By Ray McGovern
Ten days ago in “Why to Say No to Susan Rice,” I tried to delve beneath the political posturing to show that President Barack Obama would be making another avoidable personnel mistake if he nominates Susan Rice, presently U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, to be Secretary of State.
Yet, to avoid one more of these unforced personnel errors, Obama must overcome his pathological need to surround himself with advisers of thoroughbred Establishment pedigree. He might instead try the novel approach of picking someone possessing integrity and courage. Of course, that would disqualify pretty much everyone with Establishment pedigrees since very few individuals have displayed honorable qualities over the past few decades, spoken truth to power and kept their inside-the-Beltway credentials.
Integrity and courage in opposing such bloody misadventures as the invasion and occupation of Iraq would have cost you dearly in the corridors of Washington power and left you outside looking in for a “senior fellowship” at many of the most prestigious think tanks in the capital. Even center-left ones like the Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace sought to maintain their “credibility” in the last decade or so by recruiting war hawks (e.g. Michael O’Hanlon at Brookings and Robert Kagan at Carnegie).
For her part, Susan Rice could be a case study in how an ambitious foreign policy expert maneuvers within the boundaries of Washington’s permissible thought, no matter how wrongheaded the conventional wisdom might be. Through her careful positioning on Iraq and other war policies, she maintained her Establishment credentials but didn’t distinguish herself as a Profile in Courage. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Why to Say No to Susan Rice,”]
True, Rice is not alone in this craven behavior. If she were to become Secretary of State, she would be following the well-worn path of her immediate predecessors, the likes of Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, etc.
Hillary Clinton not only voted for the Iraq War a decade ago but keeps hyping the “threat” from Iran today. Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell were lead singers in the chorus of lies and deceptions that serenaded us into the Iraq invasion. Madeleine Albright famously judged that economic sanctions killings hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children were “worth it.” In scouring Susan Rice’s public record, it is hard to find examples of her publicly challenging these Establishment views no matter how misguided, immoral, criminal or dishonest.
Indeed, at no time in my 50 years in Washington has lying been more accepted as de rigueur, not just tolerated as some necessary evil but embraced as a prerequisite for ascending the ladder of success and “esteem.” When in recent years has shaving the truth or outright lying done real harm to the reputation of an American diplomat or Secretary of State?
Mark Twain’s old observation could be applied to this modern reality in spades. He described diplomacy as “the art of nearly deceiving all your friends, but not quite deceiving all your enemies.”
Yet, rather than challenging Susan Rice’s dubious record on the war in Iraq and other real tests of her judgment, Republicans have gone after Susan Rice for her recitation of inaccurate CIA “talking points” when she appeared on the Sunday talk shows after the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya. That assault left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.
Responding to the intense Republican criticism of Rice’s TV performance, Obama accused Republican senators of trying to “besmirch” Rice’s reputation. However, when it comes to Susan Rice, Republicans had no need to gin up a scandal about her clueless presentation on the Sunday talk shows.
She has done an excellent job of besmirching herself – by what she did and did not do – during her work in the White House and as Assistant Secretary of State for Africa under President Bill Clinton, during her sojourn in the private sector when George W. Bush was president, and at the U.N. under Obama.
Rice has an unenviable record, especially in what has been her specialty, African affairs. Like the secretaries of state she hopes to follow, Rice suffers from Compassion Deficit Disorder (CDD), especially it seems in places like Rwanda, Ethiopia and Congo.
After I was asked late Tuesday evening to appear early Wednesday on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now!, I felt a need to dig deeper into Rice’s record. A half-hour of Googling yielded the realization (surprise, surprise) that if one relies on the Establishment media, it is difficult to know much about the role she has played in very significant events – especially in U.S. policy toward Africa. I didn’t know the half of it.
Instead of critical examinations into her role as a reliable foot soldier in recent marches of folly, the mainstream media has mostly defended Susan Rice with her supporters jumping to the conclusion that her travails are the result of sexism and/or racism. Also afoot has been the proverbial “damning with faint praise.”
The Washington Post editorial section on Nov. 23 echoed President Obama’s claim nine days earlier that Rice “had nothing to do with Benghazi,” which might be true in the narrow sense regarding the events of last Sept. 11. The larger truth, however, is that by virtually all accounts she was in the forefront of those misguided policymakers advocating last year’s excellent adventure in Libya which has left chaos and a strengthened “affiliate” of al-Qaeda in its wake.
In a trivial but nonetheless instructive example of the Post’s determination to leave no stone unturned, the editors on Nov. 27 ran a letter of recommendation from Rice’s high-school history teacher at Washington’s elite National Cathedral School. The letter made it sound like Susan Rice were applying to Stanford all over again. The teacher, John Wood, gave her high marks for “superb essays” and excellent performance in an Advanced Placement course, and added that her “social skills” were exemplary.
Perhaps one of the Post’s purposes in publishing the letter was to allay fears that, at least in high school, she was inclined to flip the bird at those annoying her. Precisely this she is reported to have done – literally as well as figuratively – to the late Washington Establishment diplomatic fixture, Richard Holbrooke, well after her privileged education.
The story of her extended middle finger has been making the rounds again in recent weeks. Less known is her reported effort to keep Holbrooke out of Obama’s inner circle. According to an account widely circulating before Holbrooke’s death, Rice arranged a “peace breakfast” with Holbrooke, after which the highly touted diplomat gave her his private cell number and was crestfallen when she did not reciprocate. The don’t-call-me-we’ll-maybe-call-you brush-off was seen as a token of Rice’s determination to keep Holbrooke away from Obama, since she saw her own ambitions reflected in the ambitious Holbrooke and felt threatened.
