Susan Elizabeth Rice (born November 17, 1964) is an American diplomat, Democratic policy advisor, and former public official, who served as the 27th United States ambassador to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013 and as the 24th United States national security advisor from 2013 to 2017.
Rice was born in Washington D.C., to education policy scholar Lois Rice (née Dickson), who helped design the federal Pell Grant subsidy system and who joined the Brookings Institution in 1992; and Emmett J. Rice (1919–2011), a Cornell University economics professor and the second black governor of the Federal Reserve System. Her maternal grandparents were Jamaican. Her parents divorced when Rice was ten years of age. In 1978, her mother married Alfred Bradley Fitt, an attorney, who at the time was general counsel of the U. S. Congressional Budget Office.
Rice was a three-letter varsity athlete, student government president, and valedictorian at National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C., a private girls' day school. She attended Stanford University, where she won a Truman Scholarship and graduated with a BA with honors in history in 1986. She was elected Phi Beta Kappa her junior year.
Rice attended New College, Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, where she earned a Master of Philosophy in 1988 and a Doctorate of Philosophy in 1990, both in International Relations. Her doctoral dissertation was entitled Commonwealth Initiative in Zimbabwe, 1979–1980: Implications for International Peacekeeping. Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, honored her dissertation as the UK's most distinguished in international relations.
Rice married Canadian-born former ABC News executive producer Ian Officer Cameron on September 12, 1992, at the St. Albans School chapel. They met as students at Stanford. The couple have two children: a daughter and son.
In the context of the Rwandan, Ugandan, AFDL and Angolan invasion of Zaire (later known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in 1996 and overthrow of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, Rice is alleged to have said that "Anything's better than Mobutu." 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 regional intervention in the conflict. New York Times correspondent Howard W. French said that according to his sources, Rice herself made the remark.
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. At a confirmation hearing chaired by Senator John Ashcroft, 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."
Timothy M. Carney, former U.S. ambassador to Sudan, co-authored an op-ed in 2002 claiming that in 1997 Sudan offered to turn over its intelligence on bin Laden but that Rice, together with then NSC terrorism specialist Richard A. Clarke, successfully lobbied for continuing to bar U.S. officials from engaging with the Khartoum government. Similar allegations were made by Vanity Fair contributing editor David Rose and Richard Miniter, author of Losing Bin Laden. The allegations against Rice were determined to be unfounded by the Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11 and the 9/11 Commission, which found no evidence that Sudan ever made an offer to share intelligence on bin Laden.
On July 7, 1998, Rice was a member of an American delegation to visit detained Nigerian president-elect Basorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola. During this meeting, Abiola suffered a fatal heart attack.
Rice supported U.S. efforts to reach both the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement in the Congo and the Lomé Peace Accord in Sierra Leone. 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. Rice played a major role in peace negotiations between Ethiopia and Eritrea during the Eritrean–Ethiopian War, leading to the Algiers Agreement in 2000 ending the conflict. For her efforts she was named a co-recipient of the White House's Samuel Nelson Drew Memorial Award for "distinguished contributions to the formation of peaceful, cooperative relationships between nations," alongside Gayle Smith and Anthony Lake.
Rice was inducted into Stanford's Black Alumni Hall of Fame in 2002. In 2017, Rice was presented with the award of Commander of the Legion of Honour of France, by French president François Hollande for her contributions to Franco-American relations.
Michael E. O'Hanlon and Ivo Daalder, two Brookings colleagues of Rice at the time, said that Rice consistently opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq in the run-up to the war. In 2012, columnist Peter Beinart reviewed a series of NPR interviews with Rice in late 2002 and early 2003 and concluded that Rice's position on war was equivocal; at some points, she expressed skepticism about U.S. military action, while at other points taking a more hawkish view. Beinart wrote that two of Rice's then-Brookings colleagues at the time were both unsure about her position on the war at the time. For example, in November 2002, Rice said, "many people who think that we haven't finished the war against al Qaeda and our ability to do these simultaneously is in doubt." In a December 2002 NPR interview, Rice said, "It's clear that Iraq poses a major threat. It's clear that its weapons of mass destruction need to be dealt with forcefully, and that's the path we're on. I think the question becomes whether we can keep the diplomatic balls in the air and not drop any, even as we move forward, as we must, on the military side. ... The George W. Bush administration frankly owes the American public a much fuller and more honest assessment of what the costs will be of the actual conflict, as well as the aftermath, the post-conflict reconstruction. And the costs are going to be huge." Rice endorsed the long-standing U.S. policy toward Iraq of regime change, but not necessarily through military means; regarding Rice's allusion to military action, O'Hanlon notes that "For the Clinton administration, they were typically airstrikes or cruise missile strikes of limited duration and effect, not invasions." In a February 2003 NPR interview, Rice said she believed Secretary of State Colin Powell "has proved that Iraq has these weapons and is hiding them, and I don't think many informed people doubted that," but also stated, "there are many who fear that going to war against Iraq may in fact in the short term make us less secure rather than more secure." In her memoir, Rice wrote, "From the start, I viewed that war of choice as a dangerous diversion from the main objective of defeating al-Qaida globally and in Afghanistan." In April 2003, after the war began, Rice said, "To maximize our likelihood of success, the US is going to have to remain committed to and focused on reconstruction and rehabilitation of Iraq for many years to come." Rice said that in the wake of chaos in Iraqi cities in the aftermath of the invasion, the U.S. should act urgently "to fill the security void" and then "transition as quickly as possible these law and order responsibilities to other competent international actors and, of course, ultimately to legitimate Iraqi authorities as quickly as possible."
On November 5, 2008, Rice was named to the advisory board of the Obama–Biden Transition Project.
