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Hi, this is Hillary Clinton, host of the new podcast, You and Me both, there's a lot to be anxious and worried about right now, and it's made so much worse by the fact that we can't be together. So I find myself on the phone a lot, talking with friends, experts, really anyone who can help make some sense of these challenging times. These conversations have been a lifeline for me.
And now I hope they will be for you to please listen to you and me both on the I Heart radio app, Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Hi, I'm a judge, and this is the deciding decade.
Restoring the credibility of states would be immediate, urgent task for the next administration and an ongoing effort through the decade ahead, countries and peoples around the world trust the United States far less than at any other time in modern memory as a consequence of Donald Trump's administration reversing American leadership on issues like climate change, insulting and abandoning our allies and attacking our democratic institutions here at home while cozying up to dictators and strongmen around the world, the work ahead will be daunting and exceptionally important, not just for America's future, but the world.
So I thought it was important at a time like this to have one of America's preeminent foreign policy leaders and thinkers on the podcast. And I am so thrilled that Ambassador Susan Rice agreed to join us and have a conversation about the future of our foreign policy.
For those who aren't familiar with Ambassador Rice, she is a remarkable person who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the first term of the Obama administration, the first black woman ever to hold that position and was President Obama's national security adviser in his second term. She also has a remarkable story, one you can and should read in her New York Times best selling book, Tough Love My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For. Welcome, Ambassador Rice, thanks so much for joining us today.
It's great to be with you. My thanks for having me. I remember hearing your name a lot in when I was a student at Oxford. And you had served in the Clinton administration, among other roles as US Assistant Secretary of state, responsible for our relationships and operations in Africa. And I believe you were thirty two years old, the youngest person ever to hold an assistant secretary position of the Department of State. I just want to ask you about arriving in that position, the youngest person ever to be appointed, and in particular knowing that you were doing so as an exceptionally young person and in a predominantly male, predominantly white field.
Did you feel an additional pressure to prove yourself or how did you arrive with the right mentality, knowing that you belonged in that role?
Well, it's interesting taking me back in time. I had spent the first term of the Clinton administration in the White House at the National Security Council. And I've done my PhD dissertation on Africa and I had to acknowledge a substantive policy knowledge. But moving over in the second term of the Clinton administration to run the Africa bureau in all of its operations in forty eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa, one hundred people based in Washington and five thousand based out in our embassies around the world in Africa, and then having a pretty large budget.
That was a big leap. And as you pointed out, most of the people who I worked with and who worked under me were career foreign service officers who were 20 to 30 years my senior, and most of them white and male. And to add complexity to the whole thing, I was a brand new mother. I just had our first child. He was three months old and breastfeeding when I started at the State Department. Suffice it to say, I was not the person that many of these ambassadors expected to be there.
And it was a combination of things. I mean, being an African-American woman was part of it. But my youth, as you point out, was really, I think, the hardest thing for them to swallow. And my relative inexperience, you know, on the kind of career path that they had been on, where you literally start as a foreign service officer in your 20s. And it's not until you're in your 50s that you're able to become an ambassador.
So it was a challenge. And I was conscious of the skepticism. I made some early mistakes that could have been deadly, but were driven from a desire to get things done. I knew President Clinton. I knew Secretary of State Madeleine Albright well. I knew what my marching orders were in terms of getting policy progress accomplished. And my instinct was just to drive, drive, drive to get that stuff done. And what I learned was that in my rush to get as much done as I could, that I was not patient enough, that I was not respectful enough of my colleagues knowledge and experience, that I was sort of in such a hard charging mode that I was leaving a lot of them behind.
And I write in the book about how I was incredibly fortunate to have a senior colleague who cared enough to help me take me out to lunch and basically take me to the woodshed when I thought we were going for Chinese food. And he told me very honestly and give me what I call tough love, the hard messages that you may not want to hear. But the people who care about you were willing to tell you about where I was growing up.
And then if I didn't get my act together, I was going to. And that intervention was crucial.
You know, it reminds me a lot of some of the dynamics after I took office and when I was at that age working with a lot of people who had served in local government. And their attitude was, I've been doing this for 20 years or more. I know what I'm doing. I know what matters. And my attitude was, hey, the people of the city have elected me to come in and shake things up, drive these priorities. And of course, that the other day it proved to be the case that we were both right and learning how to direct somebody because that's your job and to learn from them, because they have so much to teach you at the same time was something that came with experience, but also with some truth telling from from people who were willing to pull you aside and say, here's something you don't see.
