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Condi's Boston College Coup

By Anil Adyanthaya

On May 22, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will give Boston College's 2006 commencement address. In addition, the university will award her an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. The appearance by Secretary Rice is quite a coup for the university, as it gives BC a more prominent speaker than any other Boston-area school, including Harvard and MIT. What should be a shining moment in the school's history, however, has been marred by a faculty campaign to characterize Rice as morally unfit to receive an honorary degree from a Catholic university.

This campaign, which is best represented by an open letter signed by about 150 faculty members, purports to protect "Boston College's commitment to the values of the Catholic and Jesuit traditions" and "the humanistic values that inspire the university's work." However, the campaign is transparently political and reflects more the signers' anti-American bias than their Catholic principles.

The letter, entitled "Condoleezza Rice Does Not Deserve a Boston College Honorary Degree," states two grounds for its position: "moral principle and practical moral judgment." The moral principle argument is simply stated: "Rice maintains that U.S. foreign policy should be based on U.S. national interest and not on what she calls the interests of an 'illusory international community.' This stands in disturbing contrast with the Catholic and humanistic conviction that all people are linked together in a single human family and that all nations in our interdependent world have a duty to protect 'the common good of the entire human family.'"

The authors of this letter, Theology Department Chair Kenneth Himes and theology professor David Hollenbach, seem to be arguing that any high U.S. official is unfit for a Boston College honorary degree. For what President, Vice President, or Secretary of State would not maintain that "U.S. foreign policy should be based on U.S. national interest"? Himes and Hollenbach betray their anti-American bias by assuming that the U.S national interest is somehow less concerned with "the common good of the entire human family" than is the "international community" interest.

The source of Himes and Hollenbach's disapproval of Rice is an article that she wrote for Foreign Affairs and that they cite in the letter. In her article, Rice explains why the pursuit of U.S. national interest is entirely consistent with humanity's common good: "American values are universal. People want to say what they think, worship as they wish, and elect those who govern them; the triumph of these values is most assuredly easier when the international balance of power favors those who believe in them."

Himes and Hollenbach do not explicitly state what other entity would be superior to the U.S. in protecting "the common good of the entire human family," but their use of that phrase from Pope John XXIII's 1963 encyclical letter, "Peace on Earth," provides a clear indication. In this letter, Pope John XXIII states the Catholic Church's wish that "the United Nations Organization--in its structure and in its means--may become ever more equal to the magnitude and nobility of its tasks, and may the time come as quickly as possible when every human being will find therein an effective safeguard for the rights which derive directly from his dignity as a person, and which are therefore universal, inviolable and inalienable rights."

Sadly, that time seems further away than ever, as the U.N. today is a corrupt organization that does more to frustrate the pursuit of human rights and peace than to safeguard such principles. In who better to trust the common good of the human family, the U.S. or an international organization that boasts a "Human Rights Commission" that has included countries such as Sudan, Libya, China and Cuba, and a "Disarmament Commission" that has Iran as a vice chair?

Himes and Hollenbach's second ground of opposition to honoring Rice is "practical moral judgment." They state that "Rice has helped develop and implement the strategic policies that have guided the United States in the tragic war in Iraq. Pope John Paul II and the United States Catholic bishops opposed initiating this war on ethical grounds."

These ethical grounds were not absolute opposition to war in any and all circumstances, but the prosecution of war without UN approval. As Pope John Paul II's special envoy to President Bush, Cardinal Pio Laghi, stated in March 2003, "A decision regarding the use of military force can only be taken within the framework of the United Nations. . . ."

While the Vatican's reliance on the UN was perhaps understandable in 2003, Himes and Hollenbach's continued reliance on UN approval as a requirement for moral action is baffling. The massive corruption in the UN's Oil for Food program that enriched Saddam Hussein and bought him French and Russian support on the UN Security Council is now well known. Given what we know now in 2006, how can the morality of any decision be dependent in any way on the UN?

Most damning to Himes and Hollenbach's argument that Rice is morally undeserving of honor by Boston College, however, are the words of the current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. In 2004, while still Cardinal Ratzinger, he wrote to two American bishops:

"Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."

Surely Himes and Hollenbach, both Jesuit scholars who have to be aware of the Ratzinger letter, cannot be saying that an honorary degree from Boston College is a higher gift than Holy Communion? Thus, their position ultimately fails as moral argument and finds its proper home as political protest.

The campaign again Rice continued last Friday in a Boston Globe op-ed by Steven Almond, an adjunct professor at Boston College. In his essay, an open letter to the school's president, Almond resigns his post "as a direct result of your decision to invite Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to be the commencement speaker." Almond later elaborates: "Simply put, Rice is a liar."

If it were not so vitriolic, Almond's essay would be quite amusing, for in arguing that Rice is a liar, Almond is himself highly misleading. Almond writes: "The public record of her deceits is extensive. During the ramp-up to the Iraq war, she made 29 false or misleading public statements concerning Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda, according to a congressional investigation by the House Committee on Government Reform."

The "congressional investigation" to which Almond refers was performed by Democratic staffers at the request of Representative Henry Waxman, a harsh critic of the Bush Administration. The resulting report, published eight months before the 2004 election, is laughably partisan. For example "[t]o ensure objectivity, the report was peer reviewed for fairness and accuracy by two leading experts: Joseph Cirincione, senior associate and director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Greg Thielmann, former acting director of the Office of Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs in the Department of State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research." Who are these objective experts? Cirincione has donated several thousand dollars to Democratic causes, including John Kerry's presidential campaign. And Thielmann has accused the Bush Administration of exaggerating its Iraqi intelligence ever since he resigned from the State Department in 2002.

When the sun sets on May 22, Rice will have given her commencement address and Boston College's reputation will have been strengthened. Strengthened not only by Rice's appearance, but also by the fact that about 80% of the school's faculty did not sign the protest letter and by the fact that its faculty is now minus one fabulist.

Anil Adyanthaya is a lawyer and writer who lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

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