Review of Susan Rice’s Memoir “Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For. Simon Schuster Paperbacks. 2019. ISBN 978-1-6011-8998-2 (pbk).
I read Susan Rice’s memoir “Tough Love: My Story of Things Worth Fighting For” cover to cover to get a measure in her own words and a better sense as to why through most of her political career, she has been joined at the hip with Ethiopia’s Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – close to an international mafia than a political party or organization – that was ejected from power in Ethiopia in 2018 and replaced by the current Abiy Ahmed government. Minus a few shallow comments, there was virtually nothing that shed light on Rice’s Ethiopian connection. This is despite the fact, even today, Susan Rice continues her behind the scenes machinations meddling in Ethiopian politics with the goal to bring the discredited TPLF back to power
Like many memoirs of this ilk, the book has “a lot of fluff”; much family melodrama mixed with a bit of politics. Although we learn more than we need about Susan Rice’s family background in a political memoir from a foreign policy expert, it contains few valuable insights into the vision and mechanics of the U.S. foreign policy she helped shape and direct. The book does have a catchy title, although after reading it cover to cover my main sense of what Susan Rice thought was “worth fighting for” was a position in the new Biden Administration. Like other memoirs being published shortly prior to a major presidential election, the 2020 U.S. presidential contest, this one is a largely self-serving account meant to counter Rice’s image as an authoritarian loose cannon. The memoir is essentially little more than a political sales pitch: “Look at all the wonderful things I have done, Joe Biden!” It’s hard to conclude anything other than Rice was putting herself forward either for Secretary of State or National Security Administration administrator, neither of which she was able to land.
Given her rich experience at the heart of U.S. foreign policy teams in the Clinton and Obama Administrations, this could have been an enlightening read. Although she currently holds the title of Director of the United States Domestic Policy Council, most of her political experience has been in the realm of foreign policy. She has served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (2009-2013) in the first Obama Administration and then as U.S. National Security Advisor from 2013 to 2017. No doubt Rice, who emerged from the Brookings Institute in the 1990s into the Clinton Administration’s foreign policy team, is a highly qualified, well educated, intellectually sharp person whose background includes degrees at Stanford and Oxford. She is also, as my mother would put it, “a tough cookie”, with the backbone needed to make tough – and often quick – decisions in dealing with international crises.
Too bad, from my perspective, that all that talent is wasted due to the political framework within which her mind works and she operates. I would call her a Cold War liberal “of a new neo-liberal type”: progressive on the social issues of the day. She flashes her opposition to racism in the USA, supports gay rights, women’s rights, and boasts about supporting Black Lives Matter and the U.S. orchestrated NATO invasion of Libya that overthrew Khaddaffi at the same time.
Her domestic liberalism comes from her rich family history and two dynamic parents who served the country at high policy levels. Her father taught economics at University of California Berkeley before being tapped as Alternative Executive Director of the World Bank. Her mother, a Radcliffe University graduate, spent much of her working life as a high-level administrator for the College Entrance Examination Board which administers the SAT and AP tests. There is also a sprinkling of prominent names both Democrat and Republican, meant to show, from what I gather, that Susan Rice could “work across the aisle”, ie that like the Clintons, she can work with both Dems and Republicans. Rice grew up in Washington DC, with such family friends as Madelaine Albright. She went to school with Gordon Liddy and Jeb Magruder’s kids, whose parents were involved in the Watergate scandal. Rice shares this information about her childhood to impress upon us that from the very beginning she was a part of government ruling class circles and has been so all her life. As such, her memoir suggests, she is comfortable with and knows how power works in Washington. (At least that is what I read into her comments.)
If Rice is convincingly liberal on domestic cultural questions, she makes a point of impressing her readers that on foreign policy she has a long track record of a neo-con hawk whose actual policy approaches hardly vary, if at all, from those of such foreign policy Neanderthals as John Bolton or Mike Pompeo. Stripped to their essence, those domestic liberal credentials that Rice touts morph into a belligerent, militaristic, jingoistic U.S. foreign policy. The more I read this volume, the more Rice struck me as a kind of younger, female, non-white version of Scoop Jackson tailored for the post-Communist period.