And thank God there were people willing, at least in my case, to give me that hard message. Did you have any major screw ups early in your tenure that were lessons learned for you or was it just. No, everything was perfect.
Never made a mistake. Of course, I had a few screw ups that really were so great.
Was there one in particular that not not to dwell on? Mistakes, but that's we're not sure what we learn from. Yeah, well, there were several, but they were they all converged around the extraordinary pressure we were under. This is now nineteen ninety eight. And we had going on in Africa like an extraordinary series of crises. We had a war among the six plus countries in the Congo. We had war break out between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which was the deadliest inter-state conflict in the world at the time.
We had famine and genocide in South Sudan, evacuations of our embassies in Liberia and war in Sierra Leone and Angola. I mean, it was crazy. And then just when we all thought it couldn't get worse on August 7th, nineteen ninety eight, al Qaeda bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. And we lost 12 of our American colleagues in Kenya and two hundred of our Kenyan employees and Kenyan nationals and thousands wounded. And it was horrific. And like when it's your own people, your own embassies, it was a trauma for absolutely all of us, everybody on our team.
And so we were under an enormous amount of pressure. And the objective was to make sure that we did all we could to prevent additional Qaeda attacks because we had consistent intelligence that they were targeting other embassies and our embassies in Africa. At that point, we're particularly vulnerable. They were old. They were close on the road, stuff like that. And so we were constantly playing whack a mole with threat information. And one day in December, I think it was December, maybe late November, early December, we got this really frightening intelligence that seemed very credible, that the next day there were going to be attacks on an unspecified number of embassies.
And so I made the decision on the spot in light of that intelligence to shut down our embassies. It was going to be a Friday going into the weekend, shut them all down across the continent. Nobody would go into the buildings and then we'd reassess over the weekend and it was the right decision. The problem was, I forgot to tell my bosses. I forgot to tell Undersecretary of State Tom Pickering, who is responsible for all the regional operations.
I forgot to tell the secretary of state I was moving so fast that I didn't do my homework. And so the next morning, I wake up to a phone call from Undersecretary Pickering, who never, ever lost his temper, screaming at me, Why am I reading in the press that we shut down all of the embassies in Africa? Did you think it would have been wiser to let somebody up here know? And I just was like, oh, my God, I'm sorry.
That's totally my bed. And I was just moving too fast. And when the pressure is so intense relief that I made the right decision. But you move so fast that you get sloppy. Hey, it's Bobby Bones, executive producer of Make It Up as we Go, the brand new podcast from Audio Up and I Heart Radio brought to you exclusively by Unilever's Noor and Magnum Brands. The story follows a songwriter's journey as well as the songs themselves and how they make it to country radio from executive producer Miranda Lambert and creators Scarlett Burg and Jared Goosestep, a story inspired by the competitive world of Nashville writing rooms featuring original music by Scarlett Burke, director and executive producer, featuring some of the biggest names in country, including the Cool Guy and everything.
Now that. Just like now, it's feeling like one day on a Saturday night, make it up as we go only on the podcast network in association with audio of media created by Scarlett Burke and Jared Goosestep. Our relationship with institutions, I think, is one of the biggest things that's on the minds of those who are worried about the future role of us in the world. The president is withdrawing the US from the World Health Organization. We are at odds with the UN more, I think, than ever.
And I'm wondering to what extent you believe it will be possible for the next administration. We hope with Biden administration to not only reset our relationships with these institutions, but do we have the credibility to help these institutions grow, knowing that a lot of them haven't changed much since right after World War Two.
But I think a Biden administration can re-engage in many of these international organizations and do a great deal to improve our standing and credibility and efficacy within them when we withdraw from the World Health Organization for when President Trump contemplates withdrawing from NATO, as he reportedly has, or when we try to stick it to the United Nations rather than make it work for us. That's not punishing the institutions. That's harming our own national interests and our ability to protect and defend ourselves and advance our values.
