By Maureen Dowd
New York Times
The president was at the United Nations on Wednesday, urging young people across the Muslim world to reject benighted values, even as America clambers into bed with a bunch of Middle East potentates who espouse benighted values.
President Barack Obama has been working hard to get a coalition that includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates because they provide cover in the fight against the brutal, metastasizing threat of the Islamic State, a "network of death" also known as ISIS, that our blunders - both of action and inaction - helped create.
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Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have cajoled this motley crew for the coalition -U.S. warplanes are doing most of the airstrikes in Syria - even though in countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, powerful elements are financing some of the same terrorists that their governments have been enlisted to fight.
At the United Nations on Tuesday, in a scene in a fancy-old New York hotel that evoked Marlon Brando making the peace with the heads of the five families in "The Godfather," Obama offered a tableau of respect to the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
"This represents partners and friends in which we have worked for very many years to make sure that security and prosperity exists in the region," he said.
When American presidents rain down bombs on Muslim countries, they use the awful treatment of women in the Middle East as one of their justifications.
In his speech at the United Nations, Obama said he wanted "to speak directly to young people across the Muslim world" and urged them to create "genuine" civil societies.
"Where women are full participants in a country's politics or economy, societies are more likely to succeed," he said. "And that's why we support the participation of women in parliaments and peace processes, schools and the economy."
Yet, because we need the regressive rulers in the Persian Gulf to sell us oil and buy our fighter jets and house our fleets and drones and give us cover in our war coalitions, we don't really speak out about their human rights violations and degradation of women as much as we should. The Obama administration was sparked to action by the videos of Islamic State beheading two American journalists. Yet Saudi Arabia - wooed to be in the coalition by Kerry with a personal visit this month - has been chopping off heads regularly, sometimes for nonlethal crimes such as drugs or sorcery.
The president should just drop the flowery talk and cut to the chase. Americans get it. Let's not pretend we're fighting for any democratic principles here.
America failed spectacularly in creating its democratic model kitchen with Iraq. So now we have to go back periodically and cut the grass, as they say in Israel, to keep our virulent foes in check.
It is pre-emption. But the difference with Obama's pre-emption is that there is an actual threat to the globe from a vicious, maniacal army. President George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Condoleezza Rice made up a threat to America from a contained and diminished Saddam Hussein to justify pre-emption and serve their more subterranean purposes.
Eight months ago, the president was reduced to threatening to act without Congress, warning: "I've got a pen, and I've got a phone."
Now he's brandishing bombs and drones on a scale he's never done before. The ex-community activist elected on a peace platform has grown accustomed to coldly ordering the killing of bad guys.
"It's hard to imagine that in his wildest dreams - or nightmares - he ever foresaw the in-box he has," said Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations.
But, as Harold Macmillan, the former British prime minister, said once, when asked what disrupted his best-laid plans: "Events, dear boy, events."
As the U.S. woos the Arab coalition, Arab leaders are not speaking out against the atrocities of Islamic State against women.
"It is the obligation and duty of Arab countries - where men always feel so possessive about their mother, their wife, their daughter - to condemn ISIS' violence against women," said Haleh Esfandiari, the director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center. "Why don't they say a word?
"I've been working with women in the Middle East for 40 years, and I've never seen such brutality, such barbarism as that which ISIS is committing against women. It is unbelievable."
We are so far from where the dunderheads of the Bush administration were in 2003, with George W. Bush bragging about his cakewalk of weakening dictators, forging democracies and recognizing the rights of women. As it has rampaged like a flesh-eating virus through the region, Islamic State has been targeting professional women. An Iraqi lawyer who worked to promote women's rights was grabbed from her home last week after she posted complaints on her Facebook page about Islamic State's "barbaric" destruction of mosques and shrines in Mosul. Sameera Salih Ali al-Nuaimy was tortured for days; then a masked firing squad executed her on Monday and then told her family she could not have a funeral.
In a Wall Street Journal piece headlined "ISIS' Cruelty Toward Women Gets Scant Attention," Esfandiari toted up a litany of horrors, including the tragic story of a woman who was tied to a tree, naked, and repeatedly raped by Islamic State fighters, who are "rewarded" with droit du seigneur as they assault and pillage their way toward an Islamic caliphate.
She noted that even though Islamic State propaganda emphasizes protecting the morality of women, it has taken little girls playing with dolls and married them off to fighters three times older, set up "marriage bureaus" in captured Syrian towns to recruit virgins and widows to marry fighters, and tied together women with a rope as though "they were being led to a makeshift slave market."
She told me that "it's a strategy to shame women and undermine their families. In our part of the world, a woman who has been raped, whether once or 50 times, feels ashamed, her family feels ashamed. Some commit suicide. Others become pregnant and are ostracized by their family and community, with no fault at all of their own."
Haass noted that one of the lessons we should have learned in fighting halfway around the world, from Vietnam to Iraq, is "the power of local realities."
"One of the things we've learned is that we can't deliver fundamental social and cultural transformation in this part of the world," he said. "Our ability to influence the position or status of women in the Arab or Muslim world is limited."
He said the Arab coalition is necessary because "our priority has got to be to push back and weaken Islamic State.
"Even if we're not in a position to give women the better life they deserve," he concluded, "we are in a position to save many of them from what ISIS would do to them. And that's significant."