright. According to Stephens, “an estimated 100,000 people would perish in the war that Ms. Rice so ineptly failed to end.”

Rice also played a central role in an absurd and deadly peace plan in Sierra Leone that released a psychotic rebel leader named Foday Sankoh from prison and made him Sierra Leone’s vice president under the Lome Agreement of 1999. Sankoh’s rebel group, the RUF, which had a reputation for mass rapes and amputations, was given amnesty for all crimes. The agreement resulted in a catastrophe because Sankoh immediately began to reorganize his rebel force after he was released from prison and his fighters resumed killing and maiming civilians. The RUF refused to allow a U.N. peacekeeping force into rebel-held areas and took 500 peacekeepers hostage. The Clinton administration was afraid to resolve the disaster, so the U.N. turned to the United Kingdom, the former colonial power. British troops routed the RUF and arrested Sankoh. A fragile democracy was created in the country, and it endures today. Former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair is regarded as a hero in Sierra Leone for ousting Sankoh and his bloodthirsty thugs.

It is hard to imagine that any national-security official who played a role in just one of these humanitarian disasters would ever serve in government again. But Susan Rice is a Democrat and the mainstream media will never hold her accountable.

Rice’s career shows over 20 years of bad judgment and ill-informed policy positions that have damaged U.S. national security and contributed to humanitarian disasters and genocide.

Rice as vice president under a doddering President Biden could be a recipe for national-security chaos and disaster.

Fred Fleitz, president of the Center for Security Policy, served in 2018 as deputy assistant to the president and to the chief of staff of the National Security Council. He previously held national-security jobs with the CIA, the DIA, the Department of State, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. He is the editor of the 2020 book Defending against Biothreats.

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