Former National Security Advisor and Ambassador to the United Nations under the Obama administration, Dr. Susan E. Rice, came to visit Fairfield on Thursday, Sept. 28, in order to give a talk at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts about the state of the American political landscape and the issues most prevalent in our highly globalized world.
One of the students who attended the event, Sean McDonagh ‘20, expressed that, “she is an inspirational speaker who inspired me to become a more informed citizen.”
This event was a part of the Open Visions Forum being held at the University, which was initially supposed to host Mark Ruffalo, famous for his role as The Hulk in “The Avengers,” but he had cancelled a few weeks prior to the event, which left the vacancy for Dr. Rice to speak to the Fairfield community.
While being interviewed, Dr. Rice had given insight into what it was like to work under high pressure situations in both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama’s respective administrations over the years. During Clinton’s presidency, she served at the National Security Council from 1993 to 1997, as the director for international organizations and peacekeeping from 1993 to 1995 and she was also involved in watching over African affairs and improving U.S. relations with the continent as a whole.
During her time in the Obama administration from 2008 through 2017, she was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations during Obama’s first term in office, where she was noted as being the first African American woman to represent the U.S. at the U.N. Some of the notable events of her diplomatic career consisted of the “Arab Spring,” where she made clear that the U.S. encouraged the former Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, to step down from office or face severe consequences, as well as the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012. She was most recently the National Security Advisor during Obama’s second term in office, where she facilitated a deal regarding Iran’s nuclear program and helped respond to the international ebola crisis in 2015.
When speaking about her most valuable experiences while working in government, Dr. Rice said, “I’ve spent 25 years from age 28 to 52 working in the U.S. government; I’ve gotten to do it from all levels from a more junior staffer at the National Security Council to the U.N. and National Security Advisor and I have been really privileged to work for what I consider to be generally extraordinary presidents.” She noted that both presidents she worked with were highly intelligent people and it was an honor and a privilege to work with both the Clinton and Obama administrations.
Furthermore, she emphasized that, “I’ve gotten to negotiate some of the most difficult resolutions at the United Nations, toe-to-toe with some of our toughest adversaries like the Russians and the Chinese.”
In regards to her role as the White House’s National Security Advisor, she noted, “I’m very proud of many of the things we were able to get done during my 10 years as National Security Advisor such as the deal to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, the Paris climate agreement … [and] the investment we have made in terms of resources to the Asia-Pacific region.” She also went on to highlight the significance of the progress made in forging the trans-pacific partnership trade agreement during the Obama administration.
Prior to her extensive political career, when she first developed an interest in being involved with the government, Rice expressed, “When I was as young as 9 or 10, I knew I was interested in government. I was born and raised in Washington D.C., I went to school with kids whose parents were in congress or in the executive branch or ambassadors, so from a very early age I have been exposed to government. My father served for different incarnations in government, [and] my mom worked on issues related to government.” Rice went on further and spoke about how she wanted to be an elected official when she was younger, but the only problem with that was that Washington D.C. has no representation in Congress.
Dr. Rice emphasized that she had always maintained a keen interest in public service, but noted that when she was finishing up her graduate work, she was still interested in policy issues, but could not decide between going into domestic or foreign policy. In regards to this dilemma, Rice pointed out that, “when President Clinton was first elected in 1992, I had a choice between joining the National Economic Council, which had just been established, or the National Security Council and I chose the security council, which led me down a path that has continued.”
Dr. Rice also spoke to us about how her time in the U.S. government has seen her have to make numerous tough decisions over the years. She expressed that, “I had to make a lot of decisions, often under time pressure, often without every piece of information I might have wanted and it was challenging, but that was also a part of the thrill.”
She was able to deal with the pressures of working within these high level government positions by gaining experience over a long period of time in her career and she stated that, “I was fortunate to have very good preparation over the years … I was also fortunate to have a relationship of confidence and trust with the president that enabled me to know that he was the ultimate decider on the hardest issues. My job was to make sure that [President Obama] had all the options and all the perspectives of his senior advisors fairly represented and then to give him my own best judgment as to what he should do.”
When asked about what she had hoped for Fairfield students and the community to get out of her talk on Thursday, she said that, “I hope they get a better perspective of the central role that American leadership plays in the world and what happens when we don’t fulfill that function as well as we should and that it has real implications for our security.” Dr. Rice also stressed the importance of public and government service in regards to how rewarding the experience can be.
Lastly, Dr. Rice responded to what her plans are for the future, where she stated that, “I don’t know what I want to do as my next big thing … for right now, my priority is to be with my kids and my husband and my friends, as well as family members that have been so supportive of me for the last eight, actually 10 years if you count the work I did on the campaign.”