Susan Rice

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Susan Rice
Susan Rice official photo.jpg
24th United States National Security Advisor
In office
July 1, 2013 – January 20, 2017
PresidentBarack Obama
DeputyAvril Haines
Preceded byThomas E. Donilon
Succeeded byMichael Flynn
27th United States Ambassador to the United Nations
In office
January 26, 2009 – June 30, 2013
PresidentBarack Obama
DeputyBrooke Anderson
Rosemary DiCarlo
Preceded byZalmay Khalilzad
Succeeded bySamantha Power
12th Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
In office
October 14, 1997 – January 20, 2001
PresidentBill Clinton
Preceded byGeorge Moose
Succeeded byWalter H. Kansteiner III
Personal details
Susan Elizabeth Rice

(1964-11-17) November 17, 1964 (age 55)
Washington, D.C. U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Ian Cameron (m. 1992)
RelativesLois Dickinson (mother)
Emmett J. Rice (father)
EducationStanford University (BA)
New College, Oxford (MPhil, DPhil)

Susan Elizabeth Rice (born November 17, 1964) is a former American public official who served as the 24th U.S. National Security Advisor from 2013 to 2017. Rice was on the staff of the National Security Council and was the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during President Bill Clinton's second term. A Brookings Institution fellow, she served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013. The U.S. Senate confirmed her as ambassador by unanimous consent on January 22, 2009.

Mentioned as a possible replacement for retiring U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2012,[1][2] Rice withdrew from consideration following controversy related to the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, saying that if she were nominated, "the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive, and costly."[3] She succeeded Tom Donilon as National Security Advisor on July 1, 2013.

Early life and education

Rice was born in Washington, D.C.,[4] to Emmett J. Rice (1919–2011), a Cornell University economics professor and the second black governor of the Federal Reserve System,[4] and education policy scholar Lois Rice (née Dickson), who helped design the federal Pell Grant subsidy system and who joined the Brookings Institution in 1992.[5] Her maternal grandparents were Jamaican.[6] Her parents divorced when Rice was ten years of age.[7]

Rice was an athlete, student council president, and valedictorian at National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C., a private girls' day school.[8] She attended Stanford University, where she received a Truman Scholarship and graduated with a BA in history in 1986. She was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.[9][10][11]

Awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, Rice attended New College, Oxford, where she earned a Master of Philosophy in 1988 and a Doctorate of Philosophy in 1990, both in International Relations.[11] Her doctoral dissertation was entitled Commonwealth Initiative in Zimbabwe, 1979–1980: Implication for International Peacekeeping. Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, honored her dissertation as the UK's most distinguished in international relations.[4][12]

Rice was a foreign policy aide to Michael Dukakis during the 1988 presidential election. She was a management consultant at McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, from 1990 to early 1992. Rice worked in McKinsey's Toronto office for a time.[13]

Rice said that her parents taught her to "never use race as an excuse or advantage", and as a young girl she "dreamed of becoming the first U.S. senator from the District of Columbia".[4]

Clinton administration

Rice served in the Clinton administration in various capacities: at the National Security Council (NSC) from 1993 to 1997; as director for international organizations and peacekeeping from 1993 to 1995; and as special assistant to the president and senior director for African affairs from 1995 to 1997.

At the time of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Rice reportedly said, "If we use the word 'genocide' and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November election?" She subsequently acknowledged the mistakes made at the time and felt that a debt needed repaying.[14] The inability or failure of the Clinton administration to do anything about the genocide would form her later views on possible military interventions.[15] She said of the experience: "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."[16] Later in 2012, during an interview with the “New Republic”, stated "To suggest that I’m repenting for [Rwanda] or that I’m haunted by that or that I don't sleep at night because of that or that every policy I've implemented subsequently is driven by that is garbage", when she told the magazine's reporter.[17]

