Confronting Rice’s legacy on Iraq

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March 26, 2015

10:55 PM

March 3, the College of William and Mary announced that the class of 2015’s commencement speaker will be former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Outside of a few murmurs of discontent, the student body’s general reaction appeared to be mild excitement over landing such a high-profile speaker.

Indeed, it has been several years since the College has brought a speaker with such an accomplished political legacy. But there is another legacy that hangs over her whole career: the Iraq War, which began 12 years ago on March 20.

Rice was instrumental in convincing Congress and the American public that the Iraq War was necessary. On Sept. 8, 2002, Condoleezza Rice stated in an interview on CNN that the Iraqi government possessed aluminum tubes that “are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs” and famously declared that “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” Yet according to The New York Times almost a year before that interview, “Ms. Rice’s staff had been told that the government’s foremost nuclear experts seriously doubted that the tubes were for nuclear weapons.” Perhaps factual accuracy was never the purpose of Rice’s media campaign: when a deputy raised concerns about the accuracy of Rice’s claims, Rice told the deputy, “Save your breath. The president has already made up his mind.” To this day, investigators have failed to find evidence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program.

In addition, in 2003 The Guardian reported that Condoleezza Rice used her position as National Security Advisor to personally request that the National Security Agency wiretap members of the United Nations Security Council. According to an internal NSA memo, the purpose of the surveillance was to “give U.S. policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to U.S. goals or to head off surprises.” The event caused an international scandal, but Rice never stopped believing that it was the correct course of action; in a 2005 interview with Wolf Blitzer, she defended the decision as a necessary part of President Bush “using his constitutional authority to protect the country.”

As we know, the United States ultimately went to war in Iraq. A Brown University study estimates that the Iraq War has cost the United States over $2 trillion; counting interest, the cost could grow to $6 trillion over the next several decades. More tragically, a 2013 study published in the academic journal PLoS Medicine estimates that the Iraq War caused almost 500,000 deaths due to violence, population displacement and health infrastructure issues; the majority of those killed were civilians. Countless more have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, severe injuries or forced migration. Yet 12 years after the start of the war, Iraq does not have a well-functioning democratic government, over a quarter of Iraq’s population lives in poverty, Iraqi citizens do not have reliable access to electricity or clean water, and the region is less stable than before the war began.

There will be some who say that Rice’s speech will not be political and that we should not concern ourselves with her political legacy. Indeed, there is some truth to this claim. Rice’s commencement speech will undoubtedly skirt controversy and stick to the motivational platitudes characteristic of the topic. And I hope she is not prevented from giving her speech, as she was at Rutgers University. Rice has every right to speak, and we can learn quite a lot by reflecting on her legacy as a public official.

But Condoleezza Rice is coming to the College because of her political career. As a public official, Rice made concrete decisions that had real effects on real people’s lives. If we ignore this fact and suspend all judgement due to some vague sense of awe over an individual’s power and political accomplishments, we do not deserve to consider ourselves members of a vibrant democratic society.

Ultimately, history will judge the consequences of the decisions Condoleezza Rice made while in office. Will we?

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  • Michael Payne

  • .. and you do know that if you are intending to confront Condi’s legacy, then you can only do so credibly without pre-moderating all comments.
    I keep hoping for an open, stand-up debate with the peacenik, save-Saddam faction but you guys just don’t have the balls that Condi has for an open debate.

  • Well why would we ever want to wire-tap the Russians, Michael? It’s not as if they ever wire-tap us, right?

  • The Bush Doctrine – to get state sponsors of terrorism before their terrorists get us – was right. Condi was correct to support the doctrine. Obama was wrong to oppose it in Iraq and correct in Afghanistan.

    To analyse why the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were expensive, though when was war ever “cheap”, we need to understand that the fault has been in not applying the Bush Doctrine widely enough.

    The destabilisation of Iraq was by terrorists sponsored by neighbouring states – Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE etc.

    The destabilisation of Afghanistan was by terrorists sponsored by Pakistan.

    President Bush as we know held hands with the Saudi King and invited the Pakistani military dictator President Musharraf to the White House. The president was not thorough about applying the doctrine named after him.

    Really the high cost of the wars, in cash and lives, has been because of a reluctance to pursue regime change in those neighbouring state sponsor of terrorism.

    I don’t say “invade” all those state sponsors but regime change can be pursued by sanctions, seizing oil tankers, seizing TV satellites and a whole number of stand-off options which don’t risk any of our troops but could bring those regimes to their knees at low cost.

    • henli1000

      Is this a joke? The full legacy of Iraq war is not fulling known yet but you can already tell future generation will NOT appreciate Iraq war.

      And this is while Iraq war supporters are still alive and are still defending their decision. Once they pass, the unbiased verdict will be brutal.

      • No that comment is not a joke. The comment below about the Russians never wire tapping us is a joke.

        It is certainly is the case that the ruling classes – royal, military and clerical elites – of state sponsors of terrorists who waged war in Iraq against the democracy of the people of Iraq are still alive and still ruling, yes.

        History will record that these ruling classes were and still are “Iraq war supporters”, even though such as you always wish to gloss over the fact that these ruling classes are indeed “Iraq war supporters”.

        Wars are fought by two sides and it is false to say one side fights “supporting the war” but the other side fights “opposing the war”.

        You read like you are very much in bed with one side of “Iraq war supporters” – the state sponsors of terrorism – but are in denial about your sleeping partners.

        • henli1000

          War on terror…. another joke. The war in Iraq should be called the war to create more terrorists. Let’s not even talk ISIS, which is the immediate result. This current generation of Iraqi children will no doubt grow up to cause more problems in the future.

          All cuz some known nothing boomer think it’s a good idea to play cowboy. Yep, let future generations wipe the boomer ass. Heh, leave it to them to start another cold war too.

          • Well the jihadi state sponsors of terrorism are indeed creating more terrorists, like ISIS, precisely to get them to go wage their proxy wars in Iraq and world-wide.

            The US aiding and trading with the jihadi state sponsors of terrorism creates terrorists sure. Then that’s the USA helping the terrorist war against itself, which is a dumb thing to do, sure. But you are very happy with dumb like when Bush held hands with the Saudi King and dumber when Obama bowed to the Saudi King.

            Sure the USA buying Saudi oil helps the Saudis to sponsor terrorists in Iraq, sure it does. But you agree with that. Because you are dumb.

            What doesn’t create terrorists is waging war on terrorists – that you hate because, like I said, you are dumb.

          • henli1000

            No Iraq war no ISIS. 2 trillion spent in Iraq, killed five hundred thousands, created ISIS and more terrorist, enable Iran to rise and control Iraq.

            That’s the result so far. Cost still adding up. Trying to spin it into a positive is a joke.

            This is why the country is so messed up. People with GED have greater influence than PhD. Bush had to step over many experts to get his war because he gut feeling just knows better.

          • No President Obama, no ISIS.
            Secretary Rice, no al-Zarqawi.
            President Rice, no ISIS.

            Actually, “Bush-dumb, Obama-dumber” is negative spin.

            In a bull-fight, the bull’s gut feeling is not wrong. It’s the bull’s strategy which is wrong.

            Condoleezza Rice has a PhD and is my recommendation for President of the United States and leader of the free world.