Susan Rice

Susan Rice Biography.com

Diplomat(1964–)
Susan Rice served on President Barack Obama's Cabinet as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and as national security adviser.

Synopsis

Susan E. Rice was born on November 17, 1964, in Washington, D.C. She went on to study at Stanford University and the University of Oxford in Oxfordshire with a focus on international affairs. She worked with President Bill Clinton as part of the National Security Council and oversaw African affairs, later working at the Brookings Institution. In 2009, Rice joined President Barack Obama's Cabinet, receiving Senate confirmation to be U.N. ambassador. Later, she served as the national security adviser for the second term of the Obama administration. 

Early Life

U.N. Ambassador and foreign policy adviser Susan Elizabeth Rice was born in Washington, D.C., on November 17, 1964, to parents Lois Dickson Fitt and Emmett J. Rice. Rice's family is well renowned among the Washington elite; father, Emmett, is a Cornell University economics professor and former governor of the Federal Reserve System, while mother Lois is an education policy researcher and guest scholar at the Brookings Institution.

Growing up, Rice's family often spoke of politics and foreign policy at the dinner table. Her mother's job also brought notable figures through the house, including Madeleine Albright, with whom Rice's mother served on a local school board. Albright would later become a pivotal figure in Rice's personal and professional life.

Rice attended National Cathedral School, a prep academy in Washington, D.C. She excelled in academics, becoming her class valedictorian, and showed her aptitude in the political realm as president of the student council. She also loved athletics, competing in three different sports, and became a star point guard on the basketball team.

After graduation, Rice attended Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. In college, she pushed herself to excel. She not only earned Departmental Honors and University Distinction, but also became a Harry S. Truman scholar, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and earned a Rhodes scholarship. She turned the heads of top administrators when she created a fund that withheld alumni donations until the university either stopped their investments in companies doing business in South Africa, or the country ended apartheid.

Interest in Diplomacy

After receiving her bachelor's degree in history in 1986, Susan Rice went on to attend University of Oxford in Oxfordshire, England. Here, she earned her M.Phil and D.Phil in international relations, and wrote a dissertation that examined Rhodesia's transition from white rule. Her paper won the Royal Commonwealth Society's Walter Frewen Lord Prize for outstanding research in the field of Commonwealth History, as well as the Chatham House-British International Studies Association Prize for the most distinguished doctoral dissertation in the United Kingdom in the field of International Relations.

She finished her schooling in 1990, and started work as an international management consultant at McKinsey & Company in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. On September 12, 1992, she married her Stanford romantic interest, Ian Cameron, who was working as a television producer in Toronto for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The couple lived in Canada until 1993, when Rice took a job with the National Security Council in Washington, D.C., under President Clinton.

Rice began work as the director of international organizations and peacekeeping for the NSC, where she had what she calls her "most searing experience" when she visited Rwanda during what was later classified as a genocide. "I saw hundreds, if not thousands, of decomposing corpses outside and inside a church," she said. "It was the most horrible thing I've ever seen. It makes you mad. It makes you determined. It makes you know that even if you're the last lone voice and you believe you're right, it is worth every bit of energy you can throw into it." She took the lessons learned from her peacekeeping position to a new post as special assistant to the president and senior director for African affairs in 1995.

Government Appointments

She quickly advanced ahead of her peers and veteran officials when her friend and mentor, Madeleine Albright, recommended Rice for the post of assistant secretary for African affairs in 1997. With her appointment, she became one of the youngest assistant secretaries of state ever. Many elder politicians disagreed with placing a young woman in the position, arguing that she would be unable to deal with older, male leaders. But Rice developed a reputation for her direct, plainspoken opinions, and an ability to bring people to her side of the table. "They have no choice but to deal with me on professional terms. I represent the United States of America," she says. "Yeah, they may do a double take, but then they have to listen to what you say, how you say it and what you do about what you say."

During her tenure in this post, she also became well acquainted with the actions of the extremist group Al Qaeda; she was the top diplomat for African issues during the 1998 terrorist bombings of embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.

Her involvement and rise into politics mirrored that of Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state under President George W. Bush. The two are both female, African American and foreign policy experts who have ties to Stanford University. However, the two are not related. The mix-up has happened so often that Democrats have a saying about the confusion: "They've got their Rice, and we've got ours."

Brookings Fellow and U.N. Ambassador

Rice left the public sector in 2002 to become a senior fellow in foreign policy for the Brookings Institute, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C. Its mission is to conduct independent research and provide recommendations to the government based on their findings. As a fellow, Rice specialized in research on U.S. foreign policy, weak and failing states, as well as the implications of global poverty and transnational security threats.

Rice took leave from Brookings in 2008, to become the senior foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama during his presidential campaign. After Obama's successful election in November of 2008, Rice was nominated to be the U.N. ambassador for the United States. On January 22, 2009, she was confirmed by the U.S. Senate, making her the first African-American woman to be America's ambassador to the U.N.

Often adopting an interventionist stance, Rice was successful in efforts to garner U.N. approval for sanctions against Iran and North Korea and military action in Libya. However, she also drew criticism following a September 2012 attack on two American facilities in Benghazi, Libya; Rice initially said it grew out of a protest against an offensive internet video, though it was later revealed to be the work of an extremist group.

National Security Adviser

In June 2013, Rice was named national security adviser by President Barack Obama, succeeding former adviser Tom Donilon. "I'm deeply honored and humbled to serve our country as your national security adviser," Rice stated during an event held in Washington, D.C., to announce her new role, according to NBC News.

Soon after the announcement was made, President Obama expressed his excitement to work with the newest adviser in a statement: "I am absolutely thrilled that she'll be back at my side leading my national security team in my second term," he said.

In her role, Rice oversaw the coordination of intelligence and military efforts during a period marked by an ongoing battle with ISIS in the Middle East; the continuation of a civil war in Syria; increased aggression from Russia through its annexation of Crimea and involvement in Syria; and the emergence of China as a superpower. Reported to wield strong influence within the administration, she shared the president's view of withholding large-scale troop deployment to the Middle East, with a focus on issues like containment of a nuclear Iran.

Leaking Controversy

Although her tenure as national security adviser concluded in early 2017, Rice was swept back into the news as a result of ongoing investigations into Russian interference during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

In April, after levying accusations of 'wire tapping' by the Obama administration, President Donald Trump unloaded on Rice for leaking the identities of Americans caught up in electronic surveillance of foreign officials.

Rice vehemently denied those accusations, and while she refused to confirm or deny whether she had sought the identities of those Americans, she insisted that doing so was entirely within the jurisdiction of the national security adviser. "The allegation is that somehow the Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes," she said in an MSNBC interview. "That’s absolutely false."

Rice and her husband have two children, and currently reside in Washington, D.C.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!