Did Susan Rice step down on her own or did she do so at the insistence of the White House. Did Republican oppostion doom her nomination, or was the Obama administration too afraid to have such a bare knuckled champion of disaster capitalism and African dictators as Secretary of State, lest its real Africa policy be more closely examined?
The conventional wisdom is that UN Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew herself from consideration as US Secretary of State due to some combination of Republican opposition and the president's unwillingness to go to the mat for her. Like a lot of conventional wisdom, it's dead wrong on multiple levels.
MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry devoted the first half hour of her December 16 show to an extended defense of Ambassador Rice, who she deemed the latest casualty in the GOP's war on women. She wondered why President Obama did not defend Susan Rice more vigorously. But one of Harris-Perry's guests, Chloe Angel of Feministing.Com called the idea that Rice withdrew on her own “ludicrous”. Rice had after all, been working toward this professional goal --- the post of top US diplomat, her whole career. It wasn't a line of inquiry that interested the host, who turned the rest of the half hour into a “stand by a sisa” moment for Susan Rice. Harris-Perry's position on that was pretty much the unanimous stand of the elite black political class. To them, Rice was just anotha strong hard-working black woman done wrong maybe by the president, but certainly and most of all by misogynist white Republican senators, an old and familiar story, if not a true or complete one.
The whole story is that Susan Rice was and is a professional diplomat for empire, a high level policymaker whose significance cannot be grasped apart from the policies she built her career conceiving and carrying out. In his 2003 essay, Barefoot, Sick, Hungry and Afraid: The Real US Policy in Africa, Glen Ford outlined in broad strokes US policy on the continent as
“...a ferocious, bipartisan determination to arrest African development at every opportunity and by all possible means – including the death of millions...
“To thwart the growth of civil society in newly independent Africa, the imperialists turned to the Strong Men. It is probably more accurate to say that the imperialists invented the African Strong Man... Their function is to smother civil society, to render the people helpless...
“The Strong Man’s job is to create weak civil societies. Weak and demoralized societies, supporting fragile states hitched to the fortunes of the Strong Man and his circle of pecking persons, pose little threat to foreign capital....
“...a chaotic Africa, barely governed at all, in which civil societies are perpetually insecure, incapable of defending themselves much less the nation, is the least troublesome environment for Western purposes. The extraction corporations in Africa feel most secure when the people of Africa are insecure... “
The best examples of this insecurity-by-design are Congo and Somalia. In the Congo, the entire eastern region of the country has been depopulated, turned into a free-fire zone by the armies of Rwanda, Uganda and minor parts played by several other African nations. Seven million Congolese have died since 1996 and two million women raped in two major invasions and a ceaseless orgy of terrorism by a shifting cast of militia formations that routinely employ child soldiers and mass rape. The militia formations are supplied by the armies of US client states, most notably Uganda and Rwanda who are in turn totally dependent on the Pentagon for their training and supplies. At the same time, the Congo's gold and timber, its diamonds and its coltan, a vital material present in every cell phone, every computer, every aircraft on earth continue to flow mostly to the West.
In Somalia, the US fears that a united national government will deny Western access to the lake of oil underneath the country. Hence Uncle Sam branded Somalis it fears “Al Qaeda affiliates” and decreeing there will be no national government till times change, bankrolled Ethiopian and Ugandan troops to conduct multiple invasions. Since the late 1990s, more than a million Somalis have perished in the fighting, raping and blockading and starving.
Africa is the poorest and most war-torn region on earth, with US military aid going to 52 out of 54 African countries. It's the only place where US military and civilian diplomatic functions are combined under the auspices of AFRICOM, the US military command on the continent. It's a monstrous legacy, and Susan Rice has been one of its leading architects and managers.
Rice joined the Clinton administration's National Security team and was deeply involved, both in supporting the side that came out on top of the Rwandan civil war while she stalled and wondered aloud whether the killing of 800,000 Rwandan civilians amounted to genocide. She served as Undersecretary of African Affairs in the Clinton administration, and when Democrats were not in the White House joined the lobbying firm that represented Ugandan and Ethiopian dictators in Washington DC. A top policy advisor since the beginning of the Obama administration, she now serves as UN Ambassador, in which capacity she repeatedly tried to suppress UN sponsored studies that laid the blame for mass murders and atrocities at the feet of Rwanda and Uganda.
