On Libya, Liberal Interventionism, and Progressive Misogyny

Ok, I’m no fan of intervention, humanitarian or otherwise.  So, let me state for the record that I’m unequivocally opposed to military operations in Libya, regardless of how much fuzzy, feel-good moralistic liberal internationalist gloss the usual suspects try to apply to their latest self-obsessed adventure in imperial overreach. Slaughter of civilians is still slaughter of civilians, regardless of how righteous the cause may be.

With that said, it seems strange to highlight the gender of those within the Obama administration who purportedly pushed hardest to get the US involved in a Bosnia-esque exercise in R2P. One would hope that even the most gender-essentialist among us would have learned from Thatcher’s tenure that women can be warmongers too (I know, shocking!) Alas, Robert Dreyfuss of The Nation seems utterly astounded that members of the fairer sex would ever make the strident case to drop heavy ordinence in lieu of organizing international coffee klatches at Foggy Bottom.


So three or four of  Obama’s advisers, all women, wanted war against Libya.

We’d like to think that women in power would somehow be less pro-war, but in the Obama administration at least it appears that the bellicosity is worst among Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice and Samantha Power. All three are liberal interventionists, and all three seem to believe that when the United States exercises military force it has some profound, moral, life-saving character to it. Far from it. Unless President Obama’s better instincts manage to reign in his warrior women—and happily, there’s a chance of that—the United States could find itself engaged in open war in Libya, and soon. The troika pushed Obama into accepting the demands of neoconservatives, such as Joe Lieberman, John McCain and The Weekly Standard‘s Bill Kristol, along with various other liberal interventionists outside the administration, such as John Kerry. The rode roughshod over the realists in the administration.

The press is full of reports about how Clinton, Rice and Power pushed Obama to war. The New York Times, citing insiders, reports that Obama shifted to intervention in Libya only under pressure from the trio: “The change became possible, though, only after Mrs. Clinton joined Samantha Power, a senior aide at the National Security Council, and Susan Rice, Mr. Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations, who had been pressing the case for military action, according to senior administration officials speaking only on condition of anonymity.”

Similarly, the Washington Post reports that yet another administration woman, Gayle Smith, joined Ben Rhodes and the troika of other women to push for war: “Obama’s decision to participate in military operations marks a victory for a faction of liberal interventionists within the administration, including Rice, Rhodes and National Security Council senior directors Samantha Power and Gayle Smith.” Opposed, or leaning against, were Secretary of Defense Gates, Tom Donilon, the national security adviser, and John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism chief.

Apparently this vicious “troika” of bloodthirsty “warrior women” (or “valkryies”, as Jacob Heilbrunn of The National Interest crudely dubbed them) were indeed fearsome enough to geld the entire male-dominated National Security establishment and send the West careening headlong into yet another excellently expensive Mideast adventure. Clearly Obama, Gates, et al were shocked into impotent submission by the toothsome roar of rampaging womanhood. Am somewhat surprised Dreyfuss didn’t manage to work menopause and “monthly visitors” into his cautionary narrative.

Snark aside, all this is, of course, utter horseshit that undermines any argument Dreyfuss is trying to make. As shocking — SHOCKING! — as it may seem to some, not all women (even women of the nominal left) are Code Pink pacifists. Dreyfuss’s colleague Katha Pollitt helpfully spells out the blatantly obvious, since it apparently does need to be said (the Iron Lady’s dubious legacy notwithstanding):

Whatever you think of the action against Qaddafi—count me as extremely apprehensive—it might just be that someone, even a woman, could support it for a reason other than sheer viciousness. The Clinton Administration’s inaction in the face of the Rwandan genocide was a formative experience for Power and Rice, and possibly for Hillary Clinton as well, given that President Clinton said his biggest regret was failing to prevent the genocide. Military action against Qaddafi may be a bad idea—another Iraq-like “cakewalk”—but people of good will can still see it as preferable to standing by as Qaddafi butchers the rebels, as he promised to do.

In any case, the fact that three women argued for it skillfully and won their point is not very interesting. So why stress it, except that it mobilizes a raft of misogynist tropes about castrating females, the dangers of petticoat government and the folly of expecting anything good to come out of gender equality? After all, can you imagine a piece in The Nation titled “Black President Opts for Bombs” or “Qaddafi, a Man, Threatens to Massacre Rebels, Most of Whom Are Also Men”?

Misogyny—it’s the last acceptable prejudice of the left.

Seriously, boys, stop cupping — this is about divergent ideology, not geopolitical vagina dentata.

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