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At a Zoom event hosted by the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and moderated by former University President Rick Levin, Ambassador Susan Rice discussed many of her foreign policy and diplomacy experiences.

From a young age, Rice both appreciated and received tough love from her parents, who were the first to tell her when she “screwed up,” as Rice describes it. Tough love, in Rice’s view, is “loving fiercely, but not uncritically.” After serving in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, as the 24th national security advisor, 27th U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and 12th assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Rice spoke about her book “Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For” and the reflections she has on her life of public service.

Rice also spoke about her thoughts on what the United States should do right now to renew its global leadership.

“Step one is changing leadership and electing Joe Biden,” Rice said. She added that the United States must “recognize that a lot of damage has been done to our allies’ trust and confidence in us.”

Rice went on to describe how Biden is the right leader for this moment, given that he could work to restore trust with the United States’ allies since he is a familiar figure for many foreign leaders and already has an established relationship with several allies.

Domestically, Rice stressed the need to build back up the United States’ diplomatic capacity, which means restoring trust in the U.S.’s intelligence community, law enforcement and apolitical government staff.

Rice also addressed the need for global leadership during the current pandemic and heavily criticized President Donald Trump’s lack of leadership. Rice attacked Trump for not cooperating with global leaders during this pandemic, for leaving the World Health Organization, for stating that the United States will not discuss sharing vaccines and for not having clear communication with the American people.

“You got to follow the science.” Rice said. “[COVID-19 has] been a politicized response from start to finish, with science being subordinated or ignored.”

Rice also discussed some of the foreign policy difficulties a new Biden administration will likely have to face, such as the United States’ relationship with China.

Rice stated that there are multiple areas where Chinese and American interests converge and that the United States needs to focus on these shared goals, even during a time of increased Chinese-American global competition. Rice also criticized Trump’s trade war, citing what she said was a lack of substantial benefit it has brought to the United States.

“I’m not sure that I would use the term trust at this point,” Rice said, referring to the U.S.-China relationship. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t work together.”

Rice also discussed her upbringing. When thinking about what to title her new book, she found “tough love” to be the perfect title because it exemplified how she was raised and how she raises her children — and, she said, it is also “tough love” that allowed Rice to learn and gain promotions into senior diplomatic positions.

“Susan, you are really screwing up,” stated Rice when she retold the story of her colleague, former congressman Howard Wolpe, giving her “tough love” about her job as assistant secretary of state for African Affairs. 

“You’re smart, you’ve got vision, you’ve got energy, I’d love to see you succeed, but if you don’t change course, you’re going to fail in this job,” Rice recalled Wolpe saying. “You’re too rash, you’re too impatient, you don’t value enough the wisdom and experience of your colleagues, you’re too hard-driving and you’re not bringing people along with you.”

Rice reflected on this experience as a turning point in her career, as she believes she would have not succeeded as much as she did without hearing this feedback. According to Rice, after receiving this advice, she was able to adapt and grow to become a better leader.

Levin told the News that he hoped this conversation left students inspired. He added that while he was moderating this conversation, some students sent comments to him on how “they wish they could be like her.”

“I think she was an inspiration to young people who want careers in foreign service, diplomacy or international relations,” Levin said. “It’s clear that she is so deeply committed to serving the country and serving it with selflessness and intellectual honesty and respect.”

Susan Rice was under consideration to be Joe Biden’s running mate in the 2020 presidential election.

Alvaro Perpuly | alvaro.perpuly@yale.edu