November 22, 2012

Potential top diplomat stirs debate

The U.N. ambassador's possible nomination for secretary of state prompts criticism and praise.

By Colum Lynch, Foreign Policy

(Continued from page 1)

Susan Rice
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Susan Rice has supported U.S. military involvement, but not in Syria.

The Associated Press


U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice is the daughter of Lois Dickson Rice, a noteworthy Maine native who grew up on Portland's Munjoy Hill.

Susan Rice often visits Maine, where the family has a summer home in Lincolnville.

She has a bachelor's degree in history from Stanford University, and a master's degree and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University, which she attended on a Rhodes Scholarship.

Her father is Emmett J. Rice, a retired senior vice president at the National Bank of Washington and a former governor of the Federal Reserve. She and her husband, Ian Cameron, have two children.

Rice, who grew up in Washington, D.C., spoke at Portland's Martin Luther King Day breakfast in 2008. She noted the city's growing diversity and recalled seeing few black families when she visited her grandparents as a child.

"I never dreamed I'd see a room this diverse in Maine," she said.

Rice recalled that her grandparents, David and Mary Dickson, taught their children to work hard, strive for excellence and "never let race be an obstacle or an excuse."

David Dickson came to Portland from Jamaica in 1911, according to newspaper accounts. The next year, he got a job as a janitor at Cressey & Allen, a company on Congress Street that sold sheet music and instruments.

He married Mary Daly, also from Jamaica. She was named Maine State Mother of the Year in 1950.

On his janitor's salary, the Dicksons raised five children in Portland's Munjoy Hill neighborhood. The four eldest, all boys, graduated from Bowdoin College in Brunswick; two became physicians, one became an optometrist and one became a college president.

The youngest of the five, Rice's mother Lois, was valedictorian of Portland High School in 1950 and class president of Radcliffe College in 1954.

– From staff reports

In Libya, Rice emerged as a principal proponent of the NATO-led air campaign that toppled Moammar Gadhafi's government. But don't bet on Rice pressing for a U.S. invasion of Syria if she is appointed secretary of state.

As U.N. ambassador she has argued against U.S. military involvement in Syria, which possesses a far more powerful military, including the region's most sophisticated anti-aircraft systems and chemical weapons.


Sen. John F. Kerry, Rice's key rival for America's top diplomatic post, looks and bears himself like a mid-20th century movie star version of a U.S. secretary of state: he's tall, patrician and courtly. Rice is none of those things, but she stands a chance of further changing the nation's view of what an U.S. secretary of state looks and sounds like in the 21st century.

Rice, who had a privileged upbringing in Washington, appears comfortable in the role of a superpower envoy, forcing her will on America's less powerful friends and enemies. But she can also do gracious and charming, heading out first to the dance floor at a U.N. press ball.

Her default in the Security Council, though, is sharp-elbowed. Rice's colleagues have described her variously as the "bulldozer" and the "headmistress," a dominating personality who can exhibit great forcefulness in making her case. One Security Council ambassador said "her favorite word is bull(bleep)."


The Republicans have portrayed Rice as insufficiently supportive of Israel at the United Nations. This charge falls a bit flat when you consider the lengths to which Rice has gone to shield Israel from prosecution for war crimes for its conduct in the 2008-2009 war.

A Wikileaks cable details how Rice browbeat U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon into rejecting a proposal by his own envoy, Ian Martin, to open an investigation into crimes against humanity by both sides in the conflict.

Her action in defense of Israel has subjected her to intensive criticism from human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch.


The Republicans have Benghazi. Human rights advocates have the M23. A former U.S. assistant secretary of state under the Clinton administration, Rice has long-standing and close relations with many African leaders, notably President Paul Kagame, the Rwandan general who led the armed insurgency that ended the genocide in 1994.

Kagame's government has been a friend of Washington since, but it's also been the target of U.N. investigations claiming it carried out mass reprisal killings in Rwanda and neighboring Eastern Congo.

An independent panel, set up by the Security Council to monitor violations of a U.N. arms embargo in eastern Congo, concluded in a damning report this summer that the Rwanda military is sponsoring an armed mutiny, by a group calling itself M23, that is seeking to seize control of a huge swath of eastern Congo.


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