January 25, 2002
The Martha McSally case combines the two absolute worst aspects of American political culture rampant political correctness and foreign policy triumphalism in one outrageous package. McSally, the highest-ranking female combat pilot in the U.S. Air Force, is suing the Pentagon: she objects to US military regulations that, in deference to local customs, require all female military personnel stationed in Saudi Arabia to wear the abaya while off base, claiming a violation of her First and Fifth Amendment rights. The significance of this case was aptly stated by her lawyer, Thomas Neuberger:
"What's happening in Afghanistan, with women and burqas, helps point out the contradiction, of our freeing Afghan women from wearing these but, at the same time, making our own service women wear them."
Having "freed" the women of Afghanistan, Ms. McSally and her legal team want to extend the gains of the feminist revolution to Saudi Arabia and to anywhere else US troops are stationed, on six continents in 141 nations?
Even as George W. Bush and his Secretary of State try to reassure our Arab allies that this is not a war against Islam but against terrorism, McSally's lawsuit (and its sympathetic treatment not only by the US media, but by the military) tell the real story. The Americans won't be satisfied until Saudi women are dressing like Madonna and Mecca is the name of a record label. The idea that Western customs and mores are being exported at gunpoint by American Amazons piloting jet fighters is an image that might have been conjured by Osama himself.
Aside from having to wear the abaya off base, female military personnel stationed in Saudi Arabia must also have a male escort and are forbidden from driving beyond the perimeter of their compound. McSally has been fighting this regulation ever since she was first stationed there as part of the team patrolling Iraq's "no fly zone." For 13 months, writes military columnist Tom Philpott,
"McSally, a devout Christian, has declined to leave base, except on official business, to avoid having to wear a robe of the Muslim faith, called an 'abaya,' and behave subservient to men, which, she contends, harms military discipline and morale."
The McSally Principle, applied consistently and universally, means the US must be willing to break with its allies and even risk war, lest any American woman stationed anywhere feel "subservient." Now there's the perfect feminist foreign policy: US imperialism conceived as a gigantic feat of social engineering.
Certainly the National Organization for Women has been backing this case, yet it isn't just leftie-feminists who have jumped on the McSally bandwagon, but, curiously, some of their biggest enemies on the Christian Right. As The Age astutely put it:
"Her cause has been taken up by strange bedfellows. She has the ear of the National Coalition of Women's Organisations and is being financed by the Rutherford Institute, a right-wing advocacy group. The colonel insists, however, that she is no feminist. She has said 'the last thing I ever wanted to do was make a big deal out of being a woman,' demonstrating perhaps the extent to which she has imbibed feminist values."
And not only her, but her ostensibly conservative defenders at the Rutherford Institute, the main legal arm of the Christian Right, who are willing to overlook their bitter opposition to feminist initiatives in the interest of making McSally into the anti-Saudi, anti-Muslim poster girl. The pro-war Left joins the pro-war Right in a deliberate provocation aimed at our principal allies in the Middle East: this unusual alliance gives new meaning to the slogan "United We Stand." Finally a project the feminists and the neoconservatives can get together on: a campaign to export American culture at gunpoint and turn the whole world into an American suburb.
What's really amazing is that McSally wasn't discharged the moment she even hinted at a lawsuit. Michael New was court-martialed for refusing to wear the blue beret of the UN in Macedonia, but McSally gets away with not only flouting orders but whipping up a legal and political movement to get those orders changed. That's the kind of "gender discrimination" we're not supposed to talk about.
In a rational world, McSally would not even be in the military, which is no place for women as her lawsuit makes all too clear. How many more lawsuits will it take before the Pentagon becomes so entangled that military readiness is undermined? Oh boy, I can't wait until the victimology lobby pushes through gays in the military that'll really rile the Saudis, eh?
What a set-up for a blow-up: GI Joe and GI Bruce are walking hand-in-hand down a Saudi street, when suddenly they are set upon by the Mutawah, the religious police. I can see the headlines now: SAUDI GAY-BASHING SPARKS CRISIS! SAUDIS NAB SAUCY SODOMITES, PRESIDENT DENOUNCES 'ACT OF WAR'! The New York Times would solemnly compare them to Matthew Sheppard. Andrew Sullivan would have a hissy fit and demand that we commence bombing Riyadh. Barney Frank would get up on the floor of Congress and call for a declaration of war.