And every time we pull out, we're leaving a vacuum that gets filled by somebody else, and that's somebody else nowadays is almost always China. So it could not be more counterproductive. Who's benefited most from our withdrawal from the World Health Organization? China. And we've harmed ourselves because the World Health Organization is doing in the most difficult, least developed parts of the world the hard work to stamp out diseases, whether Ebola or polio or HIV or covid that we can't do all by ourselves or if we tried to do an extremely costly and inefficient.
So, yes, we can and we must get back in these entities and get back with strength and efficacy. And there's this misperception in some circles that we're being jerked around, for example, by the United Nations. The fact of the matter is we designed the United Nations back after World War two and is imperfect as it is, it works for us. We have a veto. Nothing happens of consequence in the United Nations that we don't agree to by definition.
There's no point in using that veto in an abusive or punitive way, but it does mean that whether we're standing up for Israel's security and legitimacy or protecting our fundamental concerns that nothing happens of consequence that we don't agree to, that's a pretty good deal. That's like you can bat a thousand under that kind of setup. And so when we talk about reforming and updating the institutions, yes, a number of them do need updating and reform. And there are those who will argue legitimately, you know, how can you have a UN Security Council with five permanent members?
Two of them are European. And India doesn't factor in as large as it is. Or the Japanese will say they deserve a permanent seat. The Brazilians and then Africa will say, well, we are a continent of a billion people. We need a permanent seat. And all of those are legitimate concerns in principle. But then what do you do then? The issue becomes really complicated. Do they all get a veto? Well, then that dilutes our ability to steer it in a direction that's beneficial to our interests.
So these things are really complicated. They require, in the first instance, leadership from the United States that the world believes is acting not just in our own narrow self-interest, but in our interests. That is defined as that which is potentially and hopefully beneficial to others as well. So you can't have a zero sum mindset if it's good for us. It's got to be bad for everybody else or if it's bad for everybody else. It's good for us that that is the trap Zero-Sum mindset that makes it impossible to cooperate and bring others along with us.
That touches something I've been thinking about a lot, which is the question of trust and the level of trust that the US can command among nations in the world. In fact, while I was researching a book on the subject, I hit on the story of a moment during the Cuban Missile Crisis where President Kennedy knows he needs or wants to get French support for whatever he might have to do during the Cuban missile crisis. Calls Dean Acheson, the former secretary of state, out of retirement, sends him to Paris to go see Charles de Gaulle and tell him what's going on.
Armed with highly classified photos as proof that the Soviets are putting missiles in Cuba gets there and the president, the French president greets him. He's grumpy. But when he offers to show me the photos, the French president reportedly just kind of brushed them off and said, your president's word is enough.
And you think that today, right? Exactly.
I mean, for the president, this presence would be enough for anybody around here, let alone overseas. It's just impossible to picture. But that must have been something of just unquantifiable value for American objectives in American diplomacy and ultimately for American security. And the more I investigated the sources of trust, I found that one of them is predictability. Sometimes when people are trying to invent some kind of rationale for how this president behaves, they talk about his unpredictability as if it was strategic that sometimes has been called the madman theory.
If other countries think he's crazy, will be more likely to get our way. And yet, even if that is strategic, which I don't think most of us believe in it, but it would be a strategy that's incredibly destructive of the ability to have any trust.
So what are ways to accelerate that process of building trust on the world stage or maybe even here at home before it's too late knowing that trust building takes time, but time is of the essence.
I mean, so much of our problem is not just that the president is unpredictable. I mean, he's unpredictable. But the predictable thing about him, once people crack the code, is he's serving his own interests rather than the national interest. And a lot of countries have figured it out, which is why they flatter him and stay at his hotels and do all these things that have nothing to do with what values or interests we might share. It's all about making him feel bigger and better and advancing his own personal, political and financial interests.
So with Joe Biden, not only does he come with this very substantial and known and trusted track record, but people understand that he is serving US interests and values and that when he says something, he's telling the truth, that he's not in it for himself, having long been, for example, the poorest member of the Senate. And he's not in it for anything other than what one would expect the United States president to be in it for, which is to serve the national interest.
