One is that these days an American military presence means women soldiers, and women soldiers threaten the traditional role of women in Saudi society. Because of that culture clash and the destabilization it could cause, the Defense Department enforces a rule on American servicewomen stationed in Saudi Arabia: Off the base, they have to wear the same head-to-toe gown, called an "abaya," that Saudi women wear.
They can't drive cars, must sit in the back seat of vehicles and must be escorted by a man at all times. It's not quite up to Taliban standards, but it's close enough to give most Western women the willies.
Now, The Washington Post reports glowingly, one woman is challenging the Pentagon rule with a lawsuit claiming it violates her constitutional rights. Air Force Lt. Col. Martha McSally complains that the Pentagon's rule "abandons our American values that we all raised our right hand to die for."
Indeed, she's gained a good deal of support, from conservatives like Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire to Eleanor Smeal of the Feminist Majority Foundation. Smeal simply denounces the Pentagon policy as "gross discrimination," while Smith explains that "what makes this particularly bizarre is that we are waging a war in Afghanistan to remove those abayas, and the very soldiers who are conducting that war have to cover up."
Actually, somebody should explain to Smith that the reason we're fighting a war in Afghanistan has absolutely nothing to do with abolishing women's dress codes; the war has to do with the late unpleasantness of Sept. 11. As for McSally, what "American values" did she think she was swearing to die for when she signed up?
How would Smith and the other Republican lawmakers supporting abolition of the Pentagon rule like it if women from primitive Polynesian cultures showed up here wearing the attire, such as it is, customary in their societies? The ladies would find themselves in the slammer for indecent exposure, and Smith would be the first to turn the key on them. The cliche that embalms this particular American value in rhetorical amber is that when in Rome, you do as the Romans do. If you can't or won't -- well, you really don't have to go to Rome at all, do you?
McSally may have had to go to Saudi Arabia, but she didn't have to join the Air Force in the first place. Maybe that's yet another reason we shouldn't have women in the military anyway. If the United States is going to insist on being the global policeman and on using women soldiers to do it, we can expect to make ourselves very unwelcome in a lot more non-Western cultures in the future.
What is particularly funny about McSally's crusade is that it's really just part of the perennial self-appointed U.S. mission to make the world safe for American parochialism. Usually that mission consists in demanding hotels like Holiday Inn and food like what you get at Burger King, but the equivalent of the Whopper in political ideology is the very kind of provincial feminism straight from the boonies of Manhattan that McSally is peddling.
When the Pentagon rule is scrapped, women like the Thoroughly Modern McSally can waltz around downtown Mecca and Riyadh in their bikinis and tank-tops all they want. When they do, they may find themselves harassed, attacked and even murdered in the streets by Thoroughly Medieval Muslims, and sooner or later they and their allies back home will whine that American soldiers just aren't doing enough to protect the "American values" they represent.
It's clear enough why many Arabs besides Osama bin Laden don't want American troops in Saudi Arabia; it's only Americans like McSally who can't understand it.