Unaccustomed as we are to saying nice things about the First Lady, we have to offer her our kudos for the fashion statement she made Tuesday in Saudi Arabia. She was wearing another one of those garish garments that all the fashion critics swoon over, but it conspicuously did not include the submissive sort of head cover that women are expected to don in deference to the Islamic kingdom. One can only hope that the rest of the diplomatic entourage will be just as bold in asserting western values over foreign custom.
The Saudis are already miffed about America’s recent lack of assertiveness in the region, with the recently deceased king making no secret of his disdain for the administration’s disappearing “red line” in Syria, its solicitous courtship of Shiite and Persian Iran during that country’s ongoing attempt to build nuclear weapons that will threaten Sunni and Arab countries, and its general lack of reliability to longstanding allies. Which is why the president and his wife were flying into Saudi Arabia for some placating words with the new king. The visit will no doubt include assurances that America continues to overlook the country’s horrible human rights record and support for terrorism and world-wide funding of a radical Wahhabi strain of Islamism, and probably some talk about the president’s Islamic parentage and education and his instinctive empathy for the victims of western colonialism and all that, but the reputed Obama charm will have to be more effective than usual. The troublesome Islamic State continues its rampage in Syria, where the troublesome dictator is still in power, American allies in neighboring Yemen have recently had to head for the hills, no one in the Middle East can help noticing that even America’s friendship with Israel has been severely strained, and it will take some rather silver-tongued oratory to teach the Saudis to stop worrying and learn to love the Iranian bomb. There’s a new king in Saudi Arabia, but the view from the throne remains the same.
At this point we can’t think of much more the president might have to offer except an I-Pod full of speeches about the Islamic world’s glorious contributions to world civilization and the Republicans’ diabolical desire for dirty air and dirty water. Retreat and apologia haven’t had the intended pacifying effect on the Middle East, the spats with Israel have not only failed to ingratiate us with the Sunni and Arab countries that suddenly find themselves threatened by the same Shiite and Persian Iran but have also reinforced an American reputation for fecklessness, and resuming our former role as a deterring power in the region is of course impossible for ideological reasons. In the post-FDR and pre-Obama era all the talk on a trip to Saudi Arabia would have been oil prices, which have lately been low due hydraulic fracturing and the Saudi’s efforts to undercut America’s domestic industry as well as the Iranian government into submission, but this issue attracted little attention in the news coverage. Given Obama’s ideological opposition to fossil fuels and his political desire to take credit for the oil boom, we would have been interested to hear what he said if the subject ever did come up.
So, we figure the First Lady might as well keep her head uncovered while visiting Saudi Arabia. Perhaps it was just a fashion statement, or just a manifestation of that sense of entitlement that is so frequently annoying in a domestic context, or even some signal that the administration is about to sign off on Persian and Shiite hegemony in the Middle East, but we’d like to think she was making a small gesture on behalf of the right of women everywhere to freely choose what they wear. This would imply a broader criticism of the treatment of women in much of the Islamic world, and call into question the validity of the cultural relativism that has become an unassailable tenet of the western left, and although we doubt she intended to go quite that far we credit her with taking a small step.
— Bud Norman