Susan Rice: The foreign policy expert whose role in Benghazi attacks may come back to haunt Biden campaign

She was ambassador to the United Nations when four US citizens died in attacks in Libya

Danielle Zoellner
New York
Tuesday 11 August 2020 19:14 BST
Obama's former security adviser Susan Rice says she would say 'yes' to being Biden's running mate

Susan Rice, the potential Democratic pick for vice president, is considered one of the country’s leading experts on foreign policy. But while her experience will count in her favour, it will also give Republicans a clear plan of attack leading up to the election in November.

The foreign policy expert was nominated as the ambassador of the United Nations by President Barack Obama, a nomination the Senate at the time unanimously confirmed.

But her time as ambassador of the United Nations – from 2009 to 2013 – and then later national security adviser to Mr Obama, until 2017, has been called into question by Republicans – specifically her role in the Benghazi attacks.

US posts in Benghazi, Libya, were attacked in September 2012, resulting in the deaths of four US citizens, including Ambassador J Christopher Stevens.

Following the attack, which was coordinated by members of the Islamic militant group Ansar al-Sharia, Ms Rice made multiple television interviews stating the attack was “spontaneously inspired” by violent protests in Cairo, Egypt. Ms Rice later said she made that statement based on American intelligence at the time.

In her book entitled Tough Love, which was published last year, Ms Rice, 55, expressed regret over appearing on television following the attacks ahead of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.

“I do believe that Hillary Clinton and Tom Donilon appreciated what I did not: The first person to tell the public about a highly political tragedy was likely to pay a price,” she wrote.

Republicans said Ms Rice intentionally misled the public at the time, but none of the 10 investigations launched into the attack have found that any member of the Obama administration behaved improperly.

A string of accusations followed Ms Rice after Benghazi, leading her to remove herself from consideration to succeed Clinton as secretary of state. But it still encouraged Mr Obama to appoint her as his national security adviser.

During her time in the White House, Ms Rice formed a strong working relationship with then-Vice President Joe Biden, who she said would often stop by her office to discuss topics ranging from foreign policy to personal matters.

“My favourite unannounced visitor was Vice President Joe Biden,” Ms Rice wrote in Tough Love.

Together, they worked on the Iran nuclear deal of 2015 – since rescinded by Donald Trump – with other members of the Obama administration. Ms Rice also helped the US with its efforts in the Paris climate agreement, which Mr Trump has also since pulled the country out of during his presidency.

Mr Biden consistently said throughout his hunt for a running mate that he was looking for someone he had a close personal relationship with, similar to that he shared with President Obama. The relationship he formed with Ms Rice while they were both part of the Obama administration helped propel her to the top of his list.

But Ms Rice is currently the target of not one, but two investigations in Congress. Although neither has yet yielded proof of wrongdoing on the part of the foreign policy expert, becoming Mr Biden’s vice president nomination would only ramp up attacks from Republicans and resurface Benghazi accusations.

Another source of Republican scrutiny comes from an email Ms Rice sent herself in the final days with the Obama administration, which detailed an Oval Office meeting several weeks earlier with Mr Biden, Mr Obama, and then-FBI Director James Comey. During the meeting, they expressed concerns over Michael Flynn’s contact with Russians in the weeks before the former general was due to take up the role of national security adviser for Mr Trump.

Mr Trump and allies have insisted the email shows proof of the Obama administration attempting to frame Mr Flynn, but thus far the idea has only remained a conspiracy theory, entitled “Obamagate” by the sitting president, instead of showing any proof of collusion.

“It doesn’t matter if what the Republicans are accusing her of is bulls**t. What matters is people turning on Fox News every day and seeing ‘Susan Rice’ and ‘corruption’ and ‘Obamagate’ down at the bottom of the screen,” one veteran Democratic campaign strategist previously told The Independent.

Ms Rice married Canadian-born former ABC News executive producer Ian Officer Cameron in 1992 after the couple met as students at Stanford University. They have two children together: one daughter and one son.

Her son, John David Rice-Cameron, followed in his parents’ footsteps by attending Stanford University. But his path in politics has differed, as he became the president of the Stanford College Republicans and hosted events like “Make Stanford Great Again”.

“I have a 23-year-old son whom I love dearly, whose politics are very, very different from my own and from the rest of our family,” Ms Rice told NPR. “My son and I will have some robust disagreements over some matters of policy, not all. And yet, at the end of the day, you know, I love him dearly, and he loves me.”

Ms Rice found herself among high-profile Democrats within the Obama administration after first wanting to be a US senator as a young child.

But she discovered while growing up in Washington DC that her hometown lacked representatives in Congress as it was not deemed a state in the US – a determination that could change in the coming years.

Instead she garnered a deep resume in foreign policy although she has never held an elected position, a quality that first made her a surprise choice for consideration as a running mate for Mr Biden.

After graduating with a degree in history at Stanford University and then becoming a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University aged 21, Ms Rice joined the Bill Clinton administration.

She first served on President Clinton’s National Security Council for four years between 1993 and 1997 before moving to the State Department until 2001 as the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

Although Ms Rice had long supported the Clinton family, she instead put her endorsement behind President Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election when he was running against Hillary Clinton, landing her in high regard with Mr Obama once he was elected.

Her reasoning came down to how Mr Obama was always a staunch opponent of the Iraq War while then-Senator Hillary Clinton supported sending troops. Ms Clinton would later express her regret for making that vote.

Prior to talks about Ms Rice being Mr Biden’s chosen running mate, the former Obama administration adviser indicated she might run against Susan Collins, a Republican of Maine, in the US Senate race come 2020 – an announcement that would honour her childhood dream. Six months after showing interest in the race, Ms Rice decided not to run.

Choosing to not run could work in her favour as she might now be the first black woman to run for vice president on a major party ticket. If she and Mr Biden were to win against the Trump/Pence ticket, Ms Rice would become the first woman and first person of colour to hold the position of vice president, with the opportunity to propel her political career for years to come.

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