Top Obama adviser e-mail from nearly two decades ago

In 1997, a young diplomat in charge of African Affairs strongly cautioned against sending newly confirmed Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Africa for a biennial summit described in an internal e-mail as a “jamboree.”

That diplomat, a woman named Susan Rice, wrote a sharply worded note to national security staff criticizing the event’s organizer, civil rights activist the Rev. Leon Sullivan, who had allegedly said that if the president, vice president or secretary of state weren’t coming, then not to send anyone.

(EPA/JUSTIN LANE)
(Justin Lane/EPA)

“In any case, unfortunately, this is likely to be a lose/lose proposition in that Sullivan will almost inevitably publicly damn us if we do or don’t. That’s just his style,” the now-national security adviser wrote, according to Clinton White House documents made public Friday.

Then, in a separate note, Rice used blunt language to explain why Albright should not attend the African/African American summit in Zimbabwe.

“I too think it would be ill-advised, but not disastrous. (Among the genuine luminaries who would be present will also be such folks· as Farrakhan and Al Sharpton),” Rice wrote. “This event is a poorly planned quasi-Baptist revival, the main purpose of which is to give a biennial boost to Sullivan’s already sizable ego. This would not be the most dignified way for her to conduct her first trip to Africa as Secretary.”

In the end, the Clinton administration sent Transportation Secretary Rodney F. Slater and the Rev. Jesse Jackson as its representatives.

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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