It's confirmed: The "F" in John. F. Kerry stands for "Feckless." Women around the world no longer need to wonder whether America's secretary of state will stand boldly with them in defense of their basic rights. He won't.
On Monday, Kerry was in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Anyone with a phone or an Internet connection inside and outside the country knows what's been going on there. The kingdom has been rocked by women of all ages protesting the Muslim nation's retrograde ban on female drivers. Over the past two weeks, the protesters and their supporters have taken to social media to pressure the oppressive sharia-enforcing regime. It is the only country in the world that won't allow its women -- 20 million of them -- to obtain driver's licenses.
Women can own cars. They just can't drive them. They are forced to hire male drivers, who often harass them, crash their cars, can't be trusted and soak up half of their paychecks. Most women rely on taxi drivers, who turn 10-minute commutes into two-hour commutes. Others are held hostage in their own homes.
Foreign women are not even allowed to use their native licenses to drive in the Saudi kingdom. Over the weekend, a Kuwaiti woman was arrested in Saudi Arabia for driving her sick father to the hospital. The Kuwait Times reported that "according to a Khafji police report, the woman was caught driving a Chevrolet Epica ... in front of a hotel in the area located near the border with Kuwait, while a Kuwaiti man was in the passenger's seat. The woman told the officers that the man was her father, adding that he is diabetic and cannot drive and that she had to take him to the hospital for treatment." The woman remained in custody "pending investigations."
Manal al-Sharif, the 34-year-old female computer scientist leading the protest movement, spent nine days in jail in 2011 for "incitement to public disorder" for driving her brother's car in public. Fourteen other women faced arrest for participating in last month's demonstration; many more faced death threats. Tariq al-Mubarak, a male supporter and high school teacher who helped the October protesters, was held in custody by Saudi interior ministry investigators for several days.
This was the roiling cultural context for a reporter's simple question to Kerry on Monday. "I was wondering," the journalist asked, "what your take is on women driving in Saudi Arabia?" Kerry's take was ... to take cover. "With respect to the issue of women driving here in Saudi Arabia," he filibustered, "it's no secret that in the United States of America we embrace equality for everybody, regardless of gender, race or any other qualification." And then came the "but." The crapweasel "but."
"But it's up to Saudi Arabia to make its own decisions about its own social structure choices and timing for whatever events. I know there's a debate. We actually talked about this at lunch," Kerry ducked. What he "actually talked about" he wouldn't say. "There's a healthy debate in Saudi Arabia about this issue, but I think that debate is best left to Saudi Arabia, the people engaged in it, all of whom know exactly where we in the United States of America stand on this issue."
Wimpy, wimpy, wimpy. No unequivocal shout-outs for the brave women risking arrest for simply getting behind the wheel? No paean to the cherished freedom to move about as we please? No stirring affirmation of the connection between mobility and women's dignity? Nada.
Of course, we've come to expect nothing less than pure fecklessness from the foggy minds at Foggy Bottom. Kerry's predecessor, feminist hero Hillary Clinton, who preferred "quiet diplomacy" on the matter, had to be dragged into the Saudi women driver's debate in 2011. Even then, she soft-pedaled her message: "I want to, again, underscore and emphasize that this is not about the United States; it's not about what any of us on the outside say," she said. "It is about the women themselves and their right to raise their concerns with their own government."
These "progressive" Democrats are all for championing women's rights and international human rights when it suits them: at Hollywood soirees, Vogue photo shoots, fancy state dinners and black-tie award ceremonies. But stick their Hermes-wrapped necks out once in favor of basic human dignity and risk upsetting the mullahs to their faces? Never. This is Obama's America: leading from the sidelines.