Susan Rice at the UN in 2012. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Former top diplomats who worked with Susan Rice have signed a letter rebutting a recent New York Times column in which Bret Stephens referred to her as “inept” and a “sycophant to despots.”

Why it matters: Rice has long been a target of conservative criticism, but many former colleagues have lined up to offer support during her return to the national spotlight as a potential running mate to Joe Biden. She's now seen as a leading contender for a top job, perhaps secretary of state, in a potential Biden administration.

Background: Stephens, a conservative columnist, claimed that Rice made serious blunders and “played politics with human rights” as assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Clinton administration (1997-2001).

In an open letter shared with Axios, 47 diplomats — most of them former ambassadors to African countries — paint a different picture.

  • They describe her as a tireless diplomat, strong leader and “the catalyst for a foreign policy that sought to put Africa on equal footing with the rest of the world.”
  • “Her record is being examined with a microscope and a telescope, at times refracting the light so completely that original facts become completely obscured,” they write.
  • The signatories include career diplomats as well as political appointees from both parties.

The big picture: Rice was just 32 years old when she became assistant secretary of state. She later served as Barack Obama's ambassador to the UN and thereafter as national security adviser.

  • She was seen as the top contender to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, but withdrew from consideration after becoming the public face of the Obama administration's initial response to the 2012 Benghazi attacks.

Read the letter:

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