29 November 2011

Thoughts on Condoleezza Rice's Upcoming Visit to the Claremont Colleges

Tomorrow, the 30th of November, Condoleezza Rice, will be speaking here at the Claremont Colleges, specifically at the invitation of Claremont McKenna College.  Before and during her talk, I will be joining the “Un-Welcome” protest for, and teach-in about, her.  I will do so because I believe Rice is responsible for crimes against democracy and crimes against humanity. 

In this regard, two aspects of her government service under George W. Bush are particularly noteworthy: 

In July of 2002, Condoleezza Rice, as National Security Advisor, conveyed authorization to waterboard to CIA Director George Tenet.[1]   Waterboarding is torture and thus a violation of international law[2] and a violation of basic human rights.   Condoleezza Rice is thus responsible for this crime against humanity.

In late 2002 and early 2003, Condoleezza Rice, as National Security Advisor, played a central role in circulating and accrediting false intelligence about Iraq to the U.S. and global publics, for the purpose of building support for the war in Iraq.  In this way, Condoleezza Rice is responsible for crimes against democracy and crimes against humanity.

Some thoughtful students have asked me why I plan to be outside at the protest and teach-in, rather than inside attending her talk and listening to her.  My response is, first, that anyone who wants to attend her talk, and has the opportunity to do so, should do so—though it should be noted that CMC is giving preference to CMC students and faculty, so the opportunity to hear her will probably not be there for anyone else.

In addition, I would note that someone like Rice is very unlikely to say anything new in a talk of this sort:  what she will give is a speech that she has given, and/or will give, many times—and, indeed, a video of it may already be on the internet.  We also should realize that a standard question-and-answer session with a speaker of this sort almost never yields a genuine intellectual or political exchange.  Rice is too much a professional politician, too much a scripted and rehearsed public persona, for there to be any give-and-take or anything new said by her.  For an appearance by Rice to be a genuine intellectual and political exchange would require that she be questioned by a panel of scholars with relevant expertise—and that they be allowed to ask follow-up questions and even, should they wish, to rebut claims she might make.  What, instead, will happen when Rice speaks on Wednesday at CMC is more a piece of shallow theater than anything of genuine pedagogic value.  By contrast, the events outside will involve open dialogue.  

In terms of where both learning and democracy are more likely to happen, I'd bet heavily on being "outside," rather than "inside" with the powerful visitor. 


[1] Hines, Nico, “Condoleezza Rice gave nod for ‘torture’ techniques,’ The Times (London), 23 April 2009.
[2] United Nations Convention Against Torture.

The SLOW BLOG movement recommends further reading; in this case:

Russell Baker's essay, "Condi and the Boys," in The New York Review of Books, back in 2008.


  1. Thanks for preaching the truth Dan! Keep it up, can't wait to see you there tomorrow.

  2. How does this compare to Ahmedinajad's visit to Columbia University some time ago? Very few people agree with his views, myself included, but his presence their still presented a valuable opportunity to question and find out the motivations behind them.

    Respectfully, I feel as though you don't give us CMC students enough credit in abilities to hold our guests' feet to the fire if need be. In high school, I was part of an organization known as the Junior State of America (JSA). Every summer, JSA hosted a Speaker Series at Georgetown University, where political figures would be questioned by high school students on their policies and ideologies. In my experience with it, high school students were more than able to promote a thought provoking political discussion.

    My point is, if high school students can do it, I have no doubt that my fellow CMCers will be able to as well. While I cannot attend the talk or dinner due to a prior commitment, I firmly believe in my peers' abilities to promote a respectful political dialogue, contrary to what you state above.

    - Aseem Chipalkatti
    CMC '15

  3. One of the cool things about the Ath is that it's not just a scripted talk and Q&A. There's also a reception beforehand where students can meet and speak with the speaker. Some students even get to sit at the head table with the speaker. So, while you might not have gotten those opportunities for give and take, many CMC students would have. Now that the venue has changed (in order to avoid a repeat of the destructive and disruptive protests that were coincided with Karl Rove's visit to CMC), those students won't have that chance.

    All you and your disciples have done is a) ensured that you will be able to reinforce what you already believe in puhlic on CMC's campus and b) created a situation with enough potential for destructive behavior that CMC founds it necessary to change the venue in order to protect the speaker.

    I support your right to protest. I support your right to ignore viewpoints you don't like. I guess it'd just be nice if you would at least acknowledge that the "Un-Welcome" protest has created a situation that actually detracts from what could have been an educational experience for CMC students by forcing the event to become "shallow theater."

  4. Thank you, Dan, for posting this and drawing attention to this matter. It's an egregious affront that so many members of an administration that cleared torture techniques and went to war on false information not only have never been prosecuted but continue in prestigious positions, often commanding hefty fees on the lecture circuit. Someone like Thomas Friedman--a cheerleader and enabler of the Iraq War--can bring in more money for a single invited lecture than most professors make in a year.

  5. Condoleezza Rice is still going to be paid for her time, and will now actually be forced to answer fewer questions. It is Claremont McKenna College students who will now be interacting with THEIR guest in a less intimate fashion. It is Claremont McKenna College students who will now be sitting in bleachers instead of at tables with food in front of them. It is Claremont McKenna students who will now be forced to greet a prominent political official by welcoming her into a drafty gym rather than a more appropriate location. Nobody wants to challenge your right to dislike her or disagree with her policies, or even to demonstrate somewhere else, but by pursuing this largely self aggrandizing endeavor, you will be hurting us, not her. Perhaps you want to punish CMC for hosting such an individual, but I urge to consider the implications of such an action, as no good can come of it.

    Adam Griffith
    CMC '14

  6. I'm genuinely curious Daniel A. Segal. Do you think Hillary Clinton is a war criminal?

  7. To ANONYMOUS at bottom: You ask me if I think Hillary Clinton is a war criminal? I would have to ask you to define "war criminal." It is not a term I myself use, precisely because I am not sure I understand it well enough to use it (and right now, I do not feel a pressing need to research it and theorize it). I am, though, quite comfortable with, and believe I have documented, the claim that Condoleezza Rice is responsible for crimes against democracy and crimes against humanity.

    BTW, do YOU think Hillary Clinton is a war criminal?

    And a final aside: Please note this blog is part of the SLOW BLOG movement. The whole point of the SLOW BLOG movement is to slow down and choose words and phrases and arguments carefully. So I do not use terms unless I am sure I understand them well enough.