Islamists took control in Sudan in a 1989 coup d'état and the United States adopted a policy of disengagement with the authoritarian regime throughout the 1990s. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, however, some critics charged that the U.S. should have moderated its policy toward Sudan earlier, since the influence of Islamists there waned in the second half of 1990s and Sudanese officials began to indicate an interest in accommodating U.S. concerns with respect to 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, who had been living in Sudan until he was expelled in May 1996. Timothy M. Carney, U.S. ambassador to Sudan between September 1995 and November 1997, co-authored an op-ed in 2002 claiming that in 1997 Sudan offered to turn over its intelligence on bin Laden but that Rice, as NSC Africa specialist, together with then NSC terrorism specialist Richard A. Clarke, successfully lobbied for continuing to bar U.S. officials, including the CIA and FBI, from engaging with the Khartoum government.[18] Similar allegations (that Rice joined others in missing an opportunity to cooperate with Sudan on counterterrorism) were made by Vanity Fair contributing editor David Rose[19] and Richard Miniter, author of Losing Bin Laden.[20]

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a longtime mentor and family friend to Rice, urged Clinton to appoint Rice as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in 1997.[4] Rice was not the first choice of Congressional Black Caucus leaders, who considered her a member of "Washington's assimilationist black elite".[4] At a confirmation hearing chaired by Senator Jesse Helms, Rice, who attended the hearing along with her infant son whom she was then nursing, made a great impression on senators from both parties and "sailed through the confirmation process".[4]

Rice supported the Rwandan, Ugandan, AFDL and Angolan invasion of Zaire (later known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo) from Rwanda in 1996 and overthrow of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, saying privately that "Anything's better than Mobutu."[21] According to Gérard Prunier, a staffer to the Assistant Secretary said that "the only thing we have to do is look the other way", with respect to Rwanda's continued intervention.[22] New York Times correspondent Howard W. French said that according to his sources, Rice herself made the remark.[23] The Congo Wars spearheaded by Rwanda led to over five million deaths. In 2012, when serving as UN ambassador, Rice opposed efforts to publicly censure Rwandan President Paul Kagame for again supporting a Congolese rebel group, this time in the 2012 Congo conflict, despite the sacking of the regional capital of Goma. The Rwandan government was a client when Rice worked at Intellibridge in 2001–02.[24]

On July 7, 1998, Rice was a member of an American delegation to visit detained Nigerian president-elect Basorun M. K. O. Abiola. During this meeting, Abiola suffered a fatal heart attack.[25]

Although Rice supported the Lomé Peace Accord,[26] some observers criticized the Sierra Leone agreement as too indulgent of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and for bringing the war criminal Foday Sankoh into government, leading to the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1313, which blamed the RUF for the continuing conflict in the west African country.[27]

Business and think tank activities

Susan E. Rice (middle) at the USCIRF hearings (November 27, 2001)

Rice was managing director and principal at Intellibridge from 2001 to 2002.[28][29] In 2002, she joined the Brookings Institution as senior fellow in the foreign policy program. At Brookings, she focused on U.S. foreign policy, weak and failing states, the implications of global poverty, and transnational threats to security.

During the 2004 presidential campaign, Rice served as a foreign policy adviser to John Kerry.[30]

Rice went on leave from the Brookings Institution to serve as a senior foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama in his 2008 presidential campaign. She was one of the first high-profile foreign policy staffers to sign onto Obama's campaign, as most of her peers had supported Hillary Clinton during the presidential primaries.[31] Rice took a disparaging view of Obama's Republican opponent in the campaign, John McCain, calling his policies "reckless" and dismissing the Arizona senator's trip to Iraq as "strolling around the market in a flak jacket".[32]

On November 5, 2008, Rice was named to the advisory board of the Obama–Biden Transition Project.[33]

