On Tuesday, Nov. 9, former US Ambassador to the United Nations and National Security Advisor to the President, Susan Rice visited campus for an event organized by several student groups including Stanford in Government, Stanford Speaker’s Bureau, and Stanford Women in Politics, along with the Freeman Spogli Institute (FSI). Director of FSI and former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul moderated the conversation.
In the conversation, Ambassador Rice highlighted some of the key policies that she was involved with during her tenure as National Security Advisor to President Obama. She also discussed the current foreign policy challenges faced under the current Trump administration as well as how to manage the current political polarization.
When asked about the Obama era, Ambassador Rice fondly recalled how she had a voice at the so-called “decision-making table” and how she felt responsible for the successes and failures during the Administration. She discussed how she had to deal with two kinds of challenges as National Security Advisor, “those that come at you, which are the crises of the day,” such as ISIL, and “the affirmative agenda,” the policies that the Obama administration would like to implement because it is the right thing to do.
The policies that she is most proud of include the Iran Nuclear Agreement, Paris Climate Agreement, and the normalization of relations with Cuba. On the Iran Deal, Ambassador Rice called it “one of the hardest, but also … one of the most important things.”
“Iran verifiably cannot build a nuclear weapon [and]cannot require the materials from any of the various pathways” Ambassador Rice declared. She states that it was significant because Iran was two to three months away from gaining the capacity to build a nuclear weapon. She lauded the sanctions that were placed as punitive measures should Iran violate the agreement. On the Paris Climate Agreement, she called the negotiations “elbow-grease” of US and foreign diplomats.
On the policy shortcomings of the Obama Administration, she pointed to the failure to close Guantanamo. She called it “personal frustration” as this closure was made impossible by Congress. She offered the alternative solution of keeping the terrorists in a maximum security prison on US soil similar to Guantanamo. She described how Guantanamo has become a big propaganda tool for terrorists.
Calling the Snowden incident “a big bummer” and naming Ukraine and ISIL on a list of failures, Rice described 2014 as “a year in hell.”
Ambassador Rice discussed Syria as “the most difficult policy issue that the Obama administration had to deal with and still applies to the Trump administration” due to its complexity and “many negative implications.” She described how there were several objectives, including mitigating the humanitarian crisis, having President Bashar al-Assad removed, and dealing with the use of chemical weapons. However, while the rise of ISIL overrode all of these other objectives, she stood by the Obama’s decision to abstain from military intervention.
Finally, Ambassador Rice addressed racism in America today, identifying it as coming from “raw emotion.” She recounted how she was called racist slurs during her time in government, calling it “the unfortunate nature of politics.” She implored Stanford students to engage in an open dialogue: “[I would like to] encourage civil, nonviolent debate across party lines,” she said, generating much applause from the audience.
Alex Hou is a freshman events reporter for Stanford Politics.