“US policy in the region has been a disastrous record of supporting brutal strongmen like Rwanda's Paul Kagame and Uganda's Yoweri Museveni,” Maurice Carney, executive director at Friends of the Congo explained to Black Agenda Report. “The conflict in the Congo alone is responsible for millions of deaths, more than any other conflict since World War 2, and two million rapes. It's particularly disturbing that two women of African American descent, Democrat Susan Rice and Republican Jendayi Frazer, both as Undersecretary for State for African Affairs and in Rice's case later as UN Ambassador were the point people in constructing and carrying out these awful policies. There needs to be some accountability.”
“Accountability” for US Africa policy though, is not what our black political elite is about. Like Melissa Harris-Perry they chose to ignore the specific international policies Susan Rice designed and implemented. They chose to ignore the continuing genocide in the Congo, the impending interventions in Mali, the ongoing bloodshed in Somalia and Sudan, the whole panoply of US policy and consequences that is Rice's career legacy, and reduce the entire affair to a domestic “stand by a sista” moment. It was, in the opinion of TransAfrica Forum President Nicole Lee, a colossal missed opportunity.
“We disagreed with the Republican senators... around their reading of the Benghazi incident and Rice's involvement in it, and we can understand the concern of civil rights organizations over seeing her unfairly targeted and blamed. But there's a whole separate issue around Susan Rice's career and the particular policy prescriptions she's been identified with. Those policies have had a deeply damaging effect on the African world, and we would have preferred to see a lot more discussion and education around that.
"We have a new dynamic 'African American' constituency growing up in this country. Many of their parents were not born in the US, or their forbears not enslaved in the US. Their experience has been severely effected by policies Susan Rice has been involved in... We are not going to be able to build this dynamic constituency if we sweep under the rug real concerns these communities have around leaders, even if they are African American. I really think it's important for us to be self-critical when there is a problematic approach to someone like Susan Rice.... and to actually call for real change instead of just backing her... African American communities need to take up policy concerns as it relates to Africa with the same amount of fervor as we take up other policy measures domestically... (The job of Secretary of State) focuses solely on international issues, yet there was very little work done to understand what her policies were around international issues. We brought it completely into our own domestic context with no interest or understanding of where she had been in the past. That's dangerous, and in the long term that is not going to benefit the African American community.”
The anemic state of US journalism, and the near absence of black journalism about Africa US make it possible for African American political leaders to feign ignorance of the real effects of US empire in Africa, as long as the subject isn't brought up too often. But making a long time bloody handed bare-knuckles “diplomat” like Susan Rice Secretary of State means that questions about her hands-on role in protecting African strongmen and directing attention away from the genocide still in progress in Congo would be tempting targets for reporters around the world. It might be, that when the Obama administration took Susan Rice behind closed doors to rehearse some of the hostile questions she might be asked, the fig leaf covering genocidal US policies of militarization and resource extraction was so thin, and Rice's involvement in those policies so impossible to downplay, that she was judged a liability for that reason. Already some reporters are asking about her role in Rwanda and the Congo, and beginning to connect obvious dots.
These aren't just questions that Susan Rice dare not answer. There are many lines of inquiry which easily reveal the real nature of US policy in Africa the last two decades --- arming African strongmen to the teeth to keep the continent barefoot, hungry, sick and afraid, the better to plunder the resources, to extract the wealth of a rich continent full of poor people. Rice has an awful reputation as well, among African journalists and civil society activists on the wrong side of the local dictators she supports. The facts of her career are well known and widely acknowledged, everywhere except in the black political class of the United States.
Was she targeted by Republican senators? Sure. But the Benghazi noise is leftover venom from the presidential campaign. Republicans hoped to embarrass the president with Benghazi on the eve of the November 2012 election. That didn't work out for them, and Rice is on the other team and genuinely disliked by some of them. So they went after her. They're wrong. But the black political class is wrong on a far bigger scale, in fact is complicit in Rice's crimes by not examining the policies she built her career on, and how they have affected millions across the African continent John Kerry is thought to be the next runner up for the position of Secretary of State. If he is confirmed there will be an open senate seat in Massachusetts, and he'll be the first white man to hold that post since Warren Christopher in the 1990s.
“Her hands are bloody. She's been no friend of Africa,” Kwame Wilburg of Atlanta Friends of the Congo told us. “But we have to separate the picture of Susan Rice under Republican attack from that of Susan Rice the architect of disaster in Africa. She's one more proof that black faces in those high places don't always mean anything good for Africans on either side of the water.”
Keeping those bloody hands and their indefensible record in a less prominent place might have been the Obama administration's best bet to defending her awful handiwork.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He lives and works in Marietta GA and can be reached via this site's contact page or at [email protected].