Obama administration

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

Rice with Barack Obama and Joe Biden, December 2008

On December 1, 2008, Rice was nominated by president-elect Obama to be the United States Ambassador to the United Nations,[34][35] a position which he restored to cabinet level.[36] Rice became the second youngest person[36] and the first African American woman to represent the U.S. at the UN.[37] Reportedly Rice had coveted the post of National Security Advisor, which instead went to retired United States Marine Corps General, James L. Jones, and she and most of Obama's original foreign policy team were disappointed that they were not picked for the top posts in Obama's administration.[31]

Rice attends a briefing on Afghanistan in the Situation Room of the White House, October 2009
Rice's ambassador photo

Rice had a poor relationship with State Department veteran Richard Holbrooke, whom she considered to be meddling on her turf and who in return had viewed her as incompetent.[31]

The 2010 National Security Strategy was referred to by Rice as a "dramatic departure" from its predecessor.[38]

Libyan Civil War

As the 2011 Libyan Civil War progressed, Rice made clear that the United States and its allies offered a clear choice for Gaddafi and his aides: step down from power or face an international response. Rice offered some of the toughest rhetoric toward Gaddafi, blasting his denials of atrocities against his own citizens as "frankly, delusional". Several UN diplomats said that in a closed door meeting on April 28, Rice's claims of Gaddafi's atrocities included the issuance of Viagra to loyalists in order to further terrorize the population with sexual violence.[39][40] Together with National Security Council figure Samantha Power, who already supported military intervention, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who came to support it, the three overcame internal opposition from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, security adviser Thomas E. Donilon, and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, to have the administration advance a UN proposal to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and authorize other military actions as necessary.[15][41] On March 17, 2011, the UK, France and Lebanon joined the U.S. to vote for United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 while Brazil, Germany, and India joined permanent Security Council members China and Russia in abstaining. Rice and Clinton played major roles in gaining approval for the resolution.[15][42] Clinton said the same day that establishing a no-fly zone over Libya would require the bombing of air defenses. Rice said, "we are interested in a broad range of actions that will effectively protect civilians and increase the pressure on the Gaddafi regime to halt the killing and to allow the Libyan people to express themselves in their aspirations for the future freely and peacefully".[43]

In January 2012, after the Russian and Chinese veto of another Security Council resolution calling on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, Rice strongly condemned both countries, saying, "They put a stake in the heart of efforts to resolve this conflict peacefully", and adding that "we the United States are standing with the people of Syria. Russia and China are obviously with Assad".[44] In her words, "the United States is disgusted that a couple of members of this Council continue to prevent us from fulfilling our sole purpose".[45]

Three male Security Council diplomats took issue with Rice's negotiating style, calling it "rude" and overly blunt. According to David Rothkopf of Foreign Policy magazine, Rice can be challenging to work with due to her "tough manner"—in the mold of James Baker or Henry Kissinger—but has the asset of a close relationship with the U.S. president. Human rights activists took issue with Rice and U.S. foreign policy generally in 2012 for working against UN statements that criticized Rwanda for supporting a rebel group in Congo known for committing atrocities.[46]

2012 Benghazi attack

On September 11, 2012, the U.S. diplomatic mission and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya was attacked, resulting in the deaths of the United States Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith, and two former Navy SEALS, Glen Doherty and Tyrone S. Woods. On September 16, Rice appeared on five major interview shows to discuss the attacks. Prior to her appearance, Rice was provided with "talking points" from a CIA memo,[47] which stated:

The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.

This assessment may change as additional information is collected and analyzed and as currently available information continues to be evaluated.

The investigation is ongoing, and the U.S. government is working with Libyan authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of U.S. citizens.[48]

Using these talking points as a guide, Rice stated:

Based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy—sparked by this hateful video. But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that— in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent. We do not—we do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned. I think it's clear that there were extremist elements that joined in and escalated the violence. Whether they were al Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al Qaeda itself I think is one of the things we'll have to determine.[49][50][51][52][53]

