"Respect for women is a Bush Administration foreign policy priority."
-- U.S. International Women's Initiatives Fact Sheet
It's International Women's Day, and what better way to celebrate it than a new war to rescue the oppressed women of Islam? Yes, we're getting closer and closer to that magical day when President Bush orders American forces to launch the biggest yet of his running show of disasters: an attack on the Islamic Republic of Iran.
To rally the country for this highly anticipated catastrophe, Bush is taking a page out of his own playbook, the one called Iraq. After all, if it ain't fixed, why break it?
That strategy is this: a) accuse enemy-nation of developing mega-evil weapons that threaten Peoria, Illinois with total Day After-like annihilation, unless we stop them, but hurry! Intent: to scare the living shit out of every coupon-clipper from San Diego to Orlando; and b) accuse this same country of horrible abuses against women. Intent: to co-opt the important soccer mom demographic, while neutralizing liberals into silence lest they come off defending a nation of male chauvinist wife-beating pigs.
Think this strategy is too transparent? We'd agree with you, if we weren't talking about the same country that produced Police Academy 2, 3, 4, and 5. Bush knows the American public's weakness for repeats, which is why he's already started on this one. In his State of the Union speech in January, he played part a) of his playbook, blaming Iran for creating super-IEDs which are killing American soldiers, as well as accusing them of being on the verge of developing an A-bomb. All we're waiting for now is to hear about how horrible Iran's women are treated, and then it's smart bombs away.
But wait -- we don't have to wait. The propaganda war to save Iranian women actually kicked into gear one year ago this week, during George and Laura Bush's official celebration of International Women's Day.
"We must remember," said the U.S. president, "that many women in other countries around the world are still struggling for basic rights in places like Iran." Rounding out Bush's Axis of Estrogen-Suppression were plucky police states North Korea and Burma, but the Islamic Republic very pointedly came first. Bush might as well have handed out copies of Azar Nafisi's best-selling mullah-slamming Reading Lolita in Tehran, then called it a day.
Posing as the world's White Knight coming to the aid of damsels in distress across the globe may seem strange when you consider that this is the same administration that has been working to roll back the clock on reproductive rights and sexual health policy at home and around the world. It's even stranger when you consider it is best friends with leading wife-beater nation Saudi Arabia. In the Kingdom, women who appear in public without a male escort are breaking the law; if they do so dressed in non-Sharia clothes, they risk arrest and a good stomping by the religious police. Gender discrimination is state policy and strictly enforced.
So why is the Bush administration selectively posing as enlightened and chivalric international defender of women?
Because it's good for war. It helped rally the public behind the Afghanistan campaign; then it briefly helped shore up support for the occupation of Iraq. A year before the march on Baghdad Colin Powell proclaimed, "[T]he worldwide advancement of women's issues is not only in keeping with the deeply held values of the American people; it is strongly in our national interest as well." Blair and his cabinet were naturals at framing the rights of Muslim women as a national security and civilizational priority. UK Trade secretary Patricia Hewitt, of Blair's cabinet, said before the Iraq invasion, "This [war] is about building a new civil society in Iraq after 35 years when we know women were suppressed, and ensuring women have a voice in Iraq."
It gets darker. The person Bush put in charge of defending women's rights around the world was not a veteran human rights activist, but rather B-movie villain Paula Dobriansky, who serves as Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs. Dobriansky was a key member of the infamous Project for the New American Century, which advocated war with Iraq and global domination (as well as a "Pearl Harbor-like event") back in 1998. She also served in the American Enterprise Institute, the neocon think-tank. Her main accomplishment in government before painting the administration's wars pink was to help stonewall global action on climate change. Dobriansky-the-women's-crusader has long fought against the Kyoto treaty, arguing "we still don't know if it's happening or why" over and over, including at major UN climate conferences.
Sucking oil-rig seems to run in the family, as her sister, Larissa Dobriansky, worked for Akin Gump as an Exxon lobbyist in the 90s, and then, in 2001, got a job in Bush's Energy Department, where, surprise-surprise, she was appointed head of the Office of Climate Change Policy.
