Susan Rice, likely NSC head, had string of failures in Africa before Benghazi
U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, reportedly the leading contender to be President Barack Obama’s next national security adviser, failed during the 1990s to prevent unnecessary deaths in Rwanda, provide adequate security prior to the bombings of the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, or deal effectively with the Robert Mugabe’s dictatorship in Zimbabwe.
A former State Department military adviser to Africa thought Rice’s “inexperience” caused President Bill Clinton’s feckless response to the Rwandan genocide when she served as National Security Council director for International Organizations and Peacekeeping. And documents sent to The Daily Caller from the National Legal and Policy Center show Rice failed to take seriously repeated Islamist threats against the U.S. embassies in the prelude to deadly bomb attacks.
More recently, Rice has come under fire for her role in promoting the now-discredited talking points on the deadly September 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Rice’s promotion to head the NSC is “definitely happening” according to an unnamed source quoted by John Hudson of Foreign Policy’s The Cable. The Washington Post’s Colum Lynch, quoting an unnamed administration official, says Rice is “far and away the front-runner to succeed Thomas E. Donilon as President Obama’s national security adviser.”
But Anthony Marley, a former military advisor in the bureau of African Affairs at the State Department, questioned Rice’s handling of the genocide in Rwanda when she served in the Clinton administration. Rice was “definitely more interested in the political outcome than doing the right thing,” he said.
According to Marley, Rice declined to declare the mass murder in Rwanda a genocide and worried that such a declaration would compel sending U.S. troops, something the Clinton White House didn’t want to do after the deaths of American soldiers in Somalia.
“[Rice] was obviously bright,” recalls Lt. Col. Anthony Marley (retired) told TheDC by phone. “But she was a political appointee who lacked on-the-ground experience and was trying to carry out the administration’s desires.”
Marley, who worked with the UNICEF World Food program and retired from the U.S. Army in 1995 after handling peace negotiations in Mozambique, Ethiopia and Liberia, continued. “She asked political questions like, ‘What might be the impact?’ ‘What was the reaction to it?’” he said.
Rwanda “obviously fit the legal definition of genocide,” Marley noted. “Several of the lawyers from State had argued that it was a genocide. There has been press and a state department spokesman mentioned ‘acts of genocide.’ The administration was very reluctant to get engaged in Rwanda or do anything that might involve U.S. troops.”
Marley also discussed a teleconference with State Department lawyers, officials from the Pentagon, and the CIA where Rice worried about the effect of intervening in Rwanda on the 1994 midterm elections.
“We certainly talked about in the State Department afterwards. That meeting ended without the administration using the word genocide,” Marley told TheDC.
Rice and the rest of the administration were “dancing around the issue by calling it ‘acts of genocide.’ They didn’t want to do anything or put anything on the ground,” he said.
They also dismissed ideas from the French peacekeeping operation. These included helping Uganda with the “bodies that were floating up the lake” and Tanzania with the refugees.
“The administration said no to all of those things until the end of the genocide,” Marley said. “Finally at the end of the genocide their hand was forced.”
“We ended up supporting humanitarian troops on the ground in Rwanda, eastern Zaire and in a limited way in Tanzania and extensively in Uganda,” Marley said.
“Eventually the administration did the things I was recommending, like sending rubber boats to Uganda to help get the bodies buried,” Marley said. “Water purification units were deployed to Goma [in the Democratic Republic of Congo].”
On August 7, 1998, Rice was assistant secretary of state for African Affairs when terrorists attacked two U.S. embassies with truck bombs in Tanzania and Kenya, killing over 200, 12 of which were Americans.
Rice had previously ignored a June 1998 letter from Prudence Bushnell, the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, warning that Bushnell was the target of an assassination plot and that the embassy was facing mounting terrorist threats. The State Department claimed it was unable to defend the embassy because it lacked the money. Bushnell said that the department was “endangering the lives of the embassy personnel.”
When Rice was asked about that terrorist attack in a recent meeting with Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Rice claimed that she didn’t remember it.
“I knew from the report that the ambassador of Kenya had made repeated requests for more security, warning of the terrorist threats and the danger to the American personnel there as well as others working at the embassy, and that those requests had been turned down,” noted Collins in an interview with Fox News on November 29, 2012.
“When I asked Susan Rice, she told me she wasn’t expecting a question on that and that she would have to refresh her memory and go back and think about it,” said Collins. “She then said that she was sure she was not involved in turning down any requests for additional security. Well, those answers in and of themselves are somewhat contradictory, but I can’t imagine not remembering in searing detail such a horrific attack on our embassy.”
As she would later do with Benghazi, Rice went on TV to defend the administration, telling PBS that “we maintain a high degree of security at all of our embassies at all times” and falsely claiming that “we had no telephone warning or call of any sort like that, that might have alerted either embassy just prior to the blast.”
