Susan Rice, the former Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) and national security adviser to President Obama, is reportedly on the shortlist of candidates to be Joe Biden’s running mate for the 2020 election in the United States.
Rice has served in government in various capacities under Democratic administrations going back to the early 1990s. According to those who support Rice’s selection as Biden’s potential vice president, this gives her the experience needed to make an immediate impact in the position.
Detractors, however, note that Rice was a controversial figure in President Obama’s administration, especially among Republicans who criticized her for her handling of the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attacks that killed four Americans, among other issues.
According to reports, Biden is planning to meet one-on-one with those he’s considering as a running mate this week, including Kamala Harris, Tammy Duckworth and Karen Bass, a US congresswoman from California’s 37th congressional district, which includes parts of Los Angeles.
Rice was born in Washington, DC in November 1964 to Emmit and Lois Rice. Emmit Rice worked at the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which is now called the World Bank, and later the Federal Reserve Board under President Jimmy Carter.
Lois Rice was a business executive and education adviser who was one of the leading advocates for the Pell Grant, a government-based grant that gives money to undergraduate students attending college.
After graduating as valedictorian at a private girls school in DC, Susan Rice went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in 1986 at Stanford University, where she studied history. She later earned a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford in the United Kingdom and graduated in 1990 with a Doctorate of Philosophy in International Relations.
Rice earned praise for her doctorate thesis, which looked at the transition from colonial rule in Rhodesia, an unrecognized state in southern Africa that now makes up present-day Zimbabwe.
Rise to government
After a short stint at the international consultancy firm McKinsey & Company, Rice’s first position in government came during the Clinton administration in 1993, where she was appointed as the Director for International Organizations and Peacekeeping at the National Security Council (NSC), the group of advisers and officials that advises the president on international affairs.
After another role at the NSC, in 1997 she was appointed to her first major position in US government as the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs, a role she held until the start of the George W. Bush administration in January 2001.
During her time at the NSC, Rice received criticism as having been a part of the Clinton administration’s policy of noninterference during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, where reports indicate some 800,000 Tutsis (an ethnic minority in the country) were killed.
As Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs, Rice helped oversee cease-fire agreements in the Congo and Peace Accords in Sierra Leone.
United Nations and national security adviser
While Rice was not in government during the eight years of the Bush administration, she was active in think tank and advisory roles. From 2002 to 2009 she was a senior adviser at the Brookings Institution, a leading US think tank and research organization.
When Barack Obama became president in January 2009, Rice found another opportunity to serve in government. Rice was Obama’s pick to serve as the US Ambassador to the UN, a role she held until 2013.
During her role as Ambassador to the UN, Rice was considered close to President Obama – the president having reinstated the ambassador’s role to a cabinet-level position after taking office – but she also garnered controversy in the position.
Rice received particular rebuke from Republican lawmakers for the Obama administration’s handling of the Benghazi terrorist attacks at US government facilities in Libya in 2012. At the time, then-US Senator John McCain remarked that Rice was not qualified for a higher position in government because of her mishandling and mischaracterization of the event.
Rice said that the attack at the US facility was not premeditated and that it was a spontaneous attack in response to a controversial movie released about the Prophet Muhammad that led to unrest in other cities across the Middle East.
The US State Department later contradicted Rice’s remarks, saying that her version of events were not in step with the US agency’s official conclusions.
As national security adviser, a post she held from 2013 to 2017, Rice was part of the team of administration officials in 2015 that helped reach an agreement with Iran over its nuclear weapons program.
She later criticized the Trump administration for pulling out of the accord, writing that “President Trump has ceded the moral high ground and freed Iran from all … constraints” and that Iran would likely resume its nuclear program now that it was scrapped.
While it’s still uncertain who Biden’s pick for vice president will be – the decision will reportedly come sometime at the beginning of August – Rice seems to be in a position of strength, albeit perhaps not the front-runner.
While supporters say Rice would be a strong choice due to her experience, foreign policy chops and established working relationship with Biden, detractors say that some of her past decisions have proven controversial and that she would not be a consensus pick or one that could potentially broaden Biden’s base of support among either progressives or conservatives.
Others say that Rice’s direct, sometimes confrontational style could be another drawback in the eyes of some voters and lawmakers.
“By all accounts, she is talented, capable and extremely abrasive,” said Washington Post political reporter Dana Milbank in 2012 as she was being vetted for the position of national security adviser.
“She’s very smart, very driven, not necessarily very diplomatic,” Milibank added.
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