Rice To Take Lessons From Rwandan Genocide

Second of a two-part interview

Read The First Part Of The Interview

Ambassador Susan Rice, who is leading President Obama's foreign policy efforts at the United Nations, is taking lessons from the genocide in Rwanda into her new role.

During the 1990s, Rice worked for the Clinton administration first at the National Security Council, and then at the State Department.

Rice tells NPR's Michele Norris that the genocide deeply affected her, both as a policymaker and as a person.

"What I learned is that policymakers have to force consideration of actions that may not have occurred to them at the time," Rice says.

The genocide occurred within a week of when America withdrew from Somalia.

"No policymakers in Washington or on Capitol Hill or any editorial boards, for that matter, were advocating U.S. military intervention in Rwanda," Rice says. "It wasn't an option that was ever credibly contemplated, whether or not that would have been the right option."

Rice says she learned that policymakers have to "put all of the options, conceivable and inconceivable, before ourselves and before senior leadership so that we're not in a position of saying that we didn't give it full enough or ample enough consideration."

The genocide, Rice says, has strengthened her determination to be more active in prevention and conflict resolution.

"I would rather be alone and a loud voice for action than be silent," she says. "I am more than willing to do that."

To be effective in her new role, Rice says she will speak "directly and honestly and authoritatively" with her counterparts at the United Nations.

"I'm not going to dissemble, I'm not going to evade," she says. "I think being straight goes a long way towards building respect and — [in] as many instances as possible — trust. ... I've found in the course of my experience that you get farther by dealing directly with people than leading them astray."

Rice is careful to say that "straight" does not mean "blunt."

"Straight means honest, direct and forthright — it doesn't mean being hard or difficult," she says. "And all of that is a basic rule of human engagement, which I think translates very directly into human diplomacy."

Rice says she'll even take a lesson from her high school days playing basketball as a 5-foot-3-inch point guard.

"I'm not sure my talents haven't been exaggerated. Let me give you a news flash here: I used to have a bit of game ... I have not played much of late in recent years," she says. "I am a team player — and that is what you need to be an effective point guard. You gotta see the court, you gotta set up the play, and you gotta let others execute for the most part. I don't throw elbows for the sake of throwing elbows, but if somebody throws one at me and it's necessary to respond in kind, I suppose I can if I have to."

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