Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Sunday, April 30, 2017

Column: Not quite a war criminal is not quite good enough

Students should protest Karl Rove’s upcoming AU visit, writes Bill Kakenmaster.

The AU community owes a distinct gratitude to the Kennedy Political Union, who announced on Feb. 1 that former Senior Adviser to George W. Bush, Karl Rove, would address campus later in the month. We should be thankful not for the opportunity to hear from who KPU called “one of the most sought-after political brains of our time.” Quite the opposite, in fact; AU students owe KPU for the opportunity to protest Rove since they missed their last chance at a good demonstration earlier this school year.

Karl Rove, a member of the famous White House Iraq Group, propagated a false narrative of U.S.-Iraqi relations to members of Congress and then-President George W. Bush in order to consolidate Republican power in the government. George W. Bush announced in 2003 that the United States would invade Iraq under the pretext of national security concerns that primarily cited the Hussein administration’s possession of nuclear weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Rove—who was Bush’s chief strategist at the time—openly advocated both the invasion of Iraq and advised congressional candidates to use the invasion as the primary platform issue in the next election cycle. According to a 2002 article in Time magazine, Rove briefed candidates on at least two occasions, advising that warmongering would make the American people “trust the Republican Party” to better promote defense spending and military might. Rather than developing a clear, thoughtful argument for Republican values, Rove’s solution was simple: just “focus on the war.”

Furthermore, Karl Rove sold the Iraq War to President George W. Bush and is one of the chief reasons for the President’s decision. The Bush cabinet was one of the least centralized in U.S. history, with advisers and appointed officials making several important decisions. Gettysburg College’s Shirley Warshaw goes so far as to call the cabinet structure a “co-presidency” shared between Bush and then-Vice President Dick Cheney. Whether a co-presidency or not, it remains widely accepted that Rove—as part of that cabinet—wielded an unusually great amount of influence as an adviser.

Rove not only advised Bush to invade Iraq (advice which included helping to create a political strategy that guaranteed a war resolution from Congress), but was also later found out to have covered up intelligence on the existence of chemical weapons in the country because it “did not support the government’s invasion rationale.” According to the former cabinet member himself, the 2003 invasion of Iraq would have likely never gone forward without the perceived threat of nuclear WMD—false intelligence proffered in large part by Karl Rove.

The critical reader might at this point reasonably ask, “But does this make him a war criminal?” To this reader, I would reply, “No, but that is beside the point.”

To count as a war criminal, one must have committed one or more of a slew of atrocities violating international legal obligations during armed conflict. One must also have had the authority to commit those atrocities, not merely encouraged them. Karl Rove, as an adviser to the president, not the president himself, is, admittedly, not quite a war criminal, but that is not quite a good enough excuse to host him in our community.

Rove encouraged and facilitated war crimes committed by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney during the Iraq War. Even former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, declared the invasion of Iraq illegal and contradictory to the UN Charter given the lack of a credible threat that would have justified the use of force in self-defense. So, Rove—who never authorized the invasion, but who certainly contributed to its occurrence—is not quite guilty, but not quite innocent.

The angry argument above would hold that Karl Rove does not deserve a platform at AU because he helped sell an illegal war orchestrated by the Bush administration to the American public and government officials. Though still valid, there is another, calmer argument against Rove’s anticipated visit—which is, simply, that bringing him is scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to political figures.

Karl Rove is a pundit whose work contributes to a political discourse based more on opinion than on fact. Rove currently writes a column for the Wall Street Journal and sometimes contributes to Fox News as a political analyst. Fox News is well-known for its conservative bias and tendency to “mislabel opinion as news,” as the Columbia Journalism Review puts it. Politifact reports with somewhat less tact—but not less honesty—that an average of 60 percent of Fox News’ claims are false or mostly false. And, one does not have to look far for evidence of Rove’s conservative bias in the Wall Street Journal, where he refers to presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as “an elderly, dyspeptic Bilbo Baggins attending a British Labour Party meeting,” and to Chelsea Clinton as an “attack dog” for Hillary Clinton.

Although Rove helped found American Crossroads (a conservative Super PAC), he currently serves as an adviser and has no power to make executive decisions, and the organization’s influence itself seems on the wane. The days of Karl Rove’s political strategies that helped elect Bush are over, and I very much doubt that anyone at AU—conservative or not—reads his opinionated columns or listens to his one-sided interviews. Surely KPU could do better; there is no reason to stoop to pandering personalities like Karl Rove.

In a recent exchange with Valeria Ojeda-Avitia, the KPU Director suggested the value-added of Rove’s visit to be “diversity in opinion,” but diversity in opinion is not the problem. No one doubts the value of diversity, and that is not at stake here. I am not asking for less conservative speakers, only less war criminal-esque ones that do not lie to the public, or so clearly bow to one political party or another. In October, I won a bet that AU would not protest Madeleine Albright, and I was right. This time, it is anyone’s guess if AU will protest Karl Rove, as it did during his last visit. Perhaps he will simply be the butt everyone’s jokes for the next few weeks.

Perhaps that is all he deserves.

William Kakenmaster is a junior in the School of International Service.

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