Like Rice’s old history teacher, Obama laid it on a little too thick in publicly extolling her virtues on Dec. 14, insisting that Rice “has done exemplary work … with skill and professionalism, and toughness and grace.” All the more embarrassment for the President, should he deem a Senate confirmation game not worth the candle and decide to drop his apparent plan to nominate her for Secretary of State.
Rice and Africa
The more that comes to light about Susan Rice’s career, the harder it will be for the President, or anyone else, to carry the fight on her behalf. Even the Washington Post may eventually join the New York Times in spreading the kind of truth that puts huge dents into Rice’s Teflon armor. Last Sunday, the Times ran a damaging op-ed titled “Susan Rice and Africa’s Despots,” exposing how she has carried water for dictators in Africa.
Some Americans are already familiar with her caving in to President Clinton’s reluctance to label “genocide” the slaughter of 800,000 Rwandans in 1994. Less known is her coddling of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, who came into power in Rwanda after the massacre and has supported more violence across the border in Congo.
As Times reporter Helene Cooper noted Monday in “U.N. Ambassador Questioned on U.S. Role in Congo Violence,” more than three million people have died in Congo in more than a decade of fighting there. Rwandan President Kagame is widely regarded as the main culprit because of his support for a rebel group known as M23. Diplomats at the U.N. say Rice has taken the lead in trying to shield the Rwandan government and Kagame himself.
Cooper reports, for example, that France’s U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud met with Rice and their British counterpart two months ago to discuss Rwanda’s support for the M23 rebel group. According to a Western diplomat with knowledge of the meeting, Ambassador Rice strongly objected to Araud’s proposal for “naming and shaming” President Kagame and the Rwandan government and for considering sanctions to press Kagame to stop stoking the conflict in Congo.
Rice’s reply reportedly was dismissive. According to the diplomat quoted by Cooper in the Times, Rice replied: “Listen Gerard, this is the D. R. C. (Democratic Republic of the Congo). If it weren’t the M23 doing this, it would be some other group.” Yet, Ambassador Rice has continued to water down U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Rwanda’s support for M23.
Why so much violence in Congo? Since Congo is not in the news very much, it is easy to forget that what was once (1908 – 1960) the Belgian Congo is incredibly rich in natural resources (cobalt, copper, industrial diamonds, for example), while its 66 million citizens remain among the poorest in the world. The Congolese economy has been the antithesis of “trickle down.”
An account of what has been going on in Congo can be found in a piece titled “Kagame’s Hidden War in the Congo” by Columbia University Professor (and former New York Times correspondent) Howard French in the Sept. 24, 2009, issue of the New York Review of Books. French recently noted that Susan Rice has played an influential role in adding a new generation of dictators in Africa.
It also turns out that Rwandan President Paul Kagame was a major client of Susan Rice at the “security analysis” firm Intellibridge, where Rice was a Managing Director from 2001 to 2002. Intellibridge is noted for its jobs program for former Clinton administration officials, providing them with out-of-government employment. But this kind of work can also create a clear conflict-of-interest over the longer term. (Rice moved on to the Brookings Institution for the rest of Bush’s term.)
As ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar recently noted: “Consulting firms whose shingles feature former senior officials who recently left office are selling influence and access at least as much as they are selling expert advice. Relationships that are ones of advocacy, trust, and taking action on behalf of the client’s interests are not relationships that can be turned on and off like a light switch.”
The Children’s Future
I sit here Wednesday evening, having just snuggled and story-read the two youngest of our eight grandchildren into bed. As I left the two precious little girls, I found myself even more saddened and concerned for their future.
My thoughts turned to the Obama administration’s abnegation of responsibility at the recent U.N. conference on climate change in Doha and – more to the point here – the prospect that Obama may cave in to the corporations and banks expecting to reap huge profits from the Keystone XL pipeline.
And I found myself wondering if, 20 years from now, our two beautiful granddaughters will be forced to think long and hard about bringing new children into the world on a planet on life support. How painful to even think about the tortured decisions that await them! What overarching pain!
Hillary Clinton’s successor as Secretary of State will have a key role to play in decisions on the Keystone XL pipeline and other global environmental issues determining how soon the planet may run out of clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, arable land to raise crops, and dry land to live on.
In the pipeline issue, multi-millionaire Susan Rice has a substantial financial conflict of interest. According to the Washington Post, she and her Canadian husband, with net worth of between $24 million and $44 million, own substantial stock in each of three companies involved in projects to extract oil from Canada’s oil sands region. They also own a stake in the Canadian railway that runs to that region, as well as shares in Canadian banks said to be involved in financing the pipeline project.
Thus, should Rice follow Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, these investments in corporations and banks expecting to reap huge profits from the Keystone XL pipeline project pose a real (not apparent) conflict of interest.
This places in jeopardy the chance of a decent life for future generations and should ring alarm bells for those of us who care about the ability of our planet to support our children’s children. There has been no suggestion that Rice would divest from those companies; nor has she said she would recuse herself from the fateful decision on Keystone.
There is such a thing as “too late,” as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., warned us in relation to other social evils that our country belatedly mustered the energy and compassion to confront. Climate change, arguably, is an even more transcendent, all-embracing problem.
As was written centuries ago, “without vision the people perish.” Surely, President Obama can find an experienced, competent candidate with vision – as well as courage and integrity – someone not so deeply beholden to the One Percent and not afflicted with Compassion Deficit Disorder to nominate for Secretary of State.Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served as a CIA analyst for 27 years, during which he had ample opportunity for insight into the office of secretary of state and its daunting power for good or ill.