If Jackson utilized anti-Communism as his battering ram, Rice has perfected the more modern pretext for imperialist intervention: utilizing the many insidious tools in Washington’s hybrid warfare tool kit, perfecting the “right to protect” and using the cover of the war against terrorism to justify naked Third World military intervention. Scoop Jackson then, and Susan Rice today serve the same master: the military industrial complex, Boeing et. al. of which she makes no mention.
Susan Rice is one of a whole grouping of Black foreign policy experts in the State Department and other international agencies. Many among them were educated in some of the best U.S. universities, and funneled upwards through foundations like Brookings. These Black neo-cons came up in State Department and other foreign policy circles after the great civil rights push of the 1950s and 1960s that forced open the doors of government to people of color. However radical they might have been in their student days, with careers on the line, they made the shift to more mainstream, neo-liberal politics without flinching once they hit the foundation world. They never met an Africa privatization program they didn’t like and they specialize in coaxing African allies like the TPLF (more recently the Algerian government) to do America’s dirty work (e.g.: Ethiopian war against Eritrea, Somalia). Following the U.S. party line, they parrot the same nonsense about Chinese “Imperialism” in Africa and have been active cheerleaders for U.S. intervention wherever – Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, or hybrid war against Iran. Evaluated not on their racial background but on their politics, like Obama himself, they are little more than a “softer, kinder” face of U.S. Imperialism in the world, with many of them concentrated in the country’s Africa foreign policy.
Rice is, without a doubt, one of their leading lights.
Rice does mention many of the crises in which she was involved, from the one that led to the independence of South Sudan, to the NATO Libyan intervention, and U.S China relations and more. No doubt, she was in the center of U.S. foreign policy making for nearly two decades. Despite the name and incident dropping, yet another effort to bolster her credentials, the content is in virtually every case, shallow. There is very little – nay – there is no – insight into the factors that are driving U.S. foreign policy for which she is little more than a cheerleader. Although she denies “playing the race card” in fact that is exactly what she does throughout the book, playing it both ways. To people of color, she offers her family background; to others she insists that race is not important in her considerations. The politics in the book are, across the board, shallow and lack context or deeper meaning. Rather than an analyst of U.S. foreign policy, she accepts the basic pretexts of U.S. foreign policy, it seems, without question.
At a time when U.S. foreign policy is in an ever-deepening free fall, with U.S. influence – despite its continued relative strength – eroding by the day, Rice’s memoir gives us no suggestions, no vision for how to limit the damage or how to make a turn in an increasingly militaristic policy with its emphasis on hybrid warfare and sanctions against any government that in the slightest way disagrees with U.S. diktats. Rice’s fawning “solidarity” with Israel – typical for Cold War Liberals – is so predictably cynical as to not need further comment. She has bought into the post-USSR collapse of U.S. foreign policy hook, line, and sinker. She is an integral part of the Obama team that has perfected the use of humanitarian interventionism, weaponizing the human rights issue (which involves distortion to outright lies) to further U.S. geopolitical goals and uses “R2P” (right to protect) pretexts for a more aggressive interventionalist foreign policy, especially in the Third World.
She makes the U.S. initiated NATO war on Libya sound like a humanitarian crusade, rather than what it was: a form of naked aggression which led to the shattering of what had been one of African’s most prosperous states into a bevy of competing Islamic militias that has contributed to the growing destabilization of the northern third of Africa. Her disingenuous description of the “liberation movement” in Southern Sudan is a part of U.S. plans to partition the country and get access to South Sudan’s rich oil deposit. Stripped of its rhetoric, her approach to the Horn of Africa is a continuation of the divide-and-rule policies inherited from British (and Italian) colonialism and perfected in the post-World War II era. Nothing more, nothing less.
Overall, a disappointing read. Having bought the book myself, I recommend others not waste their time and money.