Rice also couldn’t remember the name of the Muslim group that attacked the embassies.
“I don’t have the name handy,” Rice told PBS when asked about who was responsible or the terrorist attack. “It was not a well-known group.” In fact, the group was a well-known threat—Islamic Jihad, a prominent ally of al Qaeda.
“Obama bin Laden issued his fatwa in February 1998 to kill Americans at any time,” Tim Clemente, a former FBI agent who investigated the terrorist attacks, told TheDC. “The embassy attacks happened and then people started taking it seriously.”
Rice did not always take seriously the threats in Africa. She has had a long history of supporting brutal dictators on the continent.
Rice’s 1990 Oxford dissertation praised the 1979-1980 British peacekeeping operation that led to the rule of Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe as “a model and a masterpiece in the evolution of international peacekeeping.” Meanwhile, journalists on the ground were condemning Mugabe’s mass murder of political opponents and dictatorial control.
Written on the heels of the controversial 1980 election that saw Mugabe’s Marxist party come to power, Rice praised Mugabe’s role, even going so far as to compliment him for the considerable military restraint he had shown in an election contest he was all but certain to win.
Despite viewing Mugabe favorably, Rice noted that he signed the peace agreement “with great sadness.” She described him as “a victim of his own rhetoric” because he had held a peaceful election rather than a full-scale war as he had sought. “’Even as I signed the document, I was not a happy man at all,’” Rice quotes Mugabe as saying. “’I felt we had been cheated…of the victory we had hoped we would achieve in the field.’”
While Mugabe and his ZANU party did not seem to want to be involved in the peace process, Rice made it clear that it was the white Rhodesians who were the impediment to peace. “White Rhodesians were equally stunned [by Mugabe’s party’s victory], as many simply recoiled in terror and amazement,” Rice wrote. “To them Mugabe represented very nearly the devil incarnate. Mugabe’s extraordinary conciliatory speech on national television and his decision to retain the white military leadership and to appoint two whites to his cabinet calmed their immediate fears somewhat. Still, their shock and apprehension persisted.”
Rice singled out Mugabe for special praise. “Though Mugabe ordered a large portion of his forces to stay out of the APs [Zimbabwean meeting places], which resulted in many incidents of intimidation, personally he exercised patience and restraint,” Rice wrote. “In spite of numerous provocations, he never reacted violently or threw in the political towel,” she noted. She credited Zimbabwe with the “success of the transition.”
“‘The whole thing really came as a result of Mugabe,’” Rice approvingly quoted Major-General John Acland, a British military official, on his assessment of Mugabe. “’There had been two attempts on Mugabe’s life and Mugabe knew…who was responsible. Mugabe was a pragmatic, intelligent, sensible, gentle, balanced man.’”
Despite these views, Mugabe spent the next several years — the time in between the Commonwealth Initiative and the publication of Rice’s dissertation — murdering his political opponents and consolidating political control with mass arrests of rival political parties and dissidents.
Human rights groups, such as the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, which had previously criticized the white minority government, condemned the atrocities committed by Mugabe’s army. In a February 1983 article, The New York Times reported that the extrajudicial killings may have topped 1,000.
While suggesting that Zimbabwe’s experience may be a model for future peacekeeping operations, Rice did not mention this violence in her dissertation. Rice continued to hold a positive view of Robert Mugabe when she was appointed to Clinton’s National Security Council and later as assistant secretary of state for African Affairs.
Rice met with Mugabe in December 1997 on an Africa tour and promised that America would have a new relationship with Zimbabwe.
“In the past there was too much finger-waving diplomacy with the United States telling African governments on what to do,” Rice told the Zimbabwean press. “We are ready to listen and hear from the leadership on what role the US can play (in Africa). The US can play a constructive role when it is desired by the governments of the regions.”
Rice met again with Mugabe in November 1998 as part of an effort to stop the violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo but was made to wait three hours and belittled by the Zimbabwean strongman in the South African press.
“[Rice] is just an assistant secretary of state for Africa. She came as an envoy of President Clinton,” he said. “Yes, we have friends giving us the benefit of their ideas, but they cannot do more than that.” An end to the war in the DRC “can only come from real commitment by those who decided to invade the DRC,” Mugabe added, referring to Rwanda and Uganda.
Rice, for her part, praised the meeting and the exchange of views. “Zimbabwe is a very special place for me. It is always difficult to leave; I look forward to coming back in the near term,” she said.
Mugabe, who is still in power, would go on to declare himself “Hitler tenfold” and launch numerous atrocities through his Presidential Guard, including a massacre during a general strike by opposition members and the burning alive of the wife of a political opponent. The Zimbabwean economy has been wrecked by land appropriation, hyperinflation and extreme socialist policies.