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Condi’s House of Cards

| Thursday, March 20, 2014

We dwell in personal, organizational or professional houses where our own actions entwine in such ways that one enormous mistake ⎯ or a series of many ⎯ can shatter a life, dishearten others, estrange ourselves from relatives or warrant legal sanctions. Because of our fallibility, families routinely tolerate cheating spouses, eccentric uncles, drunken cousins or bad-tempered siblings. Someone always acts in ways others will not. Regardless of how one defines “family” ⎯ through bloodline, religion, community, professional or political affiliation the game of life is still played one card at a time.
In Washington, a conversational craze currently trends through the nation’s capital about governmental mischief and intrigue. Discussions dominate just about every political merrymaking gathering. Partygoers chuckle over such dialogue from a congressman who confesses, “I don’t believe in God, Heaven, hell, none of it,” to which a chief of staff asks, “Too much Catholic school?”
“House of Cards,” a Netflix dramatic series about congressional deception starring Kevin Spacey, kicked off its much-anticipated second season in February. Not to be outdone, in January, PBS resurrected the original BBC 1990s British parliamentary trilogy by the same name starring Ian Richardson. Both shows illustrate ambitious high-level politicians who during their youth learned that death was merely a means of survival. Both characters named “Francis” derive the nickname “F-U” from their initials, which appropriately describes their tough hardball political tactics and merciless personal animosities that are anything but idealistic and altruistic.
Through unconscionable behavior, “House of Cards” divulges more than just youthful idealism quickly lurching into the ruthless reality of a cruel, warped world. It is an invitation for viewers to examine their own houses and better choose their everyday cards. Each of us may not surrender fidelity by allowing our spouse to sleep with news reporters. Each of us may not be willing to allow our staff to kill others to advance or preserve our personal power. But each of us ⎯ at least those within an academic confine like the Notre Dame community ⎯ should be willing to remove the glaze of religious righteousness or political purity to embrace and tolerate the views of others, rather than simultaneously march together against them.
Earlier this week former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who earned a Notre Dame degree, stepped from retirement’s public service shadows to characterize President Obama’s international approach as one of leading from behind. The World Post interview quotes Rice denying that she switched from a nongovernmental, domestic focus to an international one, “but instead [is] making sure we lead from a position of strength and by example.”
Rutgers University students and faculty took exception with Rice’s record this week by protesting her scheduled May commencement address. Just as religious conservatives at Notre Dame protested President Obama’s address, Rutgers liberals opposed Rice and called her a war criminal. They say Rice’s “lead by example” record is replete with glaring coldhearted decisions that violated our American virtue, laws and traditions. They cite a time as National Security Advisor when she legally defended “enhanced interrogation techniques” like water-boarding, fingernail extraction and sleep deprivation. They petitioned against “the lies promoted that led to the second Iraq war … the death of more than 100,000 men, women and children and the displacement of millions of others.”
A thorough accounting of Rice’s life unveils in British filmmaker Sebastian Doggart’s documentary, “American Faust: From Condi to Neo-Condi.” The film features Rice herself, three of her most authoritative biographers ⎯ one a Pulitzer Prize winner ⎯ along with many supporters as well as critics. She responds about her pursuit and use of power posed from various interviewees who contend that she sacrificed her principles in exchange for political power, while misleading the public on 56 occasions. Critics point to her various rhetorical denial techniques that sidestepped telling the truth through claims of amnesia, wordplay and filibustering with long answers.
They say she was asleep on her NSA watch, and, following 9/11, abandoned a modest foreign policy agenda of realism while becoming a neo-conservative idealist. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former Chief of Staff, accuses her of deliberately exaggerating the case for war, quoting, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” to which Rice replies, “I did not pump up anything.”
The documentary traces Rice’s vigorous support for the Guantanamo Bay detention center as “a necessity because of the War on Terror.” Doggart unearths new historical discovery connecting her through the CIA to four actual individuals who underwent and described their enhanced interrogation technique experiences. This is the first source to uncover and name those “black site” countries around the world to which Rice and the CIA sent detainees to be interrogated. Most notably, it reveals that Rice directly authorized the CIA to use torture techniques ordering, “This is your baby. Go do it.”
Rice denies such allegations, simply saying, “We did not torture anybody.”
Oh please, Condoleezza. You and every invitee should always deliver commencement addresses to which you are invited. Judgment of you should be based on your best thoughts and how you played your political cards ⎯ making ruthless, coldhearted, death-filled war decisions. Your governmental watch has past. Isn’t it time to rest, rather than rehash another roar for waging one more war?

Gary J. Caruso, Notre Dame ‘73, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director at the U.S. House of Representatives and in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


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