Entry from March 31, 2010

In today’s Times of London, Hillary Clinton writes that “the status of the world’s women is not only a matter of morality and justice. It is also a political, economic and social imperative.” Oh, and why is that?

The evidence is irrefutable: when women are free to develop their talents and contribute fully to their societies, everyone benefits. When women are free to vote and run for public office, governments are more effective and responsive to their people. When women are free to earn a living and start small businesses, they become drivers of economic growth. When women are afforded the opportunity of education and access to healthcare, their families and communities prosper. When women have equal rights, nations are more stable, peaceful and secure.

I can think of one or two objections to such categorical and “irrefutable” statements, but let’s stipulate that they are all true. The fact that “everyone benefits” from an increase in women’s freedoms and perquisites does not in itself imply any particular policy choices for a country in which women are already free and in possession of such advantages. Nor does our awareness of the benefits to be gained by countries where they are not free or advantaged create any obligation on the part of those countries to come around to our point of view.

Yet our Secretary of State goes on to write, just as if the proposition followed from the above, that “advancing women’s equality is at the heart of the foreign policy of the United States.” Since when? Is this her own personal view — as its expression in a by-lined op ed for a foreign newspaper might suggest — or is it a policy that has been hammered out in consultation with the President, his national security advisers and others in the Department of State? She goes on to use the first person plural, as if this decision to put “women’s equality” in such a vital position “at the heart of the foreign policy of the United States” were a collective one. Reading on, however, we find that “the woman’s angle,” as old newspaper editors would have put it, is pretty much just an adventitious rhetorical flourish tacked on to other bits of foreign policy. Even the official American policy on global warming has women at the heart of it since,

while all people will feel the effects of climate change, they will fall particularly hard on women in developing countries who often shoulder the responsibility of securing food and fuel for their families. Our plan seeks to empower these women to become part of the solution to this global crisis.

What nonsense! What is she going to “empower” them with? The power to stop breathing? The really worrying thing about all this is the extent to which it reveals that all our foreign policy, like President Obama’s endless “apologies” on behalf of his predecessors, is just this kind of rhetorical huffing and puffing. “We believe,” writes the former First Lady —

We believe that women are critical to solving almost every challenge we face, and that strategies that ignore the lives and contributions of women have little chance of succeeding. We view the subjugation of women as a threat to the national security of the US and to the common security of our world. So we are integrating women throughout our work around the globe.

I’m not sure what it means to be “integrating women throughout our work around the globe” unless it is just a pompous way of saying that we have a lot of female foreign service officers, but if you can penetrate beneath the jargon just a little bit you are likely to find what I think is the clearest statement yet of the Obama administration’s commitment to Carterism, or the fundamental mistake of confusing moralizing with diplomacy. It just goes to show you that in politics even the hardest lessons are likely to have to be re-learned the hard way once again with every new generation. Jimmy the First has continued his moralizing for thirty years after being turned out of office, partly on account of the ridiculous figure he and his country were cutting in the world at the time as a result of it. Now, egged on by his former rival for the nomination, Jimmy the Second appears to be following in his footsteps — and quite possibly to an equally ignominious defeat.

Some might think that one thing to be said on behalf of Mrs Clinton’s view of the security threat posed by “the subjugation of women” would be that the feminization of politics in the various thugocracies across the world that we have the most trouble with would diminish their power to do evil. But, leaving aside the impracticalities involved in bringing this about, I think it not necessarily true. By coincidence, the same day’s New York Times carries an op ed by Robert A. Pape, Lindsey O”Rourke and Jenna McDermit about the Chechen “Black Widow” suicide bombers who are supposed to have set off the explosions which have lately killed dozens in the Moscow subway system. The authors quote from the suicide tape of one Khava Barayeva, who in 2000 blew up herself, her (female) confederate and a disputed number of Russians, as taunting those Chechen males who had allowed the likes of them to take the lead in the terrorist campaign against Russia, urging that they “not take the woman’s role by staying at home.” Another Chechen rebel claims that Chechen women’s “honor [is] being threatened” by the Russian occupation. I doubt that Mrs Clinton had this kind of women’s freedom in mind, but it is a kind we’re a lot more likely to see than we are Islamic Gloria Steinems or Betty Friedans.

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