President Obama has upset deeply rooted neo-conservative ideals of gender and power.
Under the previous US administration, neo-conservatives have enjoyed unprecedented use of American unilateral action and military might. Presently, Obama's use of inclusive multilateralism and cooperation offends neo-conservative notions of America's proper role as a protector. To better understand the philosophical divisions between the pragmatic realists in the Obama camp and the idealistic neo-conservatives on the sidelines, a review of their attitudes through a gendered lens can be illuminating.
In a 2003 essay, the late Marion Young of the University of Chicago argues that the US government assumed a hyper-patriarchal role in relation to its citizens. This phenomenon known to gender theorists as "masculinist protection" traditionally operates when a "good" father protects and provides for his family. In return for protection from external threats at all costs, women and children become subordinate to the father. The "good" father justifies this hierarchical relationship not out of coercion or domination. Rather, this logic arises from a chivalrous moral imperative to protect the family from ever present external threats "bad" men impose (Young).
In applying the practice of masculinist protection to the state, President George W. Bush (the protector) exemplified this role. To ensure the nation's (the family's) security, Bush attacked Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Islamic Republic ("bad" men). By going to war or threatening them, he protected the nation from the external threats. As a result of Bush's preferential usage of hard power, he also placed Islamic fundamentalists in a humiliating subordinate role which dramatically fueled fundamentalism around the world.
In contrast to Bush, Obama's refrain from using tough rhetoric or America's hard power portrays him as a weak protector, by neo-conservative standards. Former UN Ambassador John Bolton argues that he doesn't believe Obama is "willing to carry through on the hard tasks that need to be done". (FOX).
Viewing Bolton's statement through the lens of masculinist protection, Obama fails to protect the state from the external threat posed by Iran's nuclear ambitions. His inaction and unwillingness to do whatever is necessary makes him a "bad" president.
Obama's style of leadership mobilizes and engages people as equals and not subordinates. As evidenced by his Cairo speech, Obama is pulling out the rug from under fundamentalists across the world. Also, in his Nowruz (New Year) address to the Iranian people, Obama extended his hand in friendship through an offer of diplomatic engagement:
"The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right-but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization" (Whitehouse).
Like a nurturing parent who welcomes two-way communication and responsibility, Obama does not position himself as a masculinist protector. Nor does he subjugate the Iranian people into accepting America's will through military might. Instead, he creates the necessary space to foster engagement and agreement. With respect and trust, Obama draws from mutual interests that bind Iranian achievements and ambitions with America's trajectory as a global leader and partner.
True to his roots as a community organizer, Obama appeals to the Iranian people's pride and dignity and enlists them as constructive actors in the solution making process. As seen in his Iran policy of non-interference in Iran's crisis of legitimacy, Obama has not tainted the Iranian people's struggle for reform by succumbing to neo-conservative saber-rattling. Such a disastrous move would play directly into the hands of Iran's hardliners providing fodder for their hollow accusations of foreign "meddling".
Obama recognizes that subordinating or dominating the Iranian people or that of any others will result in failure. As the president asserted in his speech on US-Russian relations (Whitehouse):
"The arc of history shows that governments which serve their own people survive and thrive; governments which serve only their own power do not." Otherwise "they are likely to descend into failed states, to terrorize their citizens, or to wage war on others."
In rejecting the masculinist protection model, President Obama leads from a position strength based on what makes America great-our imagination, our ability to inspire, and our belief in equality.
About the author: Christopher Feld is a US social historian and a human rights activist.
... Payvand News - 07/26/09 ... --