What Susan Rice, Biden's Potential Secretary of State, Has Said About China, Russia and the Middle East

President-Elect Joe Biden's transition team is trying to stay out of the long-shot litigation and conspiracy theories from President Donald Trump's re-election campaign.

Amid the dying convulsions of Trump's White House, the Biden team is formulating the next cabinet, all under the watchful eye of Washington, D.C.'s analysts and policy wonks.

Susan Rice is among those in the frame for the Secretary of State job; America's top diplomat who will front Biden's effort to rehabilitate the U.S. image abroad and restore global leadership are four turbulent years of Trump.

Rice is a former United Nations ambassador and served as President Barack Obama's national security adviser. She has remained close with Obama and Biden, and was touted as a potential running mate before Sen. Kamala Harris got the nod.

Few are as well qualified for the job as Rice, though her association with the Benghazi scandal could hamper her confirmation. Rice was cleared of fault over the deaths of four Americans including Libya ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, but this likely won't prevent Republicans from using the tragedy to attack her.

Rice is seen as someone who was lock-step with the foreign policy outlook of the Obama-Biden administrations. In her time out of office, Rice has repeatedly publicly attacked the Trump administration on its perceived foreign policy failings.

China

China will likely loom over every president for the next generation, now widely accepted as America's number one strategic challenge. Biden has shed the political establishment's past laissez-faire approach to Beijing and has vowed to confront its malign trade practices, territorial expansionism and human rights abuses.

While national security adviser, Rice lauded deepening cooperation with China and spoke of America's desire for a productive relationship with Beijing.

But even then, Rice noted the tendency of Chinese trade policy to "impede the free flow of commerce and worsen trade imbalances." She also echoed Obama's demand that "state-sponsored, cyber-enabled economic espionage must stop," pushed back against Chinese territorial claims in the South and East China Seas, and noted respect for human rights as a "profound difference between our two governments."

The years since Obama left office have sharpened America's political opposition to China and its ruling Chinese Communist Party. Rice appears to share the more Sino-skeptic sentiment of many of America's foreign policy experts and lawmakers.

Rice has been critical of Trump's China strategy. She attacked the president for revoking sanctions against telecoms giant ZTE; praising President Xi Jinping's coronavirus response; opening the door for increased Chinese influence by abandoning the World Health Organization; and failing to act on Chinese human rights abuses.

Rice also clashed with Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, calling him a "racist disgrace" over a series of anti-American tweets related to China's oppression of Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang.

China's nationalistic state-backed Global Times newspaper recently suggested Rice is part of a new tough-on-China wave in the U.S. Global Times said Biden's likely foreign policy team—Rice among them—indicates that "the goal of Biden administration's China policy is almost identical to that of the Trump administration, albeit more tactfully stated."

"The Biden administration will continue to regard China as its main rival, seeing China as the biggest threat to maintain its position as a global hegemony," the newspaper predicted. "However, Biden will differ from Trump on dealing with this challenge."

Russia

Like Biden and his team, Rice has been openly critical of Russia and attacked Trump for his perceived closeness to Moscow and admiration for President Vladimir Putin. Biden has characterized Russia as America's number one threat, and vowed to push back on the Kremlin's foreign meddling and military interventions.

Rice has repeatedly admonished Trump for failing to stand up to Putin. Rice said in August she was "100 percent convinced" that Russia would meddle in the 2020 presidential election, and accused Trump and the GOP of amplifying Kremlin disinformation to try and defeat Biden.

She also criticized Trump for refusing to take action on reports of Russian bounties paid to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan to kill U.S. troops. "He is absolutely a failure as our commander in chief," Rice said of the president. "He has got some very bizarre, very inexplicable reason for always giving Putin the benefit of the doubt."

"None of this adds up," Rice added. "We have a president who is doing our arch adversary's bidding, it would seem. And he is surrounded by sycophants and weaklings who aren't doing their jobs."

Rice also recently tied Russia to far-right agitators in the U.S., amid mass protests over racial injustice and police brutality. "Based on my experience this is right out of the Russian playbook as well," she said of white supremacist groups trying to hijack demonstrations for their own ends.

