Skip to main content

An unfair portrait of Susan Rice

By Amar Bakshi, CNN
December 14, 2012 -- Updated 1422 GMT (2222 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Susan Rice withdraws her name from consideration for State
  • Articles have claimed Rice is undiplomatic and difficult to work for
  • Amar Bakshi says those descriptions clashed with the reality of working for Rice
  • He says Rice demonstrated openness, honesty and passion as a boss

Editor's note: Amar C. Bakshi, a first year student at Yale Law School, is a former special assistant to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and a former producer for CNN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @amarcbakshi

(CNN) -- U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name from consideration Thursday for secretary of state. Over the past few months, a slew of articles have criticized Rice's personality. The Daily Beast recently ran a piece titled "Susan Rice's Personality Disorder." These articles allege that America's U.N. ambassador is "brusque," "dismissive," "undiplomatic," "shrill" and awful to work for. I felt compelled to write something because these caricatures of Rice bear no resemblance to my former boss.

I worked for Susan Rice in 2009 and 2010 as her special assistant in the Washington office of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Over the past few weeks, I have talked to other junior staffers for Rice—current and former—who all share my surprise at the way she has been described.

Amar Bakshi
Amar Bakshi

Junior staffers see a side of their "principal"—Washington-speak for boss—that others do not. Being a special assistant involves a wide swath of activities: couriering papers, sitting in on meetings and delving into some policy issues. In this multifaceted role, my colleagues and I saw Rice as a boss, as a diplomat and as a person. In each arena, Rice demonstrated a rare combination of openness, honesty and passion.

Read more: Susan Rice withdraws from consideration as secretary of state

Early on in the job, I delivered a 50-page paper on Afghanistan to Rice. Before I could set it down on her desk, she asked, "What do you think of it?" I hadn't read a word and froze.

I soon found out that this was typical of Rice. She always asks people at all levels what they think; she's not concerned with hierarchy or status, just ideas. You see this in her strategy meetings, which always involve staff at all levels. You also see this when Rice tours foreign countries. She is just as interested in the stories of people on the streets as the proclamations of ministers—and often more so.

Democrat 'extremely upset' with Rice's withdrawal

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



As a diplomat, Rice can be extraordinarily charming. She can put new acquaintances instantly at ease. But she can just as easily snap them to attention.

Rice has little patience for dissembling and her insistence on thorough preparation means that she invariably knows the subject matter as well as—and usually better than—her interlocutor. This enables Rice to move from charm to hard substance in an instant, getting to the heart of an issue quickly. Some people have criticized this aspect of Rice's personality as "undiplomatic." If diplomacy is the art of talking and doing nothing, then perhaps they're right. But that has never been Susan Rice.

Rice is in government because she believes in strengthening America and improving this world. Rice believes that advancing core principles serves U.S. interests in the long run. You can see this belief guiding her approach to issue after issue, in meeting after meeting.

Read more: Rice's letter to the President

Rice is down to earth, too, which won the loyalty of her slightly younger staffers in particular. She has an inexplicably vast collection of go-go music—a D.C. invention. She has mastered social media and new technology, but only after overcoming a healthy dose of skepticism. And she has a general demeanor, some combination of athlete and wonk, that conveys cool.

Rogers: Rice was facing uphill battle

I don't mean to minimize the serious policy issues she has handled as U.N. ambassador, a member of President Obama's Cabinet and a lifelong public servant. One op-ed is not enough space to engage her many accomplishments in government and the various policy disputes that inevitably arise over 20 years in high office.

Opinion: A lucky day for Susan Rice

All I can say in this short piece—and say with total confidence—is that Susan Rice is a wonderful person and an inspiring boss. Washington is filled with people seeking power for its own sake; people embroiled in partisan politics; petty people; imperious, dismissive people; people who put themselves before others. But that is not Susan Rice.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of Amar C. Bakshi.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Michael Werz says in light of the spying cases, U.S. is seen as a paranoid society that can't tell friends from foes.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Eric Liu explains why in his new book, he calls himself "Chinese American" -- without a hyphen.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1512 GMT (2312 HKT)
John Bare says hands-on learning can make a difference in motivating students to acquire STEM skills.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
Karl Alexander and Linda Olson find blacks and whites live in urban poverty with similar backgrounds, but white privilege wins out as they grow older.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
ADVERTISEMENT