Surely someone will spare us this ugly spectacle. Does the US really mean to impose its sexual mores and cultural tics wherever its troops venture? Is US foreign policy now to be a war to make the world safe for Gloria Steinem? Do we really want to wage a culture war internationally, violating norms and traditions that were old before our nation was founded? The McSally case is almost a parody of the worst left-wing anti-American caricature: she exemplifies the arrogance bordering on hubris that characterizes our foreign policy. She personifies the boorish stereotype of the Ugly American to a tee.
If applied consistently, the McSally Principle "we're above it all" would be a disaster for the US, not only in the Arab world but on a global scale. No one could seriously propose barging into a foreign country and making a point of abrogating and openly mocking their deeply-ingrained religious and cultural strictures. So when Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the US Central Command, announced last week that US servicewoman will no longer be required to wear the abaya off base although it "is strongly encouraged" it seemed like the sort of provocation designed to enrage Riyadh. But that's the idea, you see: After all, you can't fight an endless war without a constant supply of fresh enemies, which brings us naturally to one of the most interesting aspects of this curious case….
It's easy to see why the left-wing crowd would support McSally. But why is the Rutherford Institute, the ACLU of the Christian Right, pushing this case? A very interesting question, one only superficially answered by McSally's claim that wearing the abaya forces her to practice a religion Islam and she is a Christian. But Saudi law is Islamic law so does this mean US soldiers are similarly exempt from laws that prohibit alcohol on religious grounds?
It seems to me McSally and her lawyers are making a pretty weak argument, but there's a lot more to this than a simple case of "discrimination": it is but the latest angle in the anti-Saudi campaign being waged in the media, which I discussed in my last column. We went through the Taliban in a few short months, and let Osama slip through our fingers: we can't really take on Saddam without using the Arabian peninsula as a launching pad, but the Saudis won't allow it and so they, too, have to go.
That is the program of the War Party: diametrically opposed, in many ways, to this administration's announced war aims. Colin Powell's anti-terrorist coalition, the President pointedly refusing to kowtow to crude anti-Arabist demagoguery on the home front, the relatively unexciting future targets so far announced (Somalia, the Philippines, Yemen yawn!) none of this has endeared Bush to the war hawks. The McSally case is yet more pressure on the Bushies to bend with the wind, sideline the President's father and his ally, Colin Powell, and get with the program: to not only abandon but actively destabilize our former Saudi allies. Unlike Bush, the neoconservatives and their Christian Right and feminist allies really do want a US war against Islam.
It is a scenario that will employ legions of "experts" on the subject of "Islamo-fascism," sell plenty of whiny new weapons, and inspire suckers left and right to get behind World War III. Show trials are an essential part of war propaganda, but in this case it is necessary to have two: one to provoke our enemies abroad, and another to intimidate the opposition at home. The McSally case fits the bill in the first case, and the trial of John Walker Lindh in the second but I'll save the Tali-Boy for Monday's column.
I want to welcome our new British columnist. Christopher Montgomery is an historian who is currently writing a book on the historiography of the Suez crisis. He has also recently taken some time out to run the Iain Duncan Smith campaign office, and for a while was working in the private office of the Leader of the Opposition. A young representative of the diehard tradition, he believes that Enoch Powell was right on everything apart from immigration. For a while, the pseudonymous "Emmanuel Goldstein," the originator of "Airstrip One," had been telling me that he wanted to devote more time to the fight the encroaching Euro-socialist super-state on British sovereignty, but I kept trying to delay his departure: after all, who would want to lose one of their best columnists? But he promised to get someone I would be really pleased with and that he certainly did. The first "Airstrip One" by our newest columnist is simply magnificent: check it out.
I also want to draw your attention to the latest piece by Christopher Deliso on the Macedonian front. Deliso is reporting from the front lines in Tetovo, where fanatic Muslim terrorists have revived their insurgency against the elected government, and the story he has to tell isn't being told anywhere else but on Antiwar.com but that's why you come here, isn't it?
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