In all the hoopla over Susan Rice and Benghazi it seems that most people are willing to forget or overlook her earlier years at the State Department. Armin Rosen in The Atlantic was the exception that proves the rule, as was Glenn Ford at the Black Agenda Report. But it's worth pausing to ask "where are all the experts who might cast doubt on Rice's alleged accomplishments?" There's just a stunning silence.
Rosen does secure a current quote from Peter Rosenblum, who in 2002 wrote probably the most pointed critique of Rice's Africa policy (in Current History, supposedly behind a paywall except thanks to Google docs available here), but that's nevertheless fairly weak and tepid stuff. Glenn Ford gets the damning judgment absolutely right although with less gravitas and fewer details. For what it's worth I'll add my two cents.
My complaint, like Ford's, is that Rice, for a complicated set of reasons that begin with personal ambition and include the ideology of "responsibility to protect" and "humanitarian intervention," aided and abetted a Rwandan invasion of the eastern Congo, called "the Second Congo War," an incursion from 1998 to 2003 that helped catalyze innumerable local conflicts and ultimately cost the lives of approximately five million people.
Rice and I never overlapped, thank goodness. But I have a passing familiarity with the Congo, having lived in Leopoldville as a kid from 1962 to 1964 and then having served at the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa (when the country was called Zaire). Along with most of the Embassy staff I was evacuated from Kinshasa in 1991, during a military mutiny, and afterwards went to work on Yugoslav affairs — thus mostly losing contact with African issues.
Nevertheless, I was peripherally aware of Rice's tenure from 1997 to 2001 as the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. Her absolute indifference to the death and suffering in the Congo bothered and still bothers me. Especially because she bears a material — albeit difficult to measure — responsibility for the Second Congo War, and because even today she continues to take the Rwandan side of things and thus helps perpetuate the chaos. It's a no-brainer to predict that if she were to become Secretary of State another war in central Africa would quickly ensue.
The thing about the Congo is, it's a big place that never ought to have become a country. It's about as big as the U.S. east of the Mississippi and in the years of colonial land grabs the Belgians got their hands on it, with Belgium's King Leopold, in 1885, at the Conference of Berlin, making the Congo his private property. No, really. His reign was terrifying, brutal, probably genocidal. Fast forward to 1960, the Belgians were desperate to wash away Leopold's stain and (perhaps prematurely) gave the Congolese independence. Such a big country, with several hundred ethnic groups and essentially zero history of modern development, couldn't handle that transition. By 1965 Mobutu Sese Seko had taken over and quasi-ruled the quasi-country, renamed Zaire.† Mobutu provided a kind of precarious stability up through 1997: it should have been obvious to outside powers that, once he was gone, the place would begin to catastrophically disintegrate.
Washington, and Rice, made huge mistakes.
If you wonder why this little bit of history seems to be so easily forgotten, or perhaps never known in the first place, just look around at who talks and writes about Africa. In the top universities — Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Chicago, Northwestern, Berkeley, Stanford, etc., etc. — what you find in Africa studies are a bunch of folk who research gender issues or religion or some mish-mash of social history. Astonishingly, it's the same in Britain. (Possibly history on the continent is taught differently but I find the websites of continental history faculties impossible to navigate.) If you turn to public intellectuals the problem is that the network spawned by Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright has spread its tentacles everywhere, Rice being merely a leading exemplar of the now common standard. For the sake of argument I'm willing to assume that public intellectuals do exist who both know about and condemn Rice's past policy sins, but there can't be very many of them and they're awfully difficult to find (suggestions most welcome).
It's starting to bother me that when I have certain questions I'm finding, now and then, entire research disciplines that appear to be missing in action. Chalk it up, I suppose, to modern special education.
† I keep several banded, mint stacks of Zairois currency in my desk drawer as a memento. Most histories hold that Mobutu stole the country blind and stashed hundreds of millions of dollars in Switzerland. My personal opinion is that he had to constantly buy loyalty and, in the end, had only a few tens of millions of dollars in his own name, but even that being mostly tied up in European luxury real estate. My favorite story, btw, about high denomination Zairois bills, which were printed for Zaire in Germany, was that it cost more in hard currency to print them than their face value was worth; I can't remember whether the head of the central bank told me that or the IMF resident representative, but I'm certain it was true.