Kerry Takes Softer Line Than Hillary on Saudi Women Drivers

But neither diplomat has made women's rights a defining U.S. foreign policy issue

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On a fence-mending trip to Saudi Arabia Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry toed a careful line when asked about growing protests by Saudi women who are demanding the right to drive.

“[I]t’s no secret that in the United States of America we embrace equality for everybody, regardless of gender, race, or any other qualification,” Kerry told reporters in Riyadh. “But it’s up to Saudi Arabia to make its own decisions about its own social structure. … There’s a healthy debate in Saudi Arabia about this issue, but I think that debate is best left to Saudi Arabia.”

That’s a milder line than the one Kerry’s predecessor, Hillary Clinton, adopted when she was asked about the issue in June 2011. Clinton replied that she was “moved” by the protest movement, which she called “brave.”

“I am moved by it and I support them,” Clinton said at the time. “We have raised this issue at the highest level of the Saudi Government. We’ve made clear our views that women everywhere, including women in the Kingdom, have the right to make decisions about their lives and their futures. They have the right to contribute to society and to provide for their children and their families. And mobility, such as provided by the freedom to drive, provides access to economic opportunity, including jobs, which does fuel growth and stability. And it’s also important for just day-to-day life, to say nothing of the necessity from time to time to transport children for various needs and sometimes even emergencies.”

Kerry’s comments were far more cautious, though he did say that the issue had come up at a luncheon that day, and that Saudi officials “know exactly where” the U.S. stands on the question. The State Department’s top spokeswoman also made clear as recently as Oct. 26 that America “supports [Saudi women’s] ability to drive.”  But Kerry offered no direct encouragement for the protesting women, nor any criticism for the kingdom’s policy.

To be fair, Clinton wasn’t actually in Saudi Arabia when she spoke, whereas Kerry was standing within arm’s reach of Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal. Pressing the issue might have defined news coverage of a trip whose goal was to soothe relations at a moment of tension with the Saudi royals. Clinton may have made the same concession to diplomatic mores in that setting.

And while Clinton frequently spotlighted women’s issues as Secretary of State, she didn’t treat them as paramount. The woman who delivered a famous 1995 speech on the treatment of women in China when she was First Lady, for instance, rarely pressed human rights issues with the Chinese government in public during her tenure as top diplomat, as she pursued urgent Obama administration priorities like the world economy, global warming and Iran.

Nor did Clinton argue for NATO forces to extend their stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014 to protect the rights of women. Writing for TIME in 2001, Clinton argued that protecting women’s rights was critical to Afghanistan’s future. As Secretary of State she did stress the point in public. But the U.S. will be leaving the country at the end of 2014, even though Human Rights Watch predicts a “dark future” for Afghan women after that happens (“[T]here is a glaring absence of consideration of similar safeguards for women’s rights in the years ahead,” HRW warns). Look no farther than this unforgettable TIME cover image to see what that might mean.

Not even Clinton could make a winning argument for having American troops to fight and die on behalf of Afghan women’s rights. Anyone with a heart is sympathetic to oppressed women everywhere. But that’s rarely enough to define U.S. foreign policy, as John Kerry demonstrated in Riyadh yesterday.

4 comments
rbarsocchini
rbarsocchini

The USA is the entire reason behind horrible repression of women and others in Afghanistan. 


Afghanistan had women's rights and stability in the 70s, but then the USA started funding and supporting Mujahideen to invade Afghanistan and overthrow the government.  This resulted in the Soviets invading, after repeated calls for assistance from Afghanistan, and the loss of about 2 million lives, mostly civilian, in the US-backed war that followed.  


The US then helped the Taliban blossom from the Mujahideen and come to power in Afghanistan.  The US worked on negotiating a gas pipeline deal with them and tried to get the Taliban to expand its government over all of Afghanistan, having known all along, since the 70s, the repression and torture these fundamentalists carried out.  The US kept trying to work with the Taliban on the pipeline and trying to get the Taliban to expand its government, even making threats to invade Afghanistan and force the deal if the Taliban didn't accept the right terms.  Then 9/11/01 happened and the US invaded and occupied the country, and conveniently saw through the pipeline deal it always wanted, on the terms it wanted. 


And who offered her personal guarantee of government backing to Chevron to carry out the pipeline project?  None other than Hillary Clinton. 


All sources and details here: http://empireslayer.blogspot.com/2014/01/us-imperialism-afghanistan-and-hillary.html

BillRay73
BillRay73

Saudi Arabia is a country where there are no human rights (rights as we know them). Sad thing is, inspite of knowing that most of the 9/11 terrorists were Saudis and Saudi is continuously spreading terrorism (disguised as Wahhabi religion) all over the globe, we are not stopping them. Instead, because they have oil we stand side by side and refrain to show our disgust. There was an interesting article by Fareed Zakaria in the latest Time magazine print "Why we shouldn't care that the world's most irresponsible country is displeased at the U.S.".

Read more: Zakaria: The Saudis Are Mad? Tough! - TIME http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2156259,00.html#ixzz2joN43xQR

srdiamond
srdiamond

"But it’s up to Saudi Arabia to make its own decisions about its own social structure..."

 Slimy comment by Kerry: Saudi Arabia is an absolutist state: the *king* decides (as he decided women would get to "vote" in 2015).

jmac
jmac

Fence-mending in Saudia Arabia because they don't like what we're doing in Egypt and Syria and they're  worried about Iran.        Between these Sunni/Shiite squabbling Arabs with their al Qaeda, Hezbellah, Muslim Brotherhood, etc groups, it's no wonder the Middle East is a mess.   Add Israel  to the list and it's amazing talks are still going on.  

This isn't about Hillary and Kerry and the men who took down our towers ( almost all Saudis) or women's rights in Saudi Arabia.  This is about Arabs fighting Arabs.   Hillary and Kerry aren't fighting each other over whether Saudie women can drive  !