Since Rice's five television appearances, there have been persistent accusations that she had intentionally misled the public. However, none of the ten Benghazi investigations determined she had. The Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee's two-year investigation "did not conclude that Rice or any other government official acted in bad faith or intentionally misled the American people. "In the immediate aftermath of the attack, intelligence about who carried it out and why was contradictory, the report found. That led Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to inaccurately assert that the attack had evolved from a protest, when in fact there had been no protest".[54]

97 House Republicans sent a letter to President Obama on November 19 to say Rice's statements were "misleading" and that she should accordingly not be considered a candidate to succeed Hillary Clinton in 2013 as Secretary of State.[55] Some Republican Senators, who would have had a vote on whether to confirm Rice, also voiced objections and said their meetings with Rice at the end of November 2012 did not ease their concerns.[56][57][58] On December 13, 2012, in a letter to President Obama, Rice asked him to remove her name from consideration for Secretary of State.[3]

National Security Advisor

President Barack Obama talks with Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, Colin Kahl, National Security Advisor to the Vice President, and National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice outside the West Wing of the White House, July 15, 2015.

Rice was picked to succeed Tom Donilon as National Security Advisor immediately following Donilon's resignation on June 5, 2013.[59] The position of National Security Advisor does not require Senate approval.[60] Rice was sworn in as the 24th National Security Advisor on July 1, 2013.[61]

In May 2014, Rice traveled to Israel for meetings with Israeli officials in which nuclear talks with Iran were discussed. Rice's visit, the first in her role as national security adviser, came as peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed. The Obama administration made clear that Rice's trip was part of regularly scheduled talks and that the stalled Middle East peace discussions were not on the agenda. However, White House Spokesman Jay Carney said negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program would be on the agenda, among other topics.[62]

Rice has been criticized for intensifying the Obama administration's conflicts with Israel during her time as National Security Advisor. Dennis Ross, a Middle East advisor to President Obama, criticized Rice's "combative mind-set" as opposed to her predecessor's, Tom Donilon, who played a more conciliatory role. Ross writes that after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's public reprimand of the Obama administration's Iran negotiations, Rice fumed to Abe Foxman that, "in her view, the Israeli leader did everything but use 'the N-word' in describing the president".[63][64]

Rice and President Obama meet with Saudi Arabia's Minister of the National Guard, Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, November 19, 2014

In releasing the 2015 National Security Strategy, Rice said that the United States was pursuing an "ambitious yet achievable agenda" overseas. She argued that U.S. leadership had been essential for success on issues including Ebola, Iran's nuclear program and sanctioning Russia over Ukraine. Her comments came as President Obama sent his national security strategy to Congress.[citation needed] The document formed a blueprint for foreign policy, defense and national security for the last two years of President Obama's term. It had previously been updated in 2010. In a letter outlining the strategy, President Obama said that the U.S. would "always defend our interests and uphold our commitments to allies and partners", adding, "But we have to make hard choices among many competing priorities and we must always resist the overreach that comes when we make decisions based upon fear."[65]

On a visit to Pakistan in 2015, Rice warned Pakistani political and military leaders that attacks in Afghanistan by militants based in Pakistan threatened regional security. Rice also delivered an invitation from President Obama for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to visit the United States in October. The meetings came at a tense time for Pakistan's relations with neighboring Afghanistan and archrival India, along with uncertainty over whether the United States would release $300 million in military aid to Pakistan. Media reports suggested the money could be held back if the United States determined Pakistan was not doing enough to combat the Haqqani network, accused of some of the deadliest attacks in neighboring Afghanistan.[66]

In a 2015 speech on U.S.–China relations, Rice noted the problems of Chinese hacking, saying, "This is not a mild irritation. It is an economic and national security concern to the United States. It puts enormous strain on our bilateral relationship, and it is a critical factor in determining the future trajectory of U.S.–China ties."[67]

