National Security Advisor: Who Is Susan Rice?
Thwarted in her bid to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State by Senate Republicans anxious to blame someone in the Obama administration for the tragic attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Susan Rice instead became the President’s National Security Advisor on July 1, 2013—a post that does not require Senate confirmation. She succeeded Tom Donilon, who served starting in January 2009.
Born November 17, 1964, in Washington, DC, to Emmett J. Rice, an economics professor at Cornell University who was the second black governor of the Federal Reserve System; and education scholar Lois (Dickson) Rice. After her parents divorced, Rice’s mother married attorney Albert B. Fitt, who served as general counsel of the Army from 1964 to 1967, assistant secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs from 1967 to 1969, and general counsel of the Congressional Budget Office from 1975 to 1992.
Nicknamed Spo (for “Sportin’”), Rice was a three-sport athlete, student council president, and valedictorian at National Cathedral School, the private girls’ school connected to St. Albans Boys School in Washington, DC. She worked as a page, intern and research assistant in the House of Representatives during high school and college. Rice has credited her parents for teaching her to “never use race as an excuse or advantage,” and as a child “dreamed of becoming the first U.S. senator from the District of Columbia.”
Rice earned a B.A. in History in 1986 at Stanford University, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa. A Rhodes Scholar, Rice earned an M.Phil in 1988 and a D.Phil. in 1990 in International Relations at New College, Oxford. Her doctoral dissertation, “The Commonwealth Initiative in Zimbabwe, 1979-1980: Implications for International Peacekeeping” won the Chatham House-British International Studies Association Prize for the most distinguished International Relations thesis written in the United Kingdom.
During the 1988 presidential election, Rice took time from her studies to work as a foreign policy aide to Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis. After formally receiving her doctorate in mid-1990, Rice worked at the Toronto office of McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, until early 1992.
From 1993 to 1995, Rice served as director for International Organizations and Peacekeeping on the National Security Council (NSC) staff—years that included the 1994 Rwandan Genocide that left more than 500,000 people dead. Reflecting her immaturity, the 30-year-old Rice reportedly said, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November election?”
Subsequently acknowledging the mistakes made during the genocide, Rice later said: “I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.” Eighteen years later, she would do exactly that, as she, NSC staffer Samantha Power, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would lead the faction within the Obama administration advocating action during Libya’s civil war. One end result was Benghazi.
From 1995 to 1997, Rice served as Special Assistant to President Bill Clinton and senior director for African Affairs at the NSC at the White House.
In 1997, Rice’s career got a big boost, as longtime family friend and mentor Secretary of State Madeleine Albright persuaded President Clinton to name Rice as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. As such, from 1997 to 2001, she was responsible for U.S. policy toward 48 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Although Rice faced some opposition from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who considered her a member of “Washington’s assimilationist black elite,” Rice easily won Senate confirmation.
After the 2000 election put Democrats out of power, Rice was managing director and principal at Intellibridge, a strategic analysis firm in Washington DC, from 2001 to 2002. Joining the Brookings Institution as a senior fellow, she focused on foreign policy, security threats, weak states, global poverty and development from 2002 to 2009.
During the 2004 presidential campaign, Rice served as a foreign policy adviser to Democratic nominee John Kerry.
Rice took leave from Brookings to serve as a senior foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama in his 2008 presidential campaign. One of the first high-profile foreign policy hands to join Obama’s campaign, after the election Rice was named to the advisory board of the Obama–Biden Transition Project and as co-chair of its policy working group on national security.
On December 1, 2008, Obama nominated Rice to be the permanent representative to the United Nations. Rice was the second youngest person and the first African-American woman to serve in the post. It was as U.N. envoy that Rice took a leading role, both in the U.N. Security Council and within the Obama administration, in the push to assist the rebels in Libya and topple President Muammar al-Gaddafi.
In the wake of the killings at the Benghazi consulate, Rice was criticized by Republicans for downplaying the possibility that the attack was premeditated and insisting it was the result of a spontaneous demonstration. Under intense political pressure shortly after the 2008 election, on December 13, 2012, Rice formally asked President Obama to remove her name from consideration for Secretary of State.
In a moral transgression that received much less attention than her statements about the Benghazi attack, in September 2012 Rice flew to Addis Ababa and gave a glowing eulogy for Ethiopian dictator Meles Zenawi that had human rights advocates wincing, at best. Rice has also been an enthusiastic supporter of Rwanda’s dictator, Paul Kagame, who was one of her clients when she worked for Intellibridge.
Rice serves or has served on the boards of several organizations, including the National Democratic Institute; U.S. Fund for UNICEF; Atlantic Council; Bureau of National Affairs, Inc.; Partnership for Public Service; Beauvoir National Cathedral Elementary School. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Aspen Strategy Group.
Rice married Canadian-born news producer Ian Officer Cameron, who used to be executive producer of ABC’s “'This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” in 1992 at the St. Albans School chapel. The couple met while both were students at Stanford, and have two children.
To Learn More:
Into Africa: She’s Young, She’s Impatient, She’s Blunt. Susan Rice is a Different Kind of Diplomat (by Martha Brant, Stanford Alumni)
Rice Family Enjoys a 'Fantastic Journey' (by Kelley Bouchard, Portland Press Herald)
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