Rage and U.S. Foreign Policy
My grandmother was a member of the first generation of American
women allowed to exercise the most basic of democratic rights
the right to political self-determination through exercise
of the voting franchise. When I was a young girl, I was active
in the next wave of women to demand the basic rights of economic
self-determination property rights, educational access,
workplace equity and the cultural upheaval that accompanied
It's a long time since I was laughed at and called a "bra-burner"
for wanting women to be admitted to building trades union
apprenticeship programs. In America, the struggle for equality
continues, although the focus has shifted to cultural intangibles
more complex than legal codes.
And it's easy to forget, as we address these more abstruse
(but still critical) issues, that in a very large portion
of the world, women are still regarded, and treated as, a
sophisticated form of domestic animal.
Does that seem extreme?
It's hard to make an argument for allowing dogs or cattle
to participate in a state's political process. Women are routinely
denied this basic human right to self-determination in dozens
One can't imagine a Rhode Island Red chicken or a Welsh White
hog strolling into a bank to open an account for themselves.
Equally unthinkable, in thousands of banks in thousands of
cities, is the notion of a woman owning her own financial
In most of the world, if we see a goat or sheep running around
loose, we corral it, and attempt to find its owner and return
it to its proper place. Millions of people think the same
treatment should be applied to women running around loose.
U.S. foreign policy has largely ignored these abuses by states
with whom we must do business. We tut-tut. We participate
in, and even co-sponsor, well-intentioned conferences on human
rights for women. We earmark pocket change for band-aid economic
pilot programs on the sucking chest wound of female oppression.
It's the best we can do, we say.
Our diplomats and statesmen make analogies to ethnic and
political repression, and point out how dangerous it is for
our nation to meddle in the internal affairs of other nations.
They have a point. We can't "make" other nations treat their
Of course, we're not talking about a minority, are we? We're
talking about fully half of their population.
Be that as it may, the practical realities of statesmanship
certainly militate against attempts by any nation to control
the internal affairs of other nations. (Tell that to the CIA.)
We can't make them change their behavior.
But we can change our behavior. We can offer potent
incentives and disincentives to them to change their behavior.
The current global terrorism crisis offers us a priceless
opportunity to begin this process, but do we have the moral
fiber to seize it? It's easy to make terms and conditions
when someone wants something from us, but in this case, we
are the ones who want something.
And the people we want it from many of the middle
eastern and south Asian nations are among the worst
How easy it would be how seductive, to put our principles
"on hold" for the duration of the crisis. To look the other
way in order to get what we want. To offer tacit consent to
the dehumanization of half the population of these regions.
How seductive, to cut a deal with factions in the region
that will offer some measure of political stability in return
for a continued blind eye to unrelenting and often violent
abuses of the most fundamental human rights on a national
scale. Oh, there will doubtless be some superficial mitigation
of the worst of the offenses.
We will convince them to treat their domestic animals more
humanely, at least when the cameras are around.
And by this expediency we will again demonstrate that all
our high-minded pontificating about principles and human rights
and democratic freedoms is just empty posturing. All we really
care about is sufficient political stability for business
to continue as usual.
This is the same attitude that put totalitarian regimes in
power in much of the region. The same attitude that supported
them as they disenfranchised their political opponents, and
oppressed their religious dissenters and ethnic minorities
to the point of revolution and the rise of terrorist movements.
After all, the end justifies the means, doesn't it?
Osama bin Laden certainly thinks so.