As America hurtles towards an election with a giant marketing push of a first female president, it seems appropriate to reflect on the effect of the fairer sex on politics. Forget unemployed Mrs. Clinton’s history of failure as Secretary of State. What possible difference could a female at the helm of the big chair make? Could feminism start a war? Of course! It already has.
Before former Secretary Clinton was even First Lady Clinton, there was an historic first that feminism and the Washington bureaucracy cheered. This was not a progressive victory under a progressive president. It was a simple appointment made and confirmed in the Reagan-Bush era to a nation that since has been the center of American foreign policy focus. In 1989, President Bush appointed April Glaspie as ambassador to Iraq. April Glaspie was the first female American ambassador to an Arab country.
Glaspie was not an unqualified ambassador. This is not 2010s feminism at work. Glaspie might be well described as a Peggy Olsen from Mad Men. A foreign service specialist. She was an Arabist, but of the Washington type, not a missionary-in-the-field type. Glaspie was an Arabist, in that she was sympathetic to the Arab cause, Arab nations, rulers and peoples.
This is a type all but extinct in America’s contemporary neocon hierarchy. Peers described her as an absolute workaholic who traveled with her mother in tow. She was a great report writer, cable writer. and a bit of an apple polisher go-getter. She could work the machine back in DC. If you envision the straight-A student who studies hard and not the straight-A student who is a natural, you are honing in on the anxiety felt by diplomats with Glaspie’s appointment. Glaspie was an unmarried workaholic who is described as never wearing makeup, so maybe the Peggy Olsen comparison is being generous.
How bad was Iraq in the late 1980s? It was a police state run by a dictator that was gassing his own people and had just ended a nearly decade-long war against its neighbor. Glaspie had a reputation for defending the actions of authoritarian Arab nations and even Arab radicals and terrorists. Iraq was a special moment of opportunity. In 1988, it had just reopened relations with America, and business interests wanted in for all that oil. On the diplomatic front, America wanted to feel Saddam’s pliability, namely whether he would become like the other Gulf clients, or if he would be an independent or antagonist. As other foreign service veterans stated, you might think twice about putting a sympathetic lady into such a rough situation. Some within State felt that her first ambassadorship should be with another Arab country to learn the ropes before being thrown into a highly charged country.
The world did not have to wait long to see the results. The results of her first meeting with Saddam are still being debated. Eve after her appointment and installation in Iraq, Saddam had let it known that he preferred the previous ambassador. A civilization that separated men from women in many realms was going to endure a male head of state talking to a female as representative of the sovereign? Glaspie and Saddam met, discussed the problem between Iraq and Kuwait, and as some portray it, gave Saddam a green light. Glaspie was used to flattery working on Arab leaders, but they were not war time dictators in charge of police states. Glaspie avoided the very direct remarks that would have conveyed the message that America would respond to defend their regional clients’ interests. In the aftermath, Glaspie tried to cover for her mistake, but cables and transcripts released have never fully helped her case.
Saddam invaded Kuwait. The next twenty-five years is well known. If anything from that moment on, the tide of emotion, effort, and energy that had pushed Arab nationalism entered terminal decline. The most dangerous effect of Glaspie’s work was that she gave the United States an opportunity for recovery from Vietnam. It is hard to convey the worry Americans felt as Operation Desert Storm began in January 1991. The public neither understood, nor was aware of the military at their disposal. Tomahawk cruise missiles, laser guided bombs, stealth bombers. The great colossus that President Reagan had spent all those billions on was unleashed on Iraq, and the opportunity to use that military machine has rarely, if ever, been denied. Ever since then, secular dictators have all been a “Ground troop free invasion” promise away from being removed.
It might not be that feminism started a war, but that feminism unleashed Mars himself.