Middle East and South Asia

Biden has vowed "unshakeable" support for Israel, despite international concerns over its human rights abuses; expansion of settlements on Palestinian land considered illegal by the United Nations and most of the international community; its annexation of occupied Syrian territory and threats to do the same in the Palestinian West Bank; and the corruption and fraud charges swirling around veteran Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Biden has so far resisted calls from inside his own party to re-evaluate U.S. ties with Israel and press Netanyahu to address some of the above concerns. Israel remains a treasured bipartisan American ally in a difficult region, something Biden will not give up to appease more radical Democratic figures.

But appointing Rice could be a sign he will be less forgiving of Israel than Trump has been.

Former peace negotiator Dennis Ross has accused Rice of being "combative" with Israel and intentionally keeping its government in the dark over the progress of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal—something Israel considered a step on the road to a nuclear Iran and thus an existential threat to the country. Ross also said Rice suggested Netanyahu was racist as a way to explain his apparent hostility to Obama.

Rice is also among the raft of diplomats, officials and world leaders who warned Israel not to press ahead with the threat to annex swathes of the Palestinian West Bank. She said the move—an election promise by Netanyahu since put on hold due to coronavirus and the Abraham Accords—would "make this traditionally bipartisan strong support for Israel that much harder to sustain."

Rice will be supportive of Biden's hope to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, much to Israeli and Republican chagrin. She called Trump's 2018 withdrawal from the deal his "most foolish decision yet," and has pushed back against what she called the president's "despicable lies" about the agreement.

This support for the Iran deal will not earn a Biden administration brownie points among the anti-Tehran Gulf states and Egypt, which have lined up behind Trump and Netanyahu. Biden's focus on human rights will also irk these authoritarian nations, given a pass by Trump in exchange for backing Israel and purchasing American weapons.

Indeed, Rice has criticized Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince and de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman for the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. She termed MBS—as he is known colloquially—as "petulant and proud," and said: "Prince Mohammed is not and can no longer be viewed as a reliable or rational partner of the United States and our allies."

In Syria, Rice pushed back against growing Russian and Iranian influence through their support for dictator President Bashar al-Assad. The situation there is now far removed from when she was in office, with Assad having re-established control over much of the country and vanquished most of his foes.

American troops are still deployed in Syria, supporting local allies against Islamic State remnants and—on Trump's orders—protecting (or even helping exploit) oil fields in the east of the country.

Rice sees American presence in the Middle East as a strategic necessity, even if it comes with problems. She criticized Trump's order to withdraw American troops from Syria as a "self-inflicted strategic catastrophe." A Biden administration is likely to continue anti-ISIS operations in Syria while trying to keep Russia, Iran and Assad off kilter.

Still, Rice and the Obama administration were widely criticized for being too passive in Syria—for example failing to act even after Assad crossed Obama's infamous chemical weapons "red line." A Biden administration will not want to engage deeper than necessary in this messy, unwinnable conflict.

Trump vowed to bring American troops home and end long running, unwinnable wars. So far he has been unable, hamstrung by opposition from the Pentagon and the threat of a Taliban takeover of the country. This could subsequently create new opportunities for militant groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Trump still wants all American forces out of the country by the end of his term. If he fails, a Biden administration would likely pursue a more gradual exit strategy, even if it means losing more American blood and riches.

Earlier this year, Rice penned an op-ed critical of Trump's peace deal with the Taliban, which was supposed to set the foundation for a full inter-Afghan peace deal—a goal as yet unrealized.

Rice said the deal was "a deeply flawed agreement that has the potential to lead to peace but is very unlikely to achieve it. In short, the United States gave away a lot and got relatively little in return."

The agreement said all American troops would leave Afghanistan by 2021, a clause Rice said was unacceptable. "The United States will be left without any military or counterterrorism capacity in Afghanistan, effectively subcontracting America's security to the Taliban," she wrote.

Susan Rice, Joe Biden, secretary of state
Former national security adviser Susan Rice speaks at the J Street 2018 National Conference April 16, 2018 in Washington, D.C. Win McNamee/Getty Images/Getty