Susan Rice: Don't 'Allow Twitter Wars to Become Shooting Wars'

A Kurdish soldier destroys an ISIS sign with modesty instructions for women in al-Hol, northeast Syria. (YPJ photo)

WASHINGTON – Obama-era National Security Advisor Susan Rice called for the White House to “steadily apply pressure” to North Korea instead of labeling Kim Jong-un a “smart cookie,” as President Trump called the communist leader last month.


Rice urged the Trump administration to defend “our NATO allies” and to not allow “Twitter wars to become shooting wars.”

“Conflict is not inevitable and bluster is for bullies but our adversaries, from Russia to North Korea, must know that we will confront them with unity, resolve, and with every tool at our disposal. When we employ military force we must use it judiciously because we’ve learned, from Vietnam to Iraq, that even the finest fighting force on earth cannot defeat the underlying political, economic and sectarian forces that fuel conflict,” Rice said at the Center for American Progress Ideas Conference this week.

“So instead of simply vowing to bomb the bleep out of ISIL, we must use our full arsenal, including cutting off its finances, discrediting extremism online and helping stabilize fragile states. We must confront terrorists globally from Syria to Afghanistan to northern Mali and the southern Philippines, where al-Qaeda 3.0 may be germinating. We can’t allow Twitter wars to become shooting wars,” she added.

Rice continued, “So instead of vacillating between reckless saber-rattling and dubbing Kim Jong-un a smart cookie, we should steadily apply increased pressure on North Korea while protecting our allies and our homeland and instead of excusing Russia’s outrageous behavior and branding NATO obsolete, we must defend every NATO ally unconditionally and firmly counter Russia’s Cold War tactics.”

Since leaving the White House, Rice said she has become “deeply concerned” that the United States is “squandering” its “leadership of the world,” which she called one of its “greatest strategic assets.”


“I’m here to argue for a better strategy – a progressive strategy that will renew our global leadership. It seems that the current administration looks at the world and sees only threats: Immigrants. Refugees. Muslims. Mexicans. Even trade. It’s ‘America first’ and the rest of the world last. I fully recognize that we face serious threats. I spent eight years actually reading the presidential daily briefing and the last three and a half years personally briefing President Obama, but the world I see is also filled with profound opportunities. Our relationships are not zero sum. They should be mutually beneficial,” Rice said.

“Through enlightened self-interest, we can expand opportunity, not hoard it for the few. I believe that a responsible national security strategy must be balanced, confronting threats while seizing opportunities. It’s a strategy based on four pillars: a strong defense, skillful diplomacy, smart development and domestic strength,” she added.

Rice said the U.S. must “remain the world’s preeminent military power,” which requires “sustaining a force that’s smartly funded, wisely deployed and ready to deal with any threat at a moment’s notice.”

“From North America to Europe, from Israel to Asia, our allies and friends must know we stand with them, not based on a business transaction, but because we are bound by shared values and shared interests – and let’s stop pretending that our interests and our values conflict. Yes, sometimes we must work with unsavory regimes, but our values and our interests converge,” Rice told the conference.


“Democracies that respect human rights are our most reliable partners. Visit Arlington Cemetery or allied burial grounds around the world; our soldiers didn’t fight as part of some global protection racket. They died for the rights of all people to live in freedom dignity and equality,” she added.

Rice argued that international institutions and collective action make us more effective.

“We should reject the deconstruction of the administrative state and update the postwar international architecture that the United States built because it remains the right framework for promoting peace and prosperity around the world. The fact is we cannot bomb climate change or even violent extremism into submission. Pandemic flu and Zika won’t stop at the Rio Grande,” she said. “Cyber thieves and criminal cartels don’t respect national boundaries. In today’s interconnected world we need collective action to achieve lasting security.”

Rice emphasized that the U.S. needs a “well-functioning State Department” and that diplomacy is not optional.

“But it’s comparably cheap. As General Mattis said, if you don’t fully fund the State Department then I need to buy more ammunition. For America to remain the unrivaled global leader, we must value and fully fund the talented career professionals who do the delicate work of diplomacy,” she said.

Rice rejected the notion that foreign aid is a waste of money.

“Helping other people is neither charity nor wasteful spending. It’s one of the wisest investments we can make in our security and prosperity. From Afghanistan to Nigeria, we’ve seen poverty, conflict and corruption stifle opportunity and extremism take root,” Rice said.


“But USAID helps a farmer increase yields in Ethiopia, supports microenterprise in Haiti or electrifies a village in Kenya so kids can study at night. That’s good not just for them, it’s good for America’s security. When we combat malaria, AIDS and Ebola, investing in global health infrastructure, that’s good for our security. When we educate and empower women and girls, that is good for our security, too. So yes, we still need to let girls learn,” she added.

Rice, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, warned that the world is watching America’s every move.

“Make no mistake, the world watches very closely what we do and say. So we must ask, what message are we sending now? Because at this moment, our single greatest weakness as a people, as a country, and as a global leader, is our profound political polarization,” Rice said.

“It hasn’t always been like this. I grew up in this city and I’m old enough to remember when loyalties and even major legislation crossed party lines; when civility was the norm and politics mostly ended at the water’s edge – that seems like lifetimes ago but it wasn’t. We need to shake off this national funk and remember that first and foremost we are all Americans,” she added.

Rice called on the nation to put “democracy over demagoguery.”

“We must honor our Constitution, our founding values and each other. Surely we will often disagree but we sure as hell need to agree that a hostile foreign power has no business messing with our elections,” she said to applause from the audience. “Because here’s the truth: if we cannot find our way to put country over party, democracy over demagoguery, even in the face of such a dangerous external threat, then we might as well hang up our leadership cleats and resign ourselves to becoming a second-rate power – that should not be our future.”


She described an “effective foreign policy” as one that’s “grounded in domestic strength.”

“To lead the world and protect our people, we can’t rely solely on military might. We must continue to prosper by growing our economy, creating jobs, raising wages, reducing inequality and lifting Americans out of poverty. We must pursue trade that is fair and free and not cede the Asia-Pacific, the world’s fastest growing region, to China,” she said. “We need to catalyze American entrepreneurship and remain the global leader in R&D and higher education. These advantages don’t just make us competitive, they too make us safer and stronger.”


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