During the early days of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the White House frequently trotted out Laura Bush to laud our soldiers’ heroic efforts to “liberate” women. These were not wars of aggression or conquest. They were wars for “education,” the former schoolteacher averred: “The United States government is wholeheartedly committed to the full participation of women in all aspects of Afghan society.” Those awful male chauvinists in Al Qaeda and the Taliban, you see, were really really mean to women. Afghanistan, wailed Laura, is “only a few years removed from the reign of the terrorists, when women were denied education and every basic human right.”
These remarks were delivered on the joyful occasion of the disbursement by the U.S. Treasury of upward of $20 million to support women’s literacy programs in our Afghan province. Laura was quite pleased: “I’ve especially watched with great pride as courageous women across your country have taken on leadership roles as students, teachers, judges, doctors, business and community leaders, ministers, and governor.”
I could understand a war for revenge. After all, the Afghan Taliban gave sanctuary and succor to the perpetrators of the September 11 terrorist attacks. But our invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was presented not as a punitive expedition but as an exercise in educational and moral uplift. After all, how could Afghanistan ever be “free” unless a woman could become governor, or even prime minister?
There is an eerie parallel here with an earlier attempt to invade Afghanistan and “liberate” women in the process. The Russians, when they marched across the border and installed a Soviet-style “republic,” utilized the same rhetoric and rationale. In the 1980’s, under the Afghan communists, the “liberation” of women was a centerpiece of the regime’s “people’s democratic revolution.” As Deborah Ellis put it in Women of the Afghan War,
The Soviet Union invades Afghanistan. The emancipation of Afghan women moves quickly. There are greater opportunities for education, employment, and professional training, especially for women in the cities. . . . Women students outnumber men at the Universities. . . . The Communists legally guarantee the equal rights of women and men. More and more women hold positions in business, government, the diplomatic corps, the police, the army, and in Parliament. Women are teachers, nurses, entertainers, doctors and lawyers. Education and employment for women becomes more acceptable through much of Afghan society.
It was the literacy program—compulsory education for women, launched by the communists as soon as they took power—that really enraged the mujahideen, who took up arms to defend their customs, their religion, and their patrimony. With the help of the U.S. government, they made mincemeat of the Russians and drove them out of the country—and systematically unraveled the communists’ “reforms.” When the communist regime fell, women remained in the workforce, but their freedoms were severely curtailed. In 1993, the Afghan supreme court declared that women must not be allowed to leave their homes without being covered in the chador, and that their education must be restricted to the study of Islam under the tutelage of family members. All this, by the way, was well before the rise of the Taliban: The complete reversal of the “reforms” enacted by the communists was the first order of business of those we installed in power.
We are fighting in Afghanistan today to undo our own handiwork. Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to intervene.
The Obama administration is escalating the politically correct rhetoric regarding women’s rights, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and is seemingly intent on upping the ante when it comes to social issues. Their Republican predecessors balked at a French resolution in the United Nations calling on all the world’s governments to decriminalize homosexuality; as the New York Times’ Neil Macfarquhar writes, they refused to sign, not in the name of any principle, naturally, but
on highly technical legal grounds. The text [of the resolution], by using terminology like “without distinction of any kind,” was too broad because it might be interpreted as an attempt by the federal government to override states’ rights on issues like gay marriage, American diplomats and legal experts said.
Alejandro D. Wolff, then the deputy permanent representative, declared, “We are opposed to any discrimination, legally or politically, but the nature of our federal system prevents us from undertaking commitments and engagements where federal authorities don’t have jurisdiction.”
God forbid there should be any “discrimination” anywhere in the world, but it was, you see, an election year, and the Bushies did not allow themselves the luxury of following their “principles” to their logical conclusion. Instead, they had to manufacture some exotic legal-technical explanation for their unwillingness to go along with the globalization of “gay rights.”
The Obamaites, who do not have to appease the Christian Right, are not so shy about carrying the “human rights” agenda of current U.S. foreign policy to its logical conclusion. As one official, explaining the decision to reverse the Bush stance, put it,
The United States is an outspoken defender of human rights and critic of human rights abuses around the world. As such, we join with the other supporters of this statement and we will continue to remind countries of the importance of respecting the human rights of all people in all appropriate international fora.
Translation: We will continue to hector the nations of the world, who will naturally resent our unsolicited advice—thus achieving the exact opposite of our stated intentions.
Regardless of one’s views on the “liberation” of women and the legalization of homosexual behavior, it is fair to ask: For whose benefit are we engaging in this unseemly nagging? Certainly not that of Afghan women (or of women anywhere, for that matter), who are still subjected to the barbaric customs of a prefeudal order in Afghanistan, even after the U.S. invasion and ongoing occupation. Similarly, our declarations of support for “gay rights” do not matter one bit to the rulers of, say, Saudi Arabia, and the six other U.S.-allied Muslim nations who enforce the death penalty for homosexual acts between consenting adults.
Not that the alleged moral concern of our rulers is authentic. It is merely a political ploy, designed to appeal not to an overseas audience, but to certain domestic constituencies—in this case, homosexual and liberal voters miffed at the continuing refusal of the Obama administration to go along with the party line on “gay marriage” and homosexuals in the military. The announcement of the reversal on the U.N. resolution coincided with a presidential proclamation honoring “Gay Pride Month” in August—just in time to distribute to the various local gay events a special presidential message extolling the alleged virtues of “the LGBT community.”
