Maryam Zar – WNN SOAPBOX
(WNN) Washington, D.C., UNITED STATES: When Rand Paul told Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that if he were president he would have relieved her of her duties over the Benghazi attack, he must have just been crawling out of the yolk of a daydream right there on the Senate floor. Because he’s the junior senator from Kentucky that rode into the Capitol on the heels of a Tea Party surge — that died — and she’s the former first lady who’s been in the service of this public since the days of Watergate. Since the 1960’s Hillary Rodham Clinton has dedicated her life, resources and impressive mind to public service, through thick and thin, to finally emerge as the first serious female candidate for the presidency and then the nation’s leading diplomat. She is a behemoth of a person, and in the last four years has navigated U.S. foreign policy through global turmoil during some of the most trying times in recent memory, and all the while fought for women’s rights at every turn.
During her tenure as Secretary of State, the world witnessed a movement of Arab youth that rocked the Middle East, beginning in Tunisia and spreading like wildfire across a region rife with frustration, poverty and lack of opportunity. Coupled with little education, few rights and economies built on corruption, the powder keg that has always been the Middle East erupted on her watch. Caught in the crossfire were U.S. allies and stalwart friends that had long upheld our interests in some of the most complicated corners of the world, where U.S. interests and American ideals usually bump right up against each other.
She once famously said that in these turbulent times, the U.S. must “chew gum and walk at the same time.” She stealthily navigated through the Egyptian upheaval that resulted in one of America’s best buddies being wheeled around in a white robe, chained to a gurney, on his way to a trial from military detention in a hospital where every movement was monitored by a new order that is far less friendly to the U.S. Hillary Clinton was able to emerge unscathed from that tortuous transfer of power from a secular U.S. ally to an Islamist U.S. foe, looking ahead and keeping America still in good graces.
Bahrain, Myanmar, Syria and now most notably Libya are still engaged in a bloodbath, while American troops continue to bomb and singe targets across Iraq and Afghanistan, with nary a tally to be spoken of. Yet Hillary Clinton was dragged before a Senate hearing to peer into security shortcomings that may have led to an attack in Benghazi that took the lives of four Americans in the service of the State Department. How exactly were these people attacked, was the question on the table. Having nothing to lose, Hillary Clinton, who has danced to the tune of Washington, D.C. for more than 30 years, in a fit of candor, told it like it is: “What difference at this point does it make?” she furiously asked.
The truth is, Americans will be in harm’s way in this Arab spring turned nightmare, and we won’t always know exactly who it was or their specific motives, other than the broad strokes that they are people who despise our presence in their policies, loath our support for Israel, and desperately want to inflict pain on Americans — however and wherever they can. It is incumbent upon us to craft a foreign policy that can sustain us safely through this generational transition, and bring us out the other end with perhaps a smarter, more even handed foreign policy, that puts us further from harm’s way, and more admired for our ideals than despised for our powers.
While she has stealthily led us through the quagmire that is the shifting Middle East, she has also given hope to women around the world with her unyielding commitment to women’s rights and to relieving the horrific issues they face around the globe. The woman who has traveled over a million miles around this globe in a record breaking sprint, has perhaps seen its darkest corners where women face child marriage, daily beatings, forced prostitution, and honor killings as a matter of custom — not exception. More than 20 years ago, then First Lady Hillary Clinton founded an organization called Vital Voices. Today that organization is among the leading foundations that empowers and enables women in the Middle East and North Africa, among others, and helps support their aims to join civil society as professionals and leaders.
As first lady she declared in a speech in Beijing that “women’s rights are human rights.” Her words were bleeped from state radio and television. Contrast that with Clinton as Secretary of State who in 2012 forced the Chinese to free a dissident. She has gone on record to support the rights of women as people entitled to self determination and has declared the days of women being used as barter to settle scores or chattel to pay off debt has to come to an end. “I believe that the rights of women and girls is the unfinished business of the 21st century,” she said in 2011.
Today she leaves the State Department with her mark clearly imprinted on the agenda she leaves behind. She has created an ambassadorial post at the Office of Global Women’s Rights at the Department of State and has unmistakably hinged U.S. foreign policy to the civic and political engagement of women in emerging governments around the world. Where we have power and influence, Hillary Clinton has made sure she has placed the rights of women and girls on the table, and pressed to have them codified. Crafting it as a national security issue, Clinton says that “where women are disempowered and dehumanized, you are more likely to see not just antidemocratic forces, but extremism that leads to security challenges for us.”
She understands that to “walk and chew gum” as she says, in a fluid world, America needs to preserve its moral standards while pursuing its national interests. “This is a big deal for American values,” she says of women’s rights, “but it is also a big deal for our security,” she told Newsweek during the days of the Egyptian revolution. Her voice, unlike in Beijing decades earlier, would be heard around the world and newly forming governments would heed her warning, that women should not be marginalized if the support of the United States is to be forthcoming.
The woman who quipped as first lady that all she had to do to get headlines was to “change her hairstyle,” has proven that women can be beautiful and smart at the same time. Since her debut on the national stage where all anyone knew of her was the color of her inaugural gown, Hillary Clinton has fought for women’s rights with the force of a superpower. At home, she’s shown us the smart side of a politician who happens to be female, a policy wonk who is also sensitive, and a fashionista who is down to earth.
She has let us accompany her through the transformation of a naïve political wife who thought her ideals would trump the acerbicism of Washington, to the savvy diplomat that guided this nation through the muck and the mud of war and revolution a world away, where our interests are most entrenched. As a mother raising a young daughter, I am grateful to her for this image of the woman she has put forward, to balance against the mindless glam that permeates entertainment. I am grateful to have witnessed the life a real leader, who stood firm in the face of adversity, who faced her critics squarely with grace, and who resolutely pursued her goals as far as they would take her. I will sooner tell my kids to look at her for lessons in life than any bombshell making news for their hairstyle.
Thank you, Madame Secretary.
Maryam Zar is a former correspondent, newspaper editor, entrepreneur and successful business person, while also an immigrant, a mother, a wife and a human with a conscience. She is an Iranian-born American who grew up in New Jersey. She has a B.S. in Mass Communications and Journalism from Boston University and a J.D. from Pepperdine Law School. She moved back to Iran in the 1990s for four years and became an editor at Tehran Times, an English-language daily newspaper in Iran, as well as a writer/correspondent for Gulf Marketing Review (GMR) and Middle East Economic Digest (MEED), published in London.
In 2010, Maryam Founded Womenfound, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about the plight of women in underdeveloped parts of the world, as well as raising money for charities and foundations that help women around the world. She is currently the Editor of the English section of Rahavard Journal of Persian Studies, and the former Director of Women’s Programs at Omid for Iran Foundation, an organization with a mission to promote democracy in Iran. She appears as a guest on several Persian-language programs discussing women and women’s issues, and speaks at events addressing the concerns of women in her community.
Follow Maryam Zar on Twitter: www.twitter.com/womenfound