Nine-eleven gave Paula Dobriansky an opportunity to broaden her Resume of Evil. She was soon pronounced co-chair the US-Afghan Women's Council and was hosting "free Iraqi women" dinners at the White House for consciousness-raising sessions on the need for regime change. This despite the fact that a 2002 UN Development Report rated Iraq first among Arab countries for women's empowerment. That report somehow failed to impress Dobriansky's bleeding feminist heart.
Putting an Exxon-shilling neocon in charge of Bush's drive to liberate oppressed woman around the world isn't just over-the-top ridiculous; it's the whole point.
There are other Bushettes focused on using other women's oppression to oil the war machine. If and when they decide it's time to bomb Iran, look for Laura to be deployed. The First Lady, a stay-at-home mother of two, was an odd choice to bang this drum, but has been the administration's go-to figure. In November of 2001, the First Lady delivered an entire presidential speech for her husband listing the horrors women endured under the Taliban: medical access denied, kites and laughter banned, pulled fingernails for the crime of wearing nail polish. In case anybody missed the point, she spelled it out: "The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women."
Iran is hardly the host of the Middle East's biggest ladies' night, but do Iranian women want to be liberated by American bombs? Last year hundreds of the country's most committed women's rights activists marched in Tehran on the same day Bush made his ominous remark about the Axis of Sexism. The Women's Day demonstration was suppressed by authorities, who clubbed and arrested dozens of the protestors. But the Iranian women were not in the streets begging the United States to set them free. Quite the opposite. They were protesting both their government's treatment of women as well as America's threatening behavior towards Iran. It was an anti-war protest, as was the 1917 march by Russian women that the holiday in part commemorates every March 8.
So what do Iran's beleaguered woman have to look forward to if indeed Dobriansky and Bush launch a crusade to rescue them?
In Iraq, the rape rooms are back. Last month a Sunni woman made headlines with her claim on Al Jazeera that she was violated by three Shiite cops while being detained on suspicions of aiding the insurgency. The Shia-dominated Iraqi government, not yet masters of the faux earnest investigation, immediately tarred the woman a lying Sunni slut and rewarded the accused officers. But even in the extremely unlikely event that this Arab woman went public with a make-believe gang-rape, sexual assaults are known to be routine in liberated Iraq. Last year the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq reported, "Torture and rape are common procedure of investigation in police stations run by the militias affiliated with the government, mostly the Mahdi and Badr militias." Yifat Susskind of the international women's rights group MADRE writes that "sexual violence is woven into the fabric of the civil war now raging." Just in time for Bush's latest self-congratulatory Women's Day speech, MADRE is set to drop a damning report on this rising violence against women on the part of Iraq's U.S.-backed government.
The violence didn't start with the handover of power. It began during the first days of the occupation, because violence against women is built into the very nature of every occupation, especially when the occupiers face an insurgency. From the start, American sweeps netted Iraqi women who later reported abuse in U.S.-run prisons. Remember Nick Berg? The videotape put out by his killers claimed to be motivated in part by the treatment of Muslim women at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. There are currently some 2,000 Iraqi women in detention, most of them mothers, some of them on death row. The horror show at Haditha added a grim new meaning to the phrase "U.S. forces pull-out."
And what of Karzai's Afghanistan? Gains there are either imaginary or, where there was success, are fast sliding away. Bush's people have found cutting deals with wife-beating warlords easier than protecting women. NGO's have lately reported hundreds of incidents of women drinking rat poison and setting themselves aflame. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission tells us that self-immolation, forced marriage and rape remain widespread. This includes the capital, Kabul.
Even in the inner-sanctums of Afghanistan's new government, the scene is far from the progressive picture painted by U.S. officials. According to a report by IRIN, a UN news service, Afghan women MPs face violence and intimidation. One of them, Malalai Joya, is forced to change addresses regularly because of death threats. "When I speak in parliament male MPs throw water bottles at me. Some of them shout 'take her out and rape her'. Many of the men in power have the same attitude as the Taliban. Women have not been liberated. You want to know how women feel in this country? Look at the rate of suicide."
Happy International Women's Day, Paula and Laura. Mission accomplished?