On the Idiocy of Framing the Libya Intervention as a Battle of the Sexes

It's really amazing how a factual sociological observation can quickly devolve into the most ridiculous story imaginable as it moves down the media food chain.

I speak, of course, of the absurd idea that there was some sort of geopolitically important gender gap within the administration on the question of backing a no-fly zone over Libya, and the bombing campaign needