Do Susan Rice’s Canadian connections disqualify her as US secretary of state?

Dec 1st, 2012 | By | Category: In Brief

Susan Rice, US ambassador to the United Nations, speaks with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird (L), and Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor (C) at the UN General Assembly on November 29, 2012 in New York City. The United States, Israel, Canada and a handful of others voted against the historic UN resolution granting "non-member status" to a Palestinian state.

According to Rachel Maddow on MSNBC this past Tuesday, such Republican luminaries as John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and  Kelly Ayotte “are so virulently attacking Susan Rice [mostly over her already well-explained first reaction to the  Benghazi attack on US diplomats in Libya] … to give the GOP a shot at picking up John Kerry’s senate seat in Massachusetts.”

(More exactly, if Ms. Rice can be disqualified from succeeding Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, the job will have to go to John Kerry — or so the story goes. And this will free up Kerry’s Massachusetts Senate seat for Republican Scott Brown, who lost the other Massachusetts Senate seat to Democrat Elizabeth Warren in the November election.)

Another explanation for the “unrivalled obstructionism” of the GOP’s “highly unusual …  coordinated, partisan campaign to attack and derail Rice’s possible nomination” as secretary of state is that Ms. Rice was a strong (and effective) critic of John McCain’s “reckless” foreign policy agenda in the 2008 presidential campaign. Senator McCain and his cronies have decided that now is the time for sweet revenge — or whatever the more genteel expression may be.

Yet on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 the plot against Susan Rice thickened to an almost surprisingly bipartisan consistency, when the environmentalist website onearth.org revealed that “Secretary of State Candidate Has a Major Financial Stake in Canadian Tar Sands.”

The environmentalist website article went on : “Susan Rice, the candidate believed to be favored by President Obama to become the next Secretary of State, holds significant investments in more than a dozen Canadian oil companies and banks that would stand to benefit from expansion of the North American tar sands industry and construction of the proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline. If confirmed by the Senate, one of Rice’s first duties likely would be consideration, and potentially approval, of the controversial mega-project.”

Environmentalist Bill McKibben — “founder of 350.org, an organization that’s building a global movement to solve the climate crisis.”

From here the plot just thickened and thickened and thickened  : “‘It’s really amazing that they’re considering someone for Secretary of State who has millions invested in these companies,’ said Bill McKibben, a writer and founder of the activist groups 350.org and Tar Sands Action, which have organized protests against the Keystone XL project. ‘The State Department has been rife with collusion with the Canadian pipeline builders, and it’s really distressing to have any sense that that might continue to go on.’ Emails obtained by an environmental group last year show what critics call a ‘cozy and complicitous relationship’ between State Department officials and a lobbyist for TransCanada, who was also a former deputy campaign director for current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s failed 2008 presidential bid. The agency also assigned an environmental impact review of the Keystone project to a company with financial ties to TransCanada.”


1. Meanwhile back at the ranch near Toronto,  that Jason Kenney’s grandfather used to own …

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice with Canadian-born ABC News producer hubbie Ian Officer Cameron, their two children, her parents and President Barack Obama.

Why, you may ask (especially if you are a Canadian) does this particular Ms. Rice (and note that Democrat black female foreign policy specialist Susan Rice is no relation to Republican black female foreign policy specialist Condoleezza Rice) have so much money invested in Canada?

According to the Toronto Star (based on the onearth.org report) :”US secretary of state hopeful Susan Rice has substantial TransCanada interests … Financial disclosure records show that Rice, who’s married to a Canadian, owns stock valued between $300,000 and $600,000 US in TransCanada.”

According to the Toronto Sun : “Susan Rice has major moolah at stake in Keystone …  Rice is married to a Canadian, TV producer Ian Cameron, and also worked in Toronto as a management consultant in the 1990s … On Earth also reported financial disclosure documents show a third of Rice’s considerable $43-million wealth is invested in oil and energy companies, including Canada’s Enbridge, Encana and Suncor.”

The Sun article goes on: “Rice’s investment portfolio reportedly includes other Canadian companies, such as Bank of Montreal, Bank of Nova Scotia, BCE, Canadian Pacific Railway, Canadian Tire, Maple Leaf Foods, RIM and Royal Bank of Canada.”

2. A few more detailed biographical notes

Susan Rice at high school — the National Cathedral School in Washington, DC.

According to the Wikipedia article on Susan Rice, she was born on November 17, 1964 “in Washington, DC to Emmett J. Rice (1919 –2011), Cornell University economics professor and the second black governor of the Federal Reserve System … and education policy scholar Lois (Dickson) Fitt, currently at the Brookings Institution.”

Susan Rice’s parents “divorced during her youth.” And she went on to attend “Stanford University, where she received a Truman Scholarship, and graduated with a BA in history in 1986.” After Stanford Ms Rice was awarded “a Rhodes Scholarship” and “attended New College, Oxford, where she earned a MPhil in 1988 and DPhil in 1990. The Chatham House-British International Studies Association honored her dissertation …‘Commonwealth Initiative in Zimbabwe, 1979-1980: Implication for International Peacekeeping’.”

While at Stanford Susan Rice also met a young man from Canada who was four years older (and considerably taller — and whiter). Some half a dozen years after her graduation an announcement in the New York Times spelled out the ultimate result of the earlier meeting in sunny California (and hinted at Ms.Rice’s future financial interests in the Canadian cold) :

Susan Rice at Stanford.

“WEDDINGS; Susan E. Rice, Ian Cameron … Published: September 13, 1992 …  Susan Elizabeth Rice, the daughter of Dr. Emmett J. Rice and Lois Dickson Fitt, both of Washington, was married there yesterday to Ian Officer Cameron, a son of Mr. and Mrs. Newton D. Cameron of Victoria, British Columbia. The Rev. Kwase Thornell performed the Episcopal ceremony at the St. Albans School chapel … Mrs. Cameron, 27 years old, is a management consultant at McKinsey & Company, the international management consulting company, in Toronto. She graduated from Stanford University and received a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar. Her father, a retired senior vice president at the National Bank of Washington, is a former governor of the Federal Reserve. Her mother is a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution … Mr. Cameron, 31, is a television producer in Toronto for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He also graduated from Stanford, and received a master’s in international relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. His father … owned the Victoria Plywood Company, a lumber company in Victoria.”

3. Susan Rice and Ian Cameron— the last 20 years …

Ian Cameron and Susan Rice in a rare moment of relaxation.

The Rice-Camerons have now been married for 20 years. And as you might expect, various things have changed.

Susan Rice went to work for the Clinton administration not long after her wedding. Her career was helped along by “longtime mentor and family friend … Secretary of State Madeleine Albright” (as well as Ms Rice’s own intelligence and assiduous hard work). When the Clinton administration gave way to George W. Bush, Susan Rice went to the Brookings Institution liberal think tank in Washington. Then she became foreign policy advisor for the 2008 Obama campaign, and US ambassador to the United Nations after the 2008 election.

Along the way the Rice-Camerons managed to have two children.

Things changed as well in the career of Ian Officer Cameron from Victoria, BC. For a time after his wedding he remained at the CBC. (“Around Christmas of 1995, The National’s executive producer, Tony Burman, and senior producer, Ian Cameron, gave … the green light” to an online presence for the network’s flagship news show.) Then Cameron “started at ABC News in 1998 as a producer for ‘World News With Peter Jennings,’ leading an investigative team. He was part of the ABC News group that received a Peabody Award for … coverage of 9/11 and its aftermath.” In October 2008 he became executive producer of “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” (then “This Week with Christiane Amanpour”). Some two years later “Ian Cameron Quits as Executive Producer of This Week,” apparently to embark on a more footloose career in the “Washington DC Metro Area Broadcast Media.”

4. Do the Canadian connections doom her candidacy as US secretary of state?

Mark Shields and David Brooks briefly discussed the Susan Rice issue on their usual PBS News Hour Friday night US politics tutorial, November 30, 2012. They covered the Republican Benghazi critique of Ms Rice as potential secretary of state, and alluded to the events of the past week characterized earlier by the Canadian Press with :”Rice initially insisted the Benghazi attacks were the result of a spontaneous eruption of violence over an anti-Islam video made in the US ; it was later determined that it was a pre-meditated terrorist attack by al-Qaida operatives … She met with her Republican critics on Capitol Hill earlier this week in a supposed charm offensive that backfired badly when they emerged from the meeting to say they had even graver concerns about Rice’s post-attack remarks after hearing her explanation.”

Yet Shields and Brooks said nothing at all about the rather different new environmentalist critique of Susan Rice as potential US secretary of state, based on her Canadian financial investments in businesses linked to the Keystone XL pipeline proposal.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) speaks with US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice (L) at a United Nations Security Council meeting on the crisis in Syria, January 31, 2012, New York City.

Along with Bill McKibben and the onearth.org wesbite, other US sources have nonetheless joined in on the new environmentalist critique of Ms Rice. See, eg : “Susan Rice Holds Stock in Keystone XL Oil Firm … TransCanada is seeking federal permission to transport Canadian tar sands oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast. If confirmed as secretary of state, Rice could play a key role in determining the fate of the pipeline” ; “Susan Rice holds TransCanada stock … Environmentalists quickly criticized the potential selection of Rice given her investments … According to the Office of Government Ethics, federal officials holding significant amounts of stock conflicting with their duties must sell the stock, recuse themselves from the decision or set up a qualified trust”; “Susan Rice holds stock in Keystone pipeline developer …  The holdings open up Rice … to criticism from environmentalists at a time when she’s already under fire from Republicans … The White House did not comment Wednesday [November 28] when asked whether Rice would divest the holdings if nominated for secretary of State … Administration officials are able to recuse themselves in matters where there is a conflict-of-interest.”.

