Women can be excellent diplomats, and African-Americans should be on the international stage and crafting government policy. But, Susan Rice, the once-and-never-again nominee for U.S. Secretary of State and still ambassador to the United Nations, is a bad choice for the nation’s top diplomatic post, because of her record on Africa and her professional relationships with various African leaders.
The death knell of her ambitions was probably sounded by a New York Times story on Monday, which detailed how she failed to put pressure on President Paul Kagame of Rwanda to stop fomenting violence in Congo. The liberal establishment’s favourite paper also ran an opinion peace by an Ethiopian activist criticising Rice’s fulsome tribute to the late Meles Zenawi.
In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal recalled how Rice, an Africa specialist, had invested faith in young, progressive-seeming leaders such as Kagame, Zenawi and Yoweri Museveni in Uganda, but stuck by them when they turned out to be not so progressive after all.
Other pieces recalled how in the Clinton administration she had reportedly asked what effect the Rwandan genocide might have on Democrats’ prospects in the 1994 mid-term elections.
The NYT reported that Rice had watered down a UN resolution condemning Kagame’s support for Congo’s M23 rebels, whose recent invasion of Goma, the major eastern city, provoked international condemnation. It emerged that Kagame had been a client of Intellibridge, a Washington consultancy Rice worked for during George W Bush’s presidency.
Senator John McCain, who threatened to block her nomination, and other Republicans would have had plenty of material to make her confirmation hearing very uncomfortable, besides Benghazi.
Rice is not the only Western politician to suffer from links to Kagame, of course. Andrew Mitchell’s last act as Britain’s international development minister was to restore £16 million in aid to Rwanda, a decision which was rescinded by his successor after the Goma invasion.
Jason K. Stearns expands on Secretary Rice’s questionable influence on Africa policy during the Clinton administration. It doesn’t matter if a person is a woman with friendly ties to the Clinton administration. It takes judgment to be a top-level player and America’s voice in the world.
However, the answer to whether secretary of state is a “woman’s job” has to be no. To begin with, plenty of men, even if not a majority, care deeply about the many issues that Clinton has prioritized. If a male secretary of state built on her development legacy (and that of Condoleezza Rice before her), he could make an important move toward taking “softer” issues out of the gender ghetto once and for all. To take one example, when men focus on women’s empowerment, as USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and his deputy, Donald Steinberg, have done, these issues gain more legitimacy as part of a mainstream foreign policy agenda. And why not shuffle the deck and put the first female Democrat at the president’s right hand as national security adviser, a position that has hard power and high politics built into its very name?
The last thing we need is to typecast Cabinet members the way law partners used to be. When I interviewed at Wall Street firms in the 1980s, they always trotted out two female partners, one of whom was always in trusts and estates — the theory was that they were good at holding widows’ hands — and the other often in family law. And for a long time in medicine, women were relegated to pediatrics and gynecology. Let’s simply recognize that anyone following Clinton will have very big pumps to fill, but that a man could fill them just as well, as many great male secretaries of state have proved.
Of course, there could be another reason we’ve had a string of female secretaries of state. Shifting cultural expectations and 21st-century politics mean it is important to have a woman in one of the “big three” Cabinet positions: state, defense or Treasury. Perhaps the State Department keeps going to a woman because of a reluctance to appoint a woman as secretary of defense or Treasury. If this is the reason for putting women in this role, it’s a bad one.
…Let’s go gender-blind. If that results in three men in these positions, fine. If it results in three women in these positions, so be it. None is inherently a “man’s” or a “woman’s” role. They are all tough jobs, and we need the best people we can find.
Heather Hurlburt takes on gender essentialism with a smile.
I would have argued, that Rice, as a policy wonk, would make a good National Security Adviser. After learning of her history in Africa policy, I’m not even sure she should be in government, at all. Senator John McCain might have done the nation a service, if his ridiculous fixation on Benghazi is just an artfully political move, to save the country from a corrupt official.