So I think fortunately in this moment, with all that we have to repair and rebuild, we benefit from the prospect of starting with somebody who comes with an extensive record that people can already trust. You know, you mentioned covid, I know, in addition to your foreign policy leadership, I know the mayor of D.C. has turned to you to help advise on how the district is managing the pandemic. And as somebody who comes from the local level of government, I was struck by something that you wrote about.
This is back in twenty seventeen when I think all of us were trying to figure out how to face the rest of the world in the Trump era. You wrote, Congressional delegations, governors and mayors can reassure our key allies that the American people still value them and we do not intend to cede our global leadership. So even then, you were thinking about the kind of global role of local leaders. And and now I know you're helping at least one local leader deal with a global issue and its local implications with the pandemic.
I wonder, in your experience what you've come to conclude about how the different levels of government in our system interact and what that might mean to help us meet the moment in the years ahead, especially knowing that in the absence of federal leadership these last few years, it's really fallen to mayors and governors to step up. Now, hopefully with the president who supports them, there might be a whole new era in terms of what local and state leaders can achieve.
How do you see all that fitting together? And has that changed any since you've become maybe more immersed in local Problem-Solving through your work helping the district navigate the pandemic? Well, it's interesting, I mean, up until recently, all of my policymaking experience was at the federal level and senior levels of the federal government, and even though I've been to most of my life, a resident of the District of Columbia and cared deeply about this city, I never had an inside perspective on municipal governance.
And I really do think that in this vacuum that Trump has created, that I pointed to back in twenty seventeen, as you noted, and it's only gotten greater now, he's essentially left us naked internationally and naked in terms of domestic leadership on critical challenges. And nothing points that out more starkly than his failure to to lead on covid and all of the many lives that have been lost as a consequence. And what it does point out is that for the average citizen on a daily basis would be great if the president of the United States were doing his job and, for example, procuring a vast quantities of PPE and ventilators and distributing them rationally so that states weren't having to compete against each other and bidding up the price.
And it would be great if we had a national testing strategy that made sure that we had the quantity and quality of tests and distributed them rationally. We don't have any of that. But at the end of the day, what Americans have come to understand is it really matters who your mayor is, who your governor is. And we've seen great successes and great failures at the state and local level for me personally. But I think for many Americans, you come to appreciate even more how critical leadership, high quality leadership is of the state and local level.
You know this I mean, I'm obviously I'm preaching to the choir, but I think what I had in mind, for example, when I wrote that piece back in twenty seventeen was something like climate leadership. You know, the administration, the president pulled out of Paris, flipping the bird to you, to climate change and to the rest of the world who everybody else on the planet cares deeply about this issue. At that point, it was clear that governors and mayors and consortium like the ones that Bloomberg put together and the private sector and civil society and individuals like Grétar can make an enormous difference on an issue of global significance, even when the president, the United States, is able.
So we want to be in a situation, particularly in a crisis like covid and increasingly like climate, where we're all firing on all cylinders. But in the absence of that, there's more that can be accomplished at the state and local level than I think many of us realized previously.
One of the things I really wanted to ask you about, because you have experienced foreign policy at so many levels professionally and foreign policy leadership, and it strikes me that the ranks of those who serve our country, especially as career diplomats, but really across all the federal service, you think about the Department of Justice, so many parts of of the US government have taken a real beating and a lot of people have left. And those who were there, many of them are demoralized.
So I wonder what your hopes are for what the next generation of diplomatic service might look like and things that you think the next administration should think about in building that that team of public servants all the way from the most junior career person through to presidential appointees in order to make sure it really is the kind of team who could guide our country through this decade.
Well, I think it's a great question, and it's one I've thought a fair bit about. I will say we didn't need to have the Trump era distrust of the administrative state to accomplish the kind of progress that I hope we can can make going forward. We have I can't overstate the losses in terms of experience and talent, for example, in the State Department, the Foreign Service and the civil service. But it's not just the State Department's intelligence community.
It's the civilians in the Defense Department and in the Justice Department and in so many other critical areas. One of our greatest strengths is the United States of America is we are the most diverse country on the face of the earth. So many studies have shown when you bring diverse voices around the decision making table, you make better decisions. That is proven whether you're in the private sector, in a corporate boardroom or in government or the nonprofit world, we have the opportunity to bring this incredible complexity of the mosaic that is our country to the decision making table.