This underscores a salient point about how U.S. foreign policy is made, and why it takes the form it does. Foreign policy is all about domestic politics. Laura Bush hailing the advance of Afghan women into the front ranks of their hopelessly backward society is meant to appeal to a certain voter demographic: young, middle-class, educated white women, “soccer moms” imbued with a feminist sensibility virtually from birth. Obama lecturing the rest of the world on its sorry record when it comes to tolerating homosexuals is aimed at the same general demographic, if you include young white homosexual men and their heterosexual doppelgängers.
Our rulers, whether Democrats or Republicans, care about one thing and one thing only: staying in power. They will do what is necessary to appease whichever pressure group can give them a political advantage, however momentary or conditional. This, after all, is what democracy is all about. The result is that the sheer number of overseas trouble spots where our government is woefully constrained and even dictated to by an important—or not so important—voter constituency is alarming.
The influence of the Israel lobby on our Middle Eastern policy is well known, but, on a smaller scale, the same strategy has been successfully pursued by the “human rights in Tibet” crowd, led by the Hollywood left, which culminated in Bill Clinton personally hectoring the Chinese for their lack of openness on his visit to Beijing. (His remarks were broadcast, uncut, by state television.) Likewise, organizations representing Eastern European countries, in alliance with the big arms manufacturers and the neoconservatives, were the ones who successfully lobbied for NATO expansion—and for the Russophobic foreign policy pursued by the Bush administration and continued unabated by the Obamaites. Every session of Congress witnesses a mobilization in favor of recognizing the horror of the Armenian holocaust, introduced by the Armenian lobby, and every year the Turkish lobby—with more money and clout—knocks it out of the ring.
Our compulsion to crusade for feminism and homosexual rights on a global scale does not arise simply from an abstract multiculti devotion to “human rights” ideology for its own sake. Mostly, it is a matter of old-fashioned ward-heeling politics.
Every ethnic lobby, from the Moldovans to the Manchurians, is lobbying for “human rights” in the motherland. They all yearn for the United States to “liberate” their home countries, so they can bring their relatives over in droves—as “human rights” refugees seeking asylum from “oppression.”
Our very nature as a multicultural world empire, combined with the now universally accepted dogma of political correctness, has determined our appalling transformation. From a modest confederation that sought only “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none,” we have evolved into a global scold and world-class bully intent on exporting the worst aspects of our society to the four corners of the earth.
Far from advancing the pursuit of a proper foreign policy—i.e., one that actually serves some recognizable semblance of our interests—this posturing and preening on the world stage undercuts our position internationally. At a time when the United States is supposedly engaged in a generations-long war against an implacable and highly dangerous enemy, battling Al Qaeda and its allies for hearts and minds in the Arab/Muslim world, is it really all that necessary to support feminism in Afghanistan, of all places, albeit only rhetorically? Surely the advancement of “LGBT rights” can wait for a time when such “homophobes” as Osama bin Laden pass from the scene.
Yes, Tibet languishes under the Han boot, and Chinese workers lack the “right” to organize independent labor unions, and yet neither freedom for Tibet nor a full-scale campaign by the AFL-CIO to organize China’s workers would advance our interests one iota—quite the contrary. An independent Tibet would fall prey to regional rivalries and instability, while the institution of “labor rights” in China would throttle U.S. companies who have shipped their factories overseas and lessen Beijing’s ability to buy our debt.
It is true that the Baltic nations, as well as Poland and the other former Warsaw Pact countries, live in the shadow of Russian imperialism (or at least the indelible memory of it), and yet we have interests quite apart from the nationalist sentiments of, say, the Polish-American community—interests that transcend the narrow particularism of the various Eastern European ethnic communities. These interests were ill served by the expansion of NATO and the subsequent alienation of Russia, whose cooperation is essential to the fight to eradicate Al Qaeda and to the vital effort to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials. Naturally, the rhetoric of “human rights” has been used by our government and its media acolytes as a club with which to beat the Russians, especially Putin, who is denounced as the 21st-century version of Stalin. Russia, we are told, is “backsliding” into “authoritarianism”—this, coming from a people whose legislators adopted the “PATRIOT Act” without even bothering to read it.
Which brings us to the inevitable hypocrisy of our own insufferable self-righteousness, for our application of strict “human rights” standards is extremely selective. Our friends and allies enjoy extraordinary exemptions not afforded to lesser nations. Great Britain, for example, has no real freedom of speech. One can be arrested—or, if a visitor, barred from the country—for expressing politically incorrect views. If you operate a website that runs afoul of the diversity cyberpolice, you may and probably will be jailed—even if you flee to the United States and seek asylum, as Simon Sheppard and Stephen Whittle found out. Facing prosecution in Britain and a sentence of five years in prison for writings on their website, they were arrested immediately after arriving at Los Angeles International Airport and informing immigration officials that they were seeking asylum, and summarily extradited back to the United Kingdom.
“Human rights” in Britain? Our rulers could care less. They would much rather pontificate on the lack of “gay rights” in Upper Volta.
On the issue of religious freedom, both convenience and fashion dictate an appalling double standard. While the Bush administration pretended to care about the alleged “right” of Christian missionaries to proselytize in China, the slaughter of Christians in U.S.-occupied Iraq by our Iraqi allies was accompanied by silence. It is apparently OK for the Germans to ban the practice of Scientology, but not for the Russians to restrict the activities of Western evangelists.
Once we get involved in the business of pronouncing moral judgment, we inevitably get tripped up and entangled in an ever-growing web of contradictions, shifting standards, and “special cases.” Better to get out of that business and back to protecting and advancing our legitimate concerns.
Yet, it seems, we are incorrigible when it comes to moral posturing, doomed forever to reenact a morality play, the point of which is a celebration of our own insufferably virtuous instincts. After all, where can you find a government-sponsored annual report subjecting each and every other nation on earth to the moral calculus of “human rights”? Only in America.