Post-Obama administration

Rice at the LBJ Presidential Library in 2019

On April 3, 2017, Eli Lake reported in Bloomberg View that as National Security Advisor, Rice had requested that the identities of some Americans mentioned in intelligence reports related to the campaign and presidential transition of Donald Trump be unmasked.[68] Any request for an American's identity to be unmasked required approval by the National Security Agency; NSA Director Michael Rogers said the NSA evaluated each request to determine "Is there a valid need to know in the course of the execution of their official duties?" and "Is the identification necessary to truly understand the context of the intelligence value that the report is designed to generate?"[69] Rice said that she asked for identities of U.S. persons to be revealed to provide context to the intelligence reports, and not for political purposes.[70][71]

The report of Rice unmasking Trump officials followed the announcement of the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Devin Nunes, "that he had seen reports indicating that Mr. Trump or his associates might have been 'incidentally' swept up in the monitoring of foreigners".[71] The Committee was investigating both Trump's ties to Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election and Trump's unfounded allegations that President Obama had Trump Tower under surveillance.[68] Lake's April 3 report of the unmasking specified "Rice's requests to unmask the names of Trump transition officials do not vindicate Trump's own tweets from March 4 in which he accused Obama of illegally tapping Trump Tower."[68] Nevertheless, Republicans called for an investigation into the unmasking while Democrats claimed the unmasking story was a diversion from the Russian influence investigation.[71]

After members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees were able to view the material on which Nunes based his assertions, a number of news organizations reported that both Democrats and Republicans familiar with the material said that there was "no evidence that Obama administration officials did anything unusual or illegal".[72][73][74] The report also called Rice's unmasking requests "normal and appropriate".[72]

In August 2017, Eli Lake reported in Bloomberg View that Rice's successor as National Security Adviser, H. R. McMaster, "has concluded that Rice did nothing wrong".[75]

Rice informed the House Intelligence Committee in September 2017 that she requested the unmasking because of a redacted report provided by the intelligence services concerning an undisclosed visit to the United States by United Arab Emirates crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in December 2016. During the visit al-Nahyan met with Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn and Jared Kushner at Trump Tower in New York.[76]

On March 8, 2017, Rice joined American University as a Distinguished Visiting Research Fellow in the School of International Service (SIS) at the university. In her residency she plans to work on her next book and mentoring young SIS students.[77]

On March 28, 2018, Rice was appointed to the board of directors at Netflix.[78]

After U.S. Senator Susan Collins from Maine voted in favor of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, Rice publicly considered a challenge to Collins in 2020.[79][80] However, on April 11, 2018, Rice announced that she would not seek a Senate run against Collins in 2020.


Rice (next to column behind President Obama) at Nelson Mandela's funeral in South Africa, December 2013

Rice serves on the boards of several organizations, including the advisory board of Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University,[81] the board of directors of the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (Bloomberg BNA),[82] and the board of directors of Partnership for Public Service.[83] She is a past member of the boards of directors of the National Democratic Institute, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF,[28] the Atlantic Council[84] and Internews Network.[85][86] She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Aspen Strategy Group.[87][88]

Personal life

Rice married Canadian-born ABC News producer Ian Officer Cameron[89] on September 12, 1992, at the St. Albans School chapel.[13] They met as students at Stanford.[90] They have two children, son John David Rice-Cameron (known as Jake and president of the Stanford College Republicans or SCR) and daughter Maris.[9][11][83][91]

Rice is an avid tennis player, often playing on weekends.[92]

Awards and honors

Rice was inducted into Stanford's Black Alumni Hall of Fame in 2002.[12]


  • Rice, Susan Elizabeth. 1990. The Commonwealth Initiative in Zimbabwe, 1979–1980: Implications for International Peacekeeping, doctoral thesis, New College, Oxford University.
  • Rice, Susan. 2019. Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For, memoir, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY[93]


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External links

Political offices
Preceded by
George Moose
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
Succeeded by
Walter Kansteiner
Preceded by
Tom Donilon
National Security Advisor
Succeeded by
Mike Flynn
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Zalmay Khalilzad
United States Ambassador to the United Nations
Succeeded by
Rosemary DiCarlo
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