Meanwhile, on Friday, November 30, 2010, the US Ambassador to Canada, David Jacobson, “told reporters … on the sidelines of a Calgary conference hosted by the Economic Club of Canada” that “uncertainty over who will lead the US Department of State should have no impact on the timing of a decision on TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline …  The decision on the controversial pipeline, which would carry Alberta and northern US crude oil to the Gulf Coast, is expected in the first quarter of next year.” (Though it seems unclear at best just what this may mean for the possibility of Susan Rice’s appointment as secretary of state.)

5. A few hesitant conclusions …

I have three final pieces of intelligence on all this to pass along (or four, depending on exactly how you count) and then a few hesitant conclusions :

* I found a November 29 article by Jason K. Stearns on the Foreign Policy magazine website a bit intriguing. It’s called “Rwandan Ghosts … Benghazi isn’t the biggest blight on Susan Rice’s record.” To make an interesting but far too long story short, Stearns concludes with : “The diplomats and officials interviewed for this article left no doubt that Rice is bright, ambitious, and extremely hard-working. But in her reluctance to criticize the Rwandan government’s involvement in the Congo, she has also demonstrated critical lapses in judgment. Senators would do better to scrutinize this history, rather than focusing on the Benghazi attacks.”

* Jeffrey Goldberg has another intriguing November 29 piece on the Atlantic website :”Why Susan Rice Would Be a Plausible Secretary of State.” It concludes with “This is not an argument that Rice has the profile or potential of a Hillary Clinton-class secretary of state. But it is to argue that she would bring certain important qualities to the job, and that she is being treated very shabbily at the moment.”

* According to Shields and Brooks on the PBS News Hour last night, one key objection to Ms Rice’s candidacy as secretary of state, even among so-called reasonable Republicans, is that she is too”political” in her foreign policy judgments — ie too ready to defend the particular agenda of the Obama administration. Another way of putting this may be that she is just too effective a Democratic defender of administration policy. And for two You Tube clips that show just how effective she was during the 2008 Obama campaign, see “Obama foreign policy adviser out-debates Laura Ingraham” [at FOX News] ; and “Morning Joe gets schooled by Susan Rice” [where Morning Joe is one of the few token Republicans at MSNBC!].

(1) Finally, my first conclusion is that, as someone (in Canada) who did not know much about Susan Rice, and has just taken a little time to learn a little more, I am more impressed by what I can make of her track record so far than I used to be. She does seem to have the kind of I’m-just-so-much-smarter-than-you veneer that puts many people off. And she still lacks the experience and maturity of Hillary Clinton, who is some 17 years older and has spent eight years living in the White House and sleeping with a US president. But so far at least, I’d guess Jeffrey Goldberg is probably right : Susan Rice “would bring certain important qualities to the job [of US secretary of state], and … she is being treated very shabbily at the moment.”

(2) My second conclusion is that it may not necessarily be in the ultimate interests of Susan Rice’s and Ian Cameron’s investments in a quite wide array of Canadian businesses and economic activities for the XL pipeline from Alberta to Texas to finally see the full light of day. Their Canadian investments might be just as or even more profitable if more Western Canadian energy resources were sold to China — and Eastern Canada! My own guess is that the Obama administration does finally intend to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, regardless of who is secretary of state (and regardless of just how loud  Bill McKibben screams). But I don’t think that Susan Rice’s narrow financial interests are necessarily as closely tied to the fate of the XL pipeline as some of her environmentalist critics seem to believe.

(6. A final footnote on the Kenney ranch in Woodbridge, Ontario)

By way of explaining the reference above to “1. Meanwhile back at the ranch near Toronto,  that Jason Kenney’s grandfather used to own …” see the online Canadian Encyclopaedia article on “Mart Kenney and His Western Gentlemen … After 1949, Mart Kenney’s Ranch, a dance hall near Woodbridge north of Toronto, was the site of the band’s CBC broadcasts. Other bands also appeared there as Kenney continued to tour into the 1960s. With his retirement to Mission, BC, in 1969, the band broke up and the ranch closed.”

(And this Mart Kenney is the grandfather of the current Canadian federal Conservative cabinet minister, Jason Kenney. It is of course hard to believe that Jason Kenney would nowadays support the Canadian Liberal political views of his grandfather. Stranger things, however, have been done in the land of the midnight sun — and the Northern Lights have seen queer sights. And the Arctic trails have their secret tales that would make your blood run cold. And Jason Kenney himself “was originally a member of the Saskatchewan Liberal Party, and in 1988 … served as an executive assistant to Ralph Goodale.”)

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