AUGUSTA — Former ambassador and national security adviser Susan Rice will be in Portland on Thursday to discuss her role in the Obama administration’s diplomatic successes or failures, current world events and her family’s deep roots to Maine.

And while Rice won’t be on the ballot in Maine next year, she is keeping the door open to a future run one year after exciting some Democrats with a “spontaneous” tweet about challenging Sen. Susan Collins.

Susan Rice Photo © Christopher Patey

“I would not rule it out, absolutely,” Rice said Tuesday in an interview with the Portland Press Herald.

Rice is appearing at Port City Music Hall as part of a national tour to promote her new book, “Tough Love,” a memoir recounting her family history, upbringing and experiences as a black woman and mother who rose to senior posts in the federal government. Tickets are required for the 7 p.m. event.

The book also offers an inside look at Rice’s role in crafting U.S. diplomatic or military policy toward places such as Syria, Iran, Russia, Ukraine and China – all countries where Obama and Trump administration tactics have differed dramatically, sometimes with serious consequences.

Rice said her purpose in publishing the memoir, however, is to share candid insights on her years working in the State Department, as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and as Obama’s national security adviser.


“I really wasn’t trying to write a book to comment on current policy, and to a great extent it does not,” Rice said. “It’s a candid, pretty raw book in some places about my personal life, but also about my professional experiences. And I like to call the balls and strikes about where we succeeded and failed.”

For instance, Rice recounts the intense divide over how involved the U.S. should become in the Syrian civil war and how she disagreed with Obama’s decision to seek congressional authorization for military strikes after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on rebel communities.

But Rice is extremely critical of Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, opening the door for the Turkish government to launch military operations against Kurdish troops that were key allies in the fight against the Islamic State.

“My view is that is a strategic catastrophe for our ability to keep pressure on ISIS in that part of the world and our ability to bring partners with us” in the fight against ISIS, Rice said in an interview. “This partnership with the Kurds was the hallmark of Obama’s approach to counter-terrorism … and means we don’t have to put tens of thousands of ground forces into the fight (against ISIS) as we did in Afghanistan.”

Building such coalitions is “going to be harder than ever” after Trump’s treatment of the Kurds, Rice said.

In the book, Rice also recounts events that turned her into a Republican target on Capitol Hill and cost her the chance to replace Hillary Clinton as Obama’s secretary of state.


In September 2012, militants killed the U.S. ambassador and several American security guards during an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Days later, Rice appeared on several Sunday news talk shows and said that the attack appeared to result from protests that spiraled out of control rather than pre-planned assaults.

Those talking points supplied by the intelligence community turned out to be wrong, however, and congressional Republicans went after Rice in the ensuing weeks.

Among her vocal critics was Maine Sen. Susan Collins, then the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee that launched an investigation into the government’s handling of the Benghazi situation before and after the attacks.

After meeting privately with Rice for more than an hour, Collins said she continued “to be troubled that the U.N. ambassador decided to play what was essentially a political role at the height of a contentious presidential election campaign.” Collins’ statements were viewed as another significant blow against Rice and her prospects of becoming secretary of state without a bitter, partisan fight in the Senate.

Rice withdrew from consideration amid the firestorm, opening the door for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s non-controversial selection. Rice said Tuesday that she stood by that decision – which she stressed was “not because of any one senator” – rather than running the risk of becoming a political distraction at the beginning of Obama’s second term.

She would go on to become Obama’s top national security official until the end of his presidency. Today, Rice is a distinguished visiting research fellow at American University’s School of International Service and a nonresident senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.


The “Tough Love” title of her book, Rice said, is a reference to the lesson she learned from her parents that you “love fiercely but not uncritically.” Rice devotes a portion of her book to talking about her family, which has deep roots in Maine.

Her grandparents immigrated to Portland from Jamaica in 1912, working such jobs as janitor, shipper, maid and seamstress as they sought to save money and build lives in the city. All five of the couple’s children graduated from college, including Rice’s mother, Lois Dickson Rice, who was valedictorian and class president at Portland High School before attending Radcliffe College.

Her mother would go on to serve on the College Board, help bring about the Pell Grant program and serve on multiple corporate or nonprofit boards. Her father, Emmett Rice, was the second African American to hold a position as a governor in the Federal Reserve system.

Rice visits Maine regularly and still owns a family home in the state. So she sparked a brief media firestorm in political circles in Maine and Washington, D.C., last October when she suggested she might challenge Collins in 2020.

It all started with Rice’s one-word response – “Me” – to a tweet from a fellow former Obama administration official asking “who wants to run for Senate in Maine?” Collins had just delivered a lengthy Senate floor speech detailing her reasons for supporting Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination despite the sexual misconduct allegations against him.

“The initial tweet was rather spontaneous, I will confess, motivated by my frustration with her long-winded decision to support Brett Kavanaugh, which like many others I found to be very disappointing,” Rice said. “I did consider it very seriously, though, and did some homework and – most importantly – spent some quality time discussing it with my family.”

Ultimately, Rice decided she couldn’t uproot her high school-aged daughter and other family to move to Maine, especially after the years of long hours and travel during the Obama administration. But Rice isn’t ruling out a future Maine residency and political run.

“I recognize that Maine deserves senators who live there, and I do not live there full time,” Rice said. “I have a home and ties (to Maine) that go back 100 years, but I do not live there.”

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