Bush: Bombing for Women’s Lib

Is one of George W. Bush’s first major achievements the liberation of Afghani women?

January 8, 2002

Is one of George W. Bush's first major achievements the liberation of Afghani women?

Make no mistake about it. When President Bush decided to start the bombing campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan, the fate of the long-suffering women in that country was nowhere near the forefront of his mind, or that of his generals. The purpose of the campaign was to go after the Al Quaeda network — and to root out the Afghan operating bases of global terrorism squads.

The U.S. bombing campaign was very successful, despite many early doubters. The Taliban withered in next to no time. Afghanistan, for the first time in many years, has a representative interim government — and a shot at stabilizing the country. And yet, all these successes do not necessarily herald a bright future for the war-torn country.

Despite all the current hype, Afghanistan remains a messy and shadowy place. Its rulership traditions are based on ruthlessness, local fiefdoms — and loyalties that change quicker than the weather over Scotland.

Afganistan’s interim government took office on December 22, 2001. It is led by Hamid Karzai, who seems like a very decent chap — and talks a good game. But there are already questions about his sincerity. Whereas his stance on combating global terrorism seems clear, no one is really quite sure where he stands when it comes to rooting out the country’s other major global scourge, opium production.

The question is: What can the Bush Administration point to in Afghanistan that, in all likelihood, is going to represent a lasting success? Freeing Afghanistan from political oppression is certainly an impressive achievement.

But, for the reasons laid out above, part of this success may be tarnished over time, as Afghan political leaders are in danger of haggling amongst each other too much — to the point of risking a stable future for the country. The fact that so many of the powers that be are all male (and that too many of them are nefarious warlords and feudal tribal leaders) does not augur well.

Under the circumstances, the major success is the liberation of the women of Afghanistan. While this act of liberation is only a side effect of the fight against terrorism, it still is an accomplishment to be immensely proud of.

As a matter of fact, it is something that President Clinton and his wife Hillary must have wished they had accomplished during their reign in office. That instead it was achieved by a conservative U.S. administration must guile them. In the end, the Bush administration will take credit for having helped the plight of women in Afghanistan while the Clinton administation will merely be remembered for their noble words.

And yet, the whole thing seems to clash with the Bush administration’s politics. After all, the Bush Administration, as one of the very first acts of its first week in office back in January of 2001, resolved to drop U.S. aid for family-planning purposes in developing countries. This had very negative effects on women in those societies — and on those countries’ devlopment prospects.

Even if there were no other reason, for a society that has lost a lot of the lives of its young men due to civil war, it is elementary to make the most of the talent pool of its women. And, short of the highly unlikely scenario of a sudden restoration of the Taliban regime, there is no prospect of women in Afghanistan being repressed again to the extent they were in recent years.

There is even a much more hopeful — and politically enticing — scenario. Before the onset of the Taliban regime, Afghan women were crucial players in many professions, including teaching and medicine.

The odds are that they will be able to resume their influential role before long — and in ever more impressive numbers. It would be a sweet victory indeed for the liberated women of Afghanistan if they were to rebound in such an impressive fashion from the demented times of the Taliban. But the ripple effects of this success should go even further, reaching women in other Muslim societies in the Arab world.

Ultimately, the future success of the women of Afghanistan would carry a loud and powerful message throughout the Middle East. “Let us be ourselves, develop our potential and participate in the economy to the fullest — and our countries will have a brighter future.” These words could become a tantalizing rallying cry for women in these societies.

But back to the ironies of history mentioned at the outset. One of the main reasons George W. Bush won the presidency was the enthusiastic support of Christian conservatives. This group generally does not view the emancipation of women — in developing countries or elsewhere — as one of its main priorities.

It is therefore quite ironic that one of the unintended by-products of the Bush administration’s fight against terrorism has been the liberation of Afghanistan’s women.

All these developments show that history is a never-ending string of accidental and unintended events that make sense only retroactively. George W. Bush knows that — and so do his communications and political teams.

Count on them in the 2002 and 2004 election campaigns to cast him to the soccer moms of America as the Patron Saint of women’s lib (but preferably only abroad).