Rove Speech At Duke Draws Large Audience, Protests

This story was written by Zak Kazzaz, The Chronicle
Protestors arrived in force Monday to picket and shout insults as Karl Rove, the former deputy White House chief of staff, took the stage in Page Auditorium at Duke University.

Rove addressed the sold-out auditorium of students, faculty, staff and Durham residents as closed-circuit television feeds featured the speech in Reynolds Auditorium.

The event, titled "A Conversation with Karl Rove" was co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Office of the President, the Duke University Union Major Speakers committee, the political science department and the Sanford Institute of Public Policy.

In his approximately one hour and 15 minutes on stage, Rove discussed a variety of topics including his childhood, personal experiences and policies under President George W. Bush's administration.

"When the Taliban killed men for minor violations of Islamic law by stoning them to death in a soccer stadium... we did the right thing by removing them from power," Rove said. "The United States has nothing to apologize for in its conduct in the war."

Rove detailed his road to the White House, which began with a school assignment to get involved in a political campaign. His immersion continued, and he eventually left college to work for the Republican Party.

He met George W. Bush at age 27, while working for President George Bush, he said.

Two decades later, when the younger Bush held the Texas governorship, Rove acted as one of his top advisers. He added, however, that the environment in the Lone Star State is very different from Capitol Hill.

"In Texas, politics is a blood sport -- we care about it more than Friday night football, but at the end of the election, you put it aside," Rove said. "That's not what it's like in Washington."

He continued to describe the unusual dynamic that controls the capital.

"American politics is an equilibrium," Rove said. "If you hit a point of equilibrium between two parties, it never lasts. We've been at a point of equilibrium for about 10 years, and something's going to happen."

Audience members questioned Rove about unconstitutional hiring practices, the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame and the torture of prisoners.

"Torture is not acceptable," he said. "The U.S. is a signatory to agreements on torture, and we will not torture. We do not torture."

He added that the U.S. government need not fully disclose its actions to the American public.

Like the war in Afghanistan, Rove said America was justified in the war in Iraq.

"You can't have political reconciliation when people are trying to kill each other," he said. "The mission [of the war] is to create an Iraq -- to give Iraq a breathing space to form a democracy."

Audience members remained civil as the politico responded to questions posed by Peter Feaver, a political science professor and former member of the National Security Council staff under the younger Bush and President Bill Clinton, but some turned aggressive when the floor was opened for questions.

"Lock him up," "you're a murderer" and "9/11 was an inside job" were among the outbursts.

Though students passed protesters re-enacting waterboarding torture schemes while entering Page, most said they had not anticipated the intensity of the opposing party.

"They said disruptions would not be tolerated, and I think this is a real failure on the administration's part," said junior Sam Tasher, chair of Duke College Republicans.

Tasher attended a small reception with Rove prior to the forum and said he expected members of the audience to have more respect for Rove, regardless of their own political ideologies.

"I would hope that [tudents] heard a perspective that they don't often hear at Duke and that they would get an insider peek at some of the way Washington works and the way decision making in the White House is framed and considered," Feaver said in an interview with The Chronicle.

Major Speakers Director Isel Del Valle, a senior, said despite the interruptions, she considered the evening a success.

"I personally would've preferred it to be less people protesting just because he's a professional and when you go toe-to-toe with him, he's going to win," she said.
© 2007 The Chronicle via U-WIRE