CALIFORNIA REPRESENTATIVE Lynn Woolsey wants the United States to sign something she refers to as CEDAW--the United Nations' Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. So she sent out a "dear colleague" letter that reads, in part: "Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, United States, Iran. Which one of these is different from the others??? If you guessed the United States--you're wrong. If you guessed Saudi Arabia, you're right." The Saudis, you see, have signed the treaty. The United States has not.
Some people might conclude that this example proves the worthlessness of U.N.-sponsored paper proclamations. Not Lynn Woolsey.
"Despite the United States' claim to be a leader of human rights, we are the only industrialized country that has not ratified CEDAW," she writes. "It's time to abandon this unfavorable distinction." And the way to do that, apparently, is not to continue safeguarding the rights of women as America does, but to sign an anti-discrimination agreement that boasts signatories such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Nigeria.
Perhaps we should give Rep. Woolsey the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the letter is the handiwork of an overzealous staffer. Surely no member of Congress would be so dim as to suggest that the United States compares unfavorably to Saudi Arabia, especially regarding the treatment of women. Right? After all, Saudi women can't drive, they can't study engineering or law, they must beg male permission before traveling, and they're sometimes beaten for inappropriate dress. Even the analysts at the State Department, ever eager to explain away Saudi faults, have worried about their "systematic discrimination against women."
In the United States, by contrast, not only can women drive, travel, dress, and vote as they please, they are also free to run for office, get elected, and make arguments that would be insulting were they not so silly.
Perhaps Woolsey's support for CEDAW stems from a strong belief in the power of U.N. resolutions. Again, from the letter: "CEDAW establishes a universal definition of discrimination against women, and provides international standards to discourage sex-based discrimination. These standards encourage equality in education, health care, employment and all other arenas of public life. Over the past 20 years, CEDAW has become an important tool for nations to end human rights abuses of women and girls--such as those committed by the Taliban in Afghanistan."
You remember those stories, don't you? The ones about Mullah Omar heading down to the U.N.-funded soccer stadium that became a public execution coliseum--primarily for women who committed heinous crimes such as reading--and suddenly stopping short. "Damn," the one-eyed tyrant would exclaim to the other men in the Taliban's leadership, "we can't do this. What about CEDAW? It's become an important tool for us to end human rights abuses of women and girls."
Is Woolsey just another misguided idealist from California willing to subordinate reason to knee-jerk, America-is-the-problem arguments? Or is she something of a hyper-multilateralist, with an unwavering belief in the sanctity of U.N. resolutions? We can dismiss at least the second of those two possibilities with a visit to her website. Woolsey, it seems, believes that U.N. resolutions should be taken seriously when they call upon the United States to live up to the human rights example of the Saudis, but not when they call for the disarmament of a brutal tyrant with weapons of mass destruction.
In a September 11 op-ed, Woolsey complained that President Bush was moving too unilaterally toward war, and urged him to work within the confines of "international institutions." After repeating the canard that Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction were "ninety-five percent destroyed" by U.N. inspectors--as if the inspectors ever had any idea what constituted 100 percent--Woolsey trots out a long list of grievances she has with the current administration.
"President Bush has sent a message of his own by backing out of the ABM Treaty, refusing to sign the Kyoto treaty, refusing to be a party to the Mine Ban Treaty, withdrawing the U.S. signature to the International Criminal Court, failing to pay off our immense debt to the United Nations, and embracing the use of mini-nukes," Woolsey wrote. Then she throws in a dash of moral equivalency, for good measure: "Is it any wonder that other nations are not flocking to our side when we ignore the same international standards that we accuse Saddam Hussein of disregarding?"
The same standards?
Afghan women are free today because the United States military liberated them. Iraqi women will soon be free for the same reason. Two short military conflicts with stated goals that have nothing to do with the plight of women will do more to advance women's rights worldwide than CEDAW has done or ever will do.
Lynn Woolsey, U.S. Representative, will vote against the coming war in Iraq. "Only if President Bush proves that the Iraqi government facilitated the September 11 attacks will I even consider retracting my opposition to war," she argues.
I'm glad she'll have that opportunity. I wonder how women in the Saudi government will vote? Or in the Iraqi government?
Stephen F. Hayes is staff writer for The Weekly Standard.