Rice To Take Lessons From Rwandan Genocide United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice tells NPR that the 1994 genocide in Rwanda deeply affected her. She says she learned that policymakers have to consider all options, and that she would "rather be alone and a loud voice for action than be silent."
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Rice To Take Lessons From Rwandan Genocide

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Rice To Take Lessons From Rwandan Genocide

Rice To Take Lessons From Rwandan Genocide

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Now, part two of our conversation with the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice. Before she joined the Obama administration, Rice worked in the Clinton administration, first at the National Security Council and then at the State Department. During our sit-down in her office, I asked Rice about the experiences that shaped her views and her brand of diplomacy. One big lesson from the Clinton years: the Rwandan genocide.

Ambassador SUSAN RICE (United States, United Nations): What I learned is that policymakers have to force consideration of actions that may not even have occurred to them at the time. In other words, in 1994, the genocide in Rwanda came right on the heels of the American withdrawal from Somalia, literally within a week.

No policymakers in Washington, or on Capitol Hill or any editorial boards, for that matter, were advocating U.S. or international military intervention in Rwanda. It wasn't an option that was ever credibly contemplated, whether or not that would've been the right option. What I've learned as a policymaker is that we need to put all the options - conceivable and inconceivable - before ourselves and before senior leadership.

So that we're not in the position of saying that we didn't give it full enough or ample enough consideration. On a personal level, it certainly has strengthened my determination to be active in the prevention, as well as the resolution of conflict. I would rather be alone and a loud voice for action than be silent.

NORRIS: That's the lesson you've taken? You're willing to do that?

Amb. RICE: I'm more than willing to do that.

NORRIS: Interested in the art of diplomacy, as practiced by Ambassador Susan Rice.

Amb. RICE: My strong belief is that a great deal of diplomacy is about relationships and trust. I want my counterparts and colleagues at the United Nations to know when Susan Rice says something it's what she means, and that she's speaking directly, and honestly and authoritatively.

I'm not going to dissemble. I'm not going to evade. And I think being straight goes a long way towards building respect and, as many instances as possible, trust.

NORRIS: Now, it's interesting because being straight can also get you into trouble. There are a lot of people who practice the art of a spin, who do everything possible to avoid telling it like it really is.

Amb. RICE: There are those who do that. I've found in the course of my experience that you get further by dealing directly with people than leading them astray.

NORRIS: Can you be too blunt?

Amb. RICE: Blunt and straight are not the same thing. Straight means honest, direct, and forthright, doesn't mean being hard or difficult, necessarily. And all of that is a basic rule of human engagement, which I think translates very directly into effective diplomacy.

NORRIS: There's a lot of talk about basketball in this administration. You're five-foot-three? Did I get that right? Although, you have heels on today.

Amb. RICE: Five-foot-three.

NORRIS: Without heels.

Amb. RICE: Without heels.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: And you are quite a talented basketball player yourself.

Amb. RICE: Well, I'm not sure my talents haven't been exaggerated in the process of some these stories being written

NORRIS: Oh, okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Amb. RICE: I…

NORRIS: Because your reputation as a basketball player precedes you as somebody who knows how to throw to an elbow or two.

Amb. RICE: Let me give a news flash here. I used to have a bit of game. I played in high school. I have not been playing much of late in recent years.

NORRIS: You're known as an aggressive athlete, as someone who can throw an elbow (unintelligible).

Amb. RICE: Now, how - wait a minute. How do you know that?

NORRIS: Well, because I have…

Amb. RICE: Did you interview my high school teammates?

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: I have - I've seen the…

Amb. RICE: You're just inferring that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Amb. RICE: I want to know your evidence.

NORRIS: I just wonder if there's anything that we can intuit from your sportsmanship about your diplomatic style.

Amb. RICE: I'm a team player. I'm a team player. And that is what you need to be to be an effective point guard. You got to see the court. You got to set up the play. And you got to 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.

NORRIS: Ambassador Rice, you've been more than generous with your time. Thank you very much.

Amb. RICE: Thank you, Michele. Good to be with you.

NORRIS: U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. You can hear the first part of that interview at NPR.org.

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