Exchange with the Guardian’s Madeleine Bunting on Hillary Clinton’s “explicitly feminist agenda”


Please see below an email exchange I had with the Guardian’s Madeleine Bunting regarding her recent column which argued Hillary Clinton was advancing a US foreign policy with “an explicitly feminist agenda”. Starts at the top.
 
Hi Madeleine
 
I was astonished to see you claim Hillary Clinton is advancing a US foreign policy with "an explicitly feminist agenda" ('Clinton is proving that a feminist foreign policy is possible – and works', Guardian, 17 January 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/jan/16/hillary-clinton-feminist-foreign-policy).
 
Is this why the US is selling $60 billion of high tech weaponry to Saudi Arabia? Or why Clinton supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which has created hundreds of thousands Iraqi widows? Or why the US has tripled the number of drone attacks on Pakistan, the first of which under the Obama Administration, according to the Guardian, killed 22 people "reportedly women and children among them"?
 
Surely all these facts suggest the central argument of your article is misguided to say the least or am I missing something?
 
Ian Sinclair
 
Big problem Ian was that the headline didnt reflect what I was actually saying. I didnt suggest it 'worked'. I did suggest she puts a feminist agenda centre stage.. but is this about window dressing/ brushing up US image in the midst of two disastrous wars?
Madeleine
 
Hi Madeleine
 
Thank you for taking the time to reply to my email.
 
I should point out I own, have read and was very impressed by both Willing Slaves and The Model Occupation. However, I think you may have misunderstood the point I was trying to make in my email.
 
You write in your email "the headline didn't reflect what I was actually saying" and "I didn't suggest it 'worked'". However, my email was about the content of your article, not the headline (which, as it happens, seems to me to be a fair summary of your article). Secondly, my email wasn't suggesting that you argued Hillary Clinton's "explicitly feminist agenda" worked.
 
My issue is with your argument that Clinton wants to, and is advancing, a US foreign policy with "an explicitly feminist agenda". From reading your article your argument seems to be largely based on the public pronouncements of Hillary Clinton herself. For example, you note Clinton "mentioned women 450 times in speeches in the first five months in office." However, as Eduardo Galeano once said "in general, the words uttered by power are not meant to express its actions, but to disguise them". Seemingly unaware of this truism you go on to write "the Obama Administration… is anxious to redesign US foreign policy in the midst of two disastrous wars". What is your evidence for this, other than the public statements of the Obama Administration itself? With people such as Dick Cheney, former Bush NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden and the Heritage Foundation's James Jay Carafano all noting how the Obama Administration's foreign policy has largely followed the foreign policy of the Bush Administration (see http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/01/18/cheney/index.html) surely what you should have written was: "the Obama Administration… +says it is+ anxious to redesign US foreign policy in the midst of two disastrous wars"?
 
Furthermore, as I noted in my original email, doesn't the fact that the Obama Administration is selling $60 billion of high tech weaponry to Saudi Arabia, is escalating the drone war in Pakistan and that Clinton herself supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which has created hundreds of thousands of Iraqi widows, critically undermine your whole argument that Clinton is advancing a US foreign policy with "an explicitly feminist agenda"? Could you tell me why you chose to ignore these extremely salient points? Did you not consider Clinton's actions towards Saudi Arabia, arguably the country in the world where women are most repressed, of importance?
 
I look forward to your reply.
 
Kind regards
 
Ian Sinclair

 
Dear Ian, all the points you make are absolutely valid. It was a struggle as I was writing to balance my argument and a long conversation with a colleague warned me of exactly the dangers in what i was trying to say that you have highlighted. As a columnist, believe you me, I am never confident that I have got it right. Clearly there are major constraints on Clinton's championing of women's issues – Saudi Arabia is your example, I mentioned the Middle East and Afghanistan (where she has her work cut out to make any impact on this issue). There are plenty of others.
 
I suppose what intrigued me was the outspoken championing of the importance of women's issues. 1)why and how this has now become acceptable instead of radical 2) whether it will have any effect, make any difference and 3) what is this thesis of modernisation which believes that women's empowerment will advance US interests.
 
I was and am v sceptical about the last.
USforeign policy has always been evangelical and expansionary.. it believes it has a mission to the world. On countless occasions that has been disastrous and we both can list some of those I'm sure. I suppose what i was asking – and forgive me if it wasnt clear – in my column was whether there are any occasions on which it can be positive… and i wasnt sure what the answer was.
 
I hope you feel that i have at least tried to engage with your argument. I thought my previous email had also tried but you said I had misunderstood your points. Its sad how often email exchanges only frustrate. We are both trying to better understand each other's arguments.
 
All the best, Madeleine
 
Dear Madeleine
 
Thank you for your further, more detailed, response.
 
I don't think an extension of the correspondence will achieve much, and I'm sure we both have more pressing concerns to attend to, so I will not be pursuing it, but again, perhaps through me not being clear enough, you seem to miss the point I am making.
 
You say "Clearly there are major constraints on Clinton's championing of women's issues – Saudi Arabia is your example, I mentioned the Middle East and Afghanistan (where she has her work cut out to make any impact on this issue)."
 
So to be clear you believe Clinton IS championing women's issues, although because of "major constraints" she may not be successful in doing this. However, my point is to question whether Clinton really is interested in championing women's issues or is only SAYING she is interested in championing women's issues (in much the same way George Bush and Tony Blair claimed to be interested in introducing democracy to Iraq in 2003). Clinton's actions towards Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than her public statements (as Noam Chomsky has said “it is wise to attend to deeds, not rhetoric” as “deeds commonly tell a different story”), suggest women's issues are not of central concern to Clinton or the Obama Administration more generally.
 
But thanks again for taking the time to answer my email.
 
Kind regards
 
Ian Sinclair
 
 
Yes, I do think Clinton is trying to advance womens issues within the constraints (and they are considerable) of a US foreign policy often at odds with that. She is a pragmatic politician who makes major compromises but i think there are some deeds which show a commitment. It isn't all rhetoric.
 
 
 
 

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