Susan Rice: ‘We can’t allow Twitter wars to become shooting wars’

Garance Franke-Ruta
Senior Politics Editor


Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice speaks at the Center for American Progress Ideas Conference at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington on May 16, 2017. (Photo: Reuters/Aaron P. Bernstein

WASHINGTON — Former national security advisor Susan Rice strongly defended the Democratic foreign policy worldview and denounced the Trump White House as weakening America’s position in the world Tuesday morning in remarks at the Center for American Progress 2017 Ideas Conference.

“Since I left the White House, I’ve become deeply concerned that the United States is squandering one of our greatest strategic assets — America’s leadership of the world,” said Rice. She repeatedly contrasted the Trump administration’s blustering approach to foreign policy with a more nuanced and complex approach involving strong diplomacy, international development assistance and the promotion of American values abroad.

Rice introduced herself with a joke about the unfounded allegations circulating in conservative media that she had ordered the unusual “unmasking” of the names of Trump associates whose conversations with foreign diplomats had been captured in routine intelligence intercepts during Obama’s final year: “I’m Susan Rice, and you may have seen a parody of me on certain cable news channels.”

Rice, who was routinely castigated for her statements in the aftermath of the attack on a U.S. State Department compound in Benghazi, Libya, is used to taking heat from the right. But the political polarization behind such attacks is, she suggested, emblematic of a political environment so toxic that it poses a threat to national security.

“At this moment, our single greatest weakness — as a people, a country and a global power — is our profound political polarization,” Rice told the Center for American Progress audience.

“We need to shake off this national funk and remember that, first and foremost, we are all Americans. We must honor our Constitution, our founding values, and each other.

“Surely, we will often disagree,” she continued. “But we sure as hell need to agree that a hostile foreign power has no business messing with our elections.”

Though Rice delivered her speech to a supportive audience of Democrats who gave her a standing ovation at the conclusion, it was also a call for Republicans to act independently in probes into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, rather than back a president who they may privately disagree with.

“If we cannot find our way to put country over party, and democracy over demagoguery, even in the face of such a dangerous external threat,” she said, “then we might as well hang up our leadership cleats and resign ourselves to becoming a second-rate power.”

“The choice is ours. We can either squander our greatness or build a common future based on respect for the dignity and value of every American, and all mankind,” she added.

Rice repeatedly critiqued Trump’s blunt approach to foreign policy and national security. “Instead of vowing simply to ‘bomb the bleep’ out of ISIL, we must use our full arsenal: including cutting off its finances, discrediting extremism online and helping stabilize fragile states,” she said.

“We can’t allow Twitter wars to become shooting wars. So instead of vacillating between reckless saber-rattling and dubbing Kim Jong-un a ‘smart cookie,’ we should steadily apply increased pressure on North Korea while protecting our allies and homeland,” she continued. “And instead of excusing Russia’s outrageous behavior and branding NATO ‘obsolete,’ we must defend every NATO ally unconditionally, and firmly counter Russia’s Cold War tactics.”

Without a shared framework of values that are defended at home and abroad, America is weaker, she said. “Our values and our interests largely converge,” she said. “Democracies that respect human rights are our most reliable partners. Visit Arlington Cemetery or Allied burial grounds around the world. Our soldiers did not fight as part of some global protection racket. They died for the rights of all people to live in freedom, dignity and equality. These are our values. These are universal values. And they are not expendable when inconvenient.”

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