The Hillary Doctrine: untangling sex and American foreign policy
Freshly planted flowers surrounded the Baghdad Women’s centre, one of nine US-funded centers built across the city in 2004 that aimed to promote women’s rights in Iraq’s nascent democracy. I was there researching my book on women in Iraq, and to see how well US feminism was being received in this Muslim country. Western aid workers in dusty boots with multi-million contracts hovered around, anxious to teach Iraqi women everything from computer skills to political strategies in the hope of promoting women’s rights in the new Iraq.
However, a week later, the centre was closed, and two aid workers in similar centres in Southern Iraq were gunned down. Iraqi women stayed away, frightened by rumours that the US-run centres were showing pornography and conducting abortions.
Today, much like the centres, Iraqi women’s rights have been shuttered. As a result of civil war and chaos begun with the US-led invasion and toppling of Saddam Hussein, women have been driven into prostitution, are living under ISIS and there are hundreds of thousands of widows – the clock has been turned back 100 years for women.
Improving women’s rights and ending subjugation around the world is slowly gaining some recognition as an important part of US foreign policy, both for moral reasons and to promote stability and peace. Yet examples like that I saw in Baghdad demonstrate not only that change is slow, but also that it’s incredibly hard.
Now, the global champion for improving women’s rights, Hillary Clinton, is coming incredibly close to becoming the leader of the free world. Yet many international feminists who you might expect to embrace her are hesitating. They cite her support of military action in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere as so devastating for women it cancels out all her other advocacy.
Are they overlooking a chance to make the planet’s most powerful person a self-declared feminist, or are they right?
A new book, “The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy”(Columbia 2015), seeks to untangle this question. Written by Professor Valerie Hudson of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University and journalist Patricia Leidl, it gives an even-handed, deeply researched analysis of the foreign policies of the (Bill) Clinton, Bush, Obama administrations and that of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – tallying their efforts on behalf of women. It also traces the international women’s rights movement and connection between women and national security.
The result is a highly readable, fast moving history that covers a critical topic that most foreign policy journalists and campaign reporters typically overlook – what Clinton as president would mean to women around the world.
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