When actions have consequences

There are plenty of people who want to make the recent flap over former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s abortive commence speech to the student body at Rutgers University about free speech.

That list includes my colleagues here at the Review-Journal, who wrote in an editorial Friday, “Today, too many college campuses are temples of intolerance, where liberal dogma is the law and right-of-center thinking is not only discouraged, but can be a punishable offense. Speech codes ensure the easily offended can turn in those who dare to express unpopular ideas.”

And while a desire not to hear Rice’s conservative viewpoints might be a nifty straw man to knock down, the students at Rutgers University who opposed Rice actually did so because of the role she played in the selling of the Iraq War. And when seen from that perspective, a protest not only makes sense, it’s actually refreshing.

It was Rice, after all, who came up with the line later appropriated by President George W. Bush, about how we didn’t want the smoking gun of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program to be a mushroom cloud. It was Rice who flogged the fictional account of aluminum tubes purchased by Iraq being centrifuge-grade, when virtually all other experts concluded they were useful only for conventional rockets.

In short, Rice was a key component in selling the invasion of Iraq to the American people. But she — and the rest of the Bush administration — knew or should have known that there was absolutely no way Iraq had any chemical, nuclear or biological weapons at the time they were making public statements implying an urgency of action. These statements led to the deaths of more than 4,400 American soldiers, and thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians.

And the fact is, neither Rice, nor Bush, nor any member of the administration will ever be called to account for instigating a war on false pretenses. They’ll never be asked about the charges lodged by authors from Ron Suskind to Vincent Bugliosi to Frank Rich. The lives of thousands will be forever marred because of that unnecessary war.

So if all that happens to Rice is that she has to withdraw from speaking at a college graduation, she should count herself lucky. And the rest of us should be glad we live in a country where at least some students still believe lying to the public with horrific, bloody consequences is something that should get a person shunned from polite company, and college graduations.

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