On December 1, 2008, president-elect Obama announced that he would nominate Rice to be the United States ambassador to the United Nations, a position which he restored to cabinet level. Reportedly Rice had wanted the post of National Security Advisor, which instead went to retired United States Marine Corps general James L. Jones.
A former Brookings Institution fellow, Rice served as a foreign policy advisor to Democratic presidential nominees Michael Dukakis, John Kerry, and Barack Obama. Rice opposed the Iraq War, supporting Obama in the Democratic primaries due to his similar opposition. After Obama won the 2008 presidential election, Rice was nominated as Ambassador to the United Nations. The Senate confirmed her by unanimous consent on January 22, 2009. During her tenure at the United Nations, Rice championed a human rights and anti-poverty agenda, elevated climate change and LGBT and women's rights as global priorities, and committed the U.S. to agreements such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the U.N. Millennium Development Goals. She also defended Israel at the Security Council, pushed for tough sanctions against Iran and North Korea, and advocated for U.S. and NATO intervention in Libya in 2011.
At her confirmation hearing, Rice was introduced by Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who said "I can think of...no better messenger than Dr. Susan Rice. I am honored to present her to this distinguished committee, and I enthusiastically endorse her nomination." Rice was confirmed by the Senate by voice vote on January 22, 2009. Rice became the second youngest person and the first black woman to represent the U.S. at the UN.
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. 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."
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. 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."
As the 2011 Libyan Civil War progressed, the United States and its allies offered a choice for Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and his aides: step down from power or face an international response. Rice offered some of the toughest rhetoric toward Gaddafi, criticizing his denials of atrocities against his own citizens as "frankly, delusional." In a closed-door Security Council meeting in April 2011, Rice reportedly stated that Gaddafi loyalists engaged in atrocities, including terrorizing the population with sexual violence, and that Gaddafi's troops has been issued Viagra. Together with National Security Council figure Samantha Power, who already supported the U.S.-led military intervention in Libya, and Secretary of State Hillary 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.
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 denied the quote but acknowledged the mistakes made at the time and felt that a debt needed repaying. The inability or failure of the Clinton administration to do anything about the genocide would form her later views on possible military interventions. 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." Later in 2012, during an interview with The New Republic, Rice 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."
Mentioned as a possible replacement for retiring U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton in 2012, Rice withdrew from consideration following controversy related to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi. Rice served as National Security Advisor to President Barack Obama from 2013 to 2017. Rice helped with U.S. efforts on the Iran nuclear deal of 2015 and the Paris Agreement on climate change. Rice was on the shortlist to become Joe Biden's vice-presidential running mate in 2020; however, Kamala Harris was officially announced as Biden's running mate on August 11, 2020.
Three Security Council diplomats took issue with Rice's negotiating style, calling it "rude" and overly blunt, while others attributed those criticisms to sexism. According to David Rothkopf of Foreign Policy magazine, Rice could be challenging to work with due to her "toughness"—in the mold of James Baker or Henry Kissinger—but had the asset of a close relationship with the U.S. president and proved to be an effective policymaker. Some 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.
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." 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."
On September 11, 2012, a U.S. diplomatic facility 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, which stated:
A group of 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. 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. On December 13, 2012, in a letter to President Obama, Rice asked him to remove her name from consideration for Secretary of State, saying "if nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive, and costly—to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities.... Therefore, I respectfully request that you no longer consider my candidacy at this time."
After U.S. Senator Susan Collins from Maine voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Rice publicly considered challenging Collins in 2020, before announcing in April 2019 that she would not run for Senate. Collins, a crucial vote to confirm Rice’s possible nomination to become Secretary of State in 2013, said in November 2012 that she was “troubled by the fact that the UN ambassador decided to play what was essentially a political role at the height of a contentious presidential election...by agreeing to go on the Sunday shows to present the administration's position” days after the Benghazi attack. By the time of Collins’ remarks, it had been reported that Rice had recited CIA talking points on the Sunday shows, rather than White House or State Department talking points. At the time, the CIA was headed by David Petraeus, a former four-star general who was held in high regard by conservatives.
Rice was a long time supporter of South Sudanese independence, including of initial U.S. aid to the government of president Salva Kiir Mayardit. When the South Sudanese Civil War broke out in 2013 between President Kiir's forces and forces led by vice president Riek Machar, the U.S. continued its support for the Kiir administration despite reports from U.S. embassy staff of atrocities committed by the government. Rice ultimately joined calls for an arms embargo against South Sudan in 2016, but the measure failed to win passage at the UN Security Council.
Rice was picked to succeed Tom Donilon as National Security Advisor following Donilon's resignation on June 5, 2013. The position of National Security Advisor does not require Senate approval. Rice was sworn in as the 24th national security advisor on July 1, 2013.
In a trip to Cairo in early November 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry contradicted Susan Rice who had criticized the human rights violations in U.S.-aligned Egypt. Rice condemned Egypt's Rabaa massacre, which took place on August 14, 2013, when Egyptian security forces killed over 1000 people during the violent dispersal of mass anti-government sit-ins at Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda squares.
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 after 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. In July 2014, Rice expressed support for Israel's right to defend itself during the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict. She stated: "When countries single out Israel for unfair treatment at the UN, it isn't just a problem for Israel, it is a problem for all of us."
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.
Rice testified to 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. Rice's testimony appeared to allay the concerns of Republicans, with Committee member Mike Conaway stating, "She was a good witness, answered all our questions. I'm not aware of any reason to bring her back."
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 planned to work on her next book and mentoring young SIS students.
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. 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?" 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.
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."
On March 28, 2018, Rice was appointed to the board of directors at Netflix.
In July 2020, it was widely reported that Rice was under consideration to be Joe Biden's vice presidential running mate in the 2020 general election. However, Kamala Harris was selected as Biden's running mate on August 11, 2020.