The Media Parlor Game on Libya Continues: The Gender Angle?
I have no idea what went on behind the scenes with respect to the decision to support instituting a no-fly zone over Libya. It does seem that the administration was all in agreement on at least two major factors- that nothing could/should be done without a) UN support and also, if possible, b) Arab League support.
Ben Smith has an article up on his blog at Politico (from yesterday) and note the provocative title of it: “Boys against Girls over Libya,” which is clearly meant to bring eyes (and page hits) to Smith’s blog- well, he succeeded in doing that, given I’m talking about it despite not being a big Politico fan. Some of Politico’s tactics for getting traffic seem a tad gimmicky, but, whatever. I know many disagree with my take on the media establishment and what I believe is it’s race to the bottom in an attempt to replace hardcore investigative journalism (more expensive, requires more knowledge, etc.) with infotainment (cheaper, minimal knowledge required).
This article is being discussed around the blogosphere, so I thought I’d highlight it:
There’s been quite a bit of chatter today about the notion that a cadre of human-rights-minded women — Susan Rice, Samantha Power, Hillary Clinton — fought and won an internal debate over Libya. But White House officials and close observers outside government pushed back hard on the idea of a crucial internal split Sunday, arguing that Obama was pressed to action not by the internal dynamic but by the situation on the ground.
The gender war theory, Andrea Mitchell had it:
In the end, it became the women foreign policy advisers against the men. Although Hillary Clinton initially resisted the idea of a no-fly zone, she was persuaded at the beginning of this week by the Arab League’s endorsement of military action. And she had intense meetings with the Arab League leaders and a Libyan opposition leader this week. She … joined U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and two other women in the National Security Council [senior directors Samantha Power and Gayle Smith], who’ve been arguing for some time for more aggressive action
This narrative seems to have its origin in a Cable item, since tweaked, whose initial version had Power and Smith squaring off with their bosses, Denis McDonough and Tom Donilon, and winning in a key meeting last Tuesday. The NSC senior directors, however, weren’t in the meeting. The Times has a similar theory that military action became possible when Clinton, Rice, and Power made the case for action together to Obama. Chait also likes the idea.
But people watching the process closely doubted it Sunday.
“I don think the U.S. government goes to war bc a couple of senior directors at the NSC overrule the National Security Advisor and the Secretary of Defense,” said Tom Malinowski, the Washington director for Human Rights Watch and a long-time ally of officials like Power and Rice. “I think people are making assumptions about where the divide is based on Samantha’s pre-administration public profile,” he said, referring to her writing on genocide and her advocacy for intervention elsewhere.
Malinowski’s view: “Events on the ground increasingly made it clear to the president and everyone else in this administration that inaction would produce a humaniatrian and strategic calamity.”
“It’s being driven by circumstances and by Obama’s attention,” said Steve Clemons, another foreign policy observer who talks regularly to the White House, but who has been more skeptical than Malinowski of the Libya intervention.
As has been reported, the crucial decisions were made at a pair of meetings Tuesday, which an Administration official said were far from the showdowns depicted in some accounts. Power, for instance, was present at a 4:10 p.m. meeting but didn’t speak, an official said; Clinton, overseas, wasn’t patched in to that meeting. Obama, told a no-fly zone wouldn’t be enough to stop Qadhafi, sent Donilon to draw up other political and military options in the Situation Room, the official said; Donilon brought his notes to a 9:00 p.m. principals’ meeting, at which the course was set.
“Everyone started with a healthy degree of skepticism,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said. “But everyone moved toward the final decision based on the president’s urging, but also because of what was happening on the ground, with Qadhafi moving toward Bengazi and [saying] he would show no mercy.”
This isn’t to say that a version of the narrative isn’t true: Some of the prominent women on the foreign policy team, notably — an official said — Rice, did push hard for intervention, and did speak in key meetings. But the notion of an internal battle fought and won, or a shift in the poles of internal politics or Obama’s evolving doctrine, seems to overstate the point.