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Stop Those Girls!, or: The Don Imus and Nancy Pelosi Show

When it comes to foreign policy under the Bush Administration, is it ‘Boys Only, No Girls Allowed’?

April 13, 2007

According to Don Imus, a citadel of American Anglo male chauvinism, black women basketball players are whores, at least if they hail from Rutgers University.

And according to the White House and the editorial pages of the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, girls apparently shouldn't be doing U.S. foreign policy. At least not if the job is undertaken by Nancy Pelosi, the third-highest elected official in the United States.

The Imus saga is as deplorable as it is over-covered by now. The man belongs into a corner of the museum of radio history, like an old and tired and outdated steam engine past its last economically useful puff.

The more interesting saga concerns Nancy Pelosi, a woman who rose all the way from sitting at her father's lap in her days as a young girl (when he served as mayor of Baltimore, then a significant U.S. city) to Speaker of the House — in her own right and not on any quasi-inherited track.

Outwardly, her critics describe the outing to Damascus where she sat down to talk with Bashar Assad to discuss bilateral issues alternatively as an act of impertinence, amateurism — and, yes, treason.

As those fierce critics have it, she was stabbing the sitting President of the United States in the back. She was undermining his chosen course of foreign policy.

After all, legend has it, the debate over the course of U.S. foreign policy stops at the water's edge. Once abroad, all U.S. policymakers are supposed to sing from the same songbook — lest they risk misrepresenting the United States.

Trouble is, Speaker Pelosi was hardly claiming to represent the President of the United States. But she certainly represents the majority of the American people — and, as her luck would have it given the report of the Baker-Hamilton Commission, U.S. elites.

The latter had argued in favor of a foreign policy strategy stressing dialogues — rather than empty, or desperate, threats of bombs.

Certainly, for an administration such as Mr. Bush's, it is curious to want to muzzle the Speaker of the primary U.S. parliamentary body at a time when the Bush team so ardently fervors bringing democracy and the right to free political speech to the oppressed peoples of the Middle East.

It is no less surprising to read those same arguments muzzling — if not mugging — Speaker Pelosi on the very editorial pages which have stood with Mr. Bush's grand designs all along.

Truth be told, Mrs. Pelosi may not be the greatest of all diplomats — but it is surely disgraceful to the image and ideals of the United States to treat her in such a high-handed way.

After all, most Americans — not to mention the rest of the world — by now believes that President Bush's and Vice President Cheney's foreign policy has been an outright fiasco.

At such a pivotal moment in time, it is key for the American people to show to the outside world in a hands-on fashion that there is a diversity of opinion at home.

And given the fact that Mr. Bush and his entire team are showing themselves completely inflexible and unwilling to talk with Syria, there is no law or rule that makes this disdainful course wise national policy.

Let us remember that, as recently as a few years ago, Syria was praised for having its intelligence services cooperate quite willingly with the United States after 9/11 — as was the case with Iran as well.

True, Syria's actions in Lebanon were egregious — and a clear violation of international law. But even there, it is far from the only nation that has a lot to answer for in deliberately destroying the fragile, but extremely valuable, civic infrastructure of Lebanon.

But back to the Imus parallel. In all the criticism of Mrs. Pelosi's travels, did an element of sexism shine through — as in "Girls shouldn't do foreign policy"?

On the face of it, any such argument would seem to be contradicted by the very prominent role which Condeleezza Rice has played on Mr. Bush's behalf.

And yet, even though State Department correspondents can't write about it much for fear of losing "access," it is an open secret that Ms. Rice's room for maneuver is next to zero.

Far from a Secretary of State, she is in fact is treated by the White House as if she were some ambassador in a far-away country who couldn't be trusted with going to lunch with people abroad unless it was on specific instructions from her bosses in Washington.

In that sense, Secretary Rice is not the exception to the rule — but rather the proof. With one big difference: Unlike Mrs. Pelosi who has a mind of her own, Mrs. Rice is most obedient at all times, even to the point of denigrating her remaining self-respect.

Ultimately, the "MONGA principle" is shining through. When it comes to foreign policy under this Bush Administration, it's Men Only, No Girls Allowed — unless, of course, they strictly do the boss’s bidding.

In a democracy, women are allowed to have a mind of their own — especially if they do not work for the President himself.

Finally, if Mr. Bush's diplomacy was one of active, multi-layered and sophisticated engagement with the rest of the world, Nancy Pelosi would likely feel no need to go "freelancing," as her critics have put it.

The fact of the matter is that the Bush Administration's style — at various times — has basically been to slam the door in front of the "old" Europeans, the Russians, the Chinese, the UN, the Iranians, the Syrians and so on.

It is hard for others to keep track of the variable — and always shifting — alliances. In favor today, out of favor tomorrow? That is no way to run the ship of state of the United States of America.

Mrs. Pelosi's outing may not have been perfect, but at least she acted with the right kinds of intentions.

That makes her case very different from that of Don Imus, the irascible talk show host. And it is also what separates her from Mr. Bush and his all-too-steadfast supporters.

Like Imus, their arguments — while ostensibly clad in pure foreign policy reason — were soaked with sex-based type-casting. The subliminal message to the base was that Catholic girls, especially when clad in designer clothes, should not start playing world politics. That game is for grown-ups only, read: men.

Let's be real. Males have dominated the foreign policy dialogue for decades, if not centuries. There is no evidence that their track record is outstanding in any way, fashion or form.

Mrs. Pelosi's voice, imperfect though it may have been is a refreshing addition to the dialogue. It is especially so because she surely realizes that we are all human — and therefore prone not to be perfect at all times.

But that is a far cry from implying that she is only entitled to do foreign policy if, in the Bush team's eyes, she was "purr-fect."

The doctrine about the water's edge is not part of the world of a modern democracy. Rather, it is part and parcel of a constitutional monarchy. And that is the real debate worth having soon.