Tomorrow, Karl Rove, former President George W. Bush’s deputy chief of staff and senior aid, will visit Tufts as part of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life’s Distinguished Speaker Series. Whether attending this event or not, it is essential for members of our community to understand Rove’s political career and his role in the Iraq War in order to critically evaluate both his presence on campus and parallels to the current situation in Iran.
Rove played an instrumental role in every one of Bush’s political campaigns and was heavily involved in the Bush administration. He advised the president on most domestic policy matters, and analysts point to his long-term strategic thinking. James Moore and Wayne Slater wrote in NPR that “What Rove does on a Monday is inextricably connected by design to what he’ll be doing on another Monday four, six, and even eight years in the future.” He also had an outsized influence on the GOP overall, dictating who should run or not run for office and directing policy and politics across the party. Though Rove’s political skill is not to be questioned, we must recognize that the effects of his work are certainly far from admirable.
In 2003, the Iraq War got its start in part because of the false accusation that the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. As a result of this fabrication, a devastating war was waged, one which would cause the death of 461,000 people, nearly 100,000 of which were documented civilian casualties. Upwards of three million refugees were displaced. The war hurt those at home as well, leaving thousands of families without loved ones, and disabling nearly a million veterans. Rove played a key role in instigating the war and the momentous suffering that followed.
After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, the public was widely supportive of Bush’s military action in Afghanistan, but Iraq was a different, less popular affair. Rove was a member of the White House Iraq Group, which aimed to “convince Americans that war with Iraq was inevitable and necessary.” The group engineered and politicized a fear-mongering campaign, and Bush administration officials including Vice President Dick Cheney seriously discussed in interviews the possibility of an advanced Iraqi nuclear weapons program. Though there was no “smoking gun,” as Bush staffers would say, fear of a dictator like Hussein using a nuclear weapon was enough to mobilize the public to war. Rove was behind politicizing this fear, telling GOP donors that his strategy for the 2002 elections was: “Focus on war.”
After the war, and then long after the Bush administration’s folly became known, Rove still has not repented. Instead, he has continued to stand behind his choices. In 2005, Rove travelled to Manhattan to defend the Bush administration’s handling of 9/11 and the war, and accused liberals of wanting to “offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.” In 2015, he refused to apologize to an Iraq war veteran. “We should be proud of what we were able to achieve in Iraq. And we should be sorry that we left them alone,” he said at a University of Connecticut event. With one sided and vitriolic comments, Rove has fiercely defended his corner for almost 20 years with a callous indifference towards human suffering.
Although upon initial review this may seem like a problem of the past, the United States is now facing a very similar crisis. Tensions between the United States and Iran have been escalating for months, recently brought to a head by attacks on major Saudi Arabian oil facilities, and President Donald Trump has suggested military action in the region. On Friday, Sept. 21, the U.S. announced it will be deploying troops and missile systems to the Arabian peninsula. We have seen this pattern of escalation before, and we know the trauma and devastation that pour forth. Rove is yet again relevant and problematic, appearing this summer on a Fox News panel speaking of potential conflict with Iran. “We ought to be prepared as a country for more assaults and maybe the loss of American lives,” he said. Rove has clearly failed to learn from the past, and rhetoric which normalizes war from a prominent politico is incredibly dangerous.
Tomorrow, at 6:30 p.m. in ASEAN Auditorium, we hope to hear hard-hitting, critical questions from students and Tisch College Dean Alan Solomont. Rove’s presence on campus, while regrettable, requires us to think critically and actively question Rove’s history and current role as a pundit on the Iran crisis of today. As a nation we must keep in mind the danger of repeating the terrible mistakes that lead to war, and as a campus we must do our part to hold a powerful politician accountable. We must take this valuable opportunity to question a leader who, during many of our childhoods, helped to plunge the nation and the world into war. What can we learn from Rove’s mistakes, even as he refuses to do so? As we grow into leaders and thinkers, what can we take away from the violence this man helped create, and what can we learn about the value of taking responsibility for one’s mistakes?
Dean Solomont, as a guide and educator at our university, we hope you will lead us in a critical evaluation of the past as it relates to the present. Don’t let Rove off the hook: We have the opportunity to press him on his past and present, and he should answer.