But we also have this extraordinary advantage when we speak to peoples in countries around the world to show them that there's people in this country that come from where they come from and understand their issues and concerns and. Language and all of the above. It's a great asset that if we use it, but we don't use it right now in the State Department, this is I mean, this is as bad as I can imagine in my lifetime. But of some one hundred and eighty odd ambassadors that we have around the world, three three are African-American right now.
Three out of a hundred and one is Latino, I believe. I mean, it's just crazy and we can do so much better. So, you know, really emphasizing in our intake, in our retention and our promotion opportunities for all the people who represent this country have the interest in the talent to serve. But then the other thing, and you alluded to this, is that the career path in the State Department is really antiquated. When I described earlier in our conversation, my time early in the State Department, all these people who are the ambassadors and senior officials, when I was the assistant secretary for African affairs, who were 20 to 30 years my senior, they had literally been working in the same job on the same track, just moving up for twenty five, thirty years.
Who do you know your age and younger, he does any job for twenty five for thirty years and much like five years, right.
We're not likely to be in the same career for twenty five years. That's really unusual here. And I don't think I've done one in more than five or six years, so nobody does that. And if you want to have the best talent and refresh it and encourage people who may not want to commit a career to serving but could add a whole bunch of value for five years and who come with skills and experience, technical skills and digital skills and language skills and business skills that can be valuable in government.
And yet the constraints of the career path make it really hard to tap that talent. You can't just, you know, easily come in and come out and be treated decently. We're going to have to bring back people who've retired or were driven out and let them start at the level they left out without penalty. We've got to have more fluidity and interchangeability between the foreign service and the civil service. We've got great talent in the civil service that isn't elevated to the extent that it should be.
And all of these things are difficult because Congress will have a say and the unions will have a say. And all of these entities that have a stake that are legitimate stakeholders. But it is really the case, in my opinion, that we've got to look at this afresh and be willing to to change the business model in order to attract and retain the quality, talent and the diverse talent that we need.
I think you're right. That's a huge opportunity. And I agree it shouldn't have taken things being smashed to bits the way they have been by this administration. But since they have been, it it makes it all the more urgent and maybe all the more possible to make these kinds of changes.
I wonder if you picture a historian in the twenty forties, looking back at twenty twenties and what they wound up meaning to America, America's place in the world, what would you most hope that observer would be able to say about the twenty twenties as we sit here now at the outset of that decade, I hope that the historian could look back and say this was the decade where America looked in the mirror and decided that it can and should be much better, that we can be more unified, that we can be a leader in the world that serves our interests and values, if not more perfectly, then more consistently and with the right intentions that it's a much fairer and more just society for the least among us, that we narrowed the gaps of inequality and racial and regional disparity, and that if you're a poor white kid born in Appalachia or a Latino boy born in the barrio in Los Angeles, or an African-American girl born in Detroit, or that a Native American girl born on a reservation in South Dakota, that this is still a country where you can and and have the real potential to achieve a brighter, more secure, more hopeful and prosperous future and pass that on again to your kids.
We've got to revive and and reinvigorate the American dream and make it really available to everyone. Well, there's a great conversation with Ambassador Rice, I've really enjoyed hearing her remarkable stories about what it was like to play a central role in so many of America's toughest and most important decisions. Her work, helping to secure this country with countless lives at stake every day. She's got such an admirable life story and a fitting outlook on what we can do over the next decade to repair the credibility of the United States and restore the trust our government once inspired before Donald Trump.
Around the world, there is so much that needs to be done to improve our country and reinvigorate the American dream, as she said. And we're all better off when we pay attention to the insights and the aspirations of thoughtful leaders like Susan Rice.
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Hey, guys, it is Bobby Bones. I want to tell you about make it up as we go, one of the coolest podcasts coming out this year brought to you exclusively by Unilever's Noor and Magnon Brands and featuring original music by Scarlett Burke, creator, director and executive producer and cocreator Jared Goosestep. This is an incredible inside look to the behind the scenes of Nashville writing rooms and features superb acting by Billy Bob Thornton, myself and Miranda Lambert. There's a killer soundtrack that you can stream alongside original episodes which drop every week only on the podcast network in association with audio.
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There's a killer soundtrack that you can stream alongside original episodes which drop every week only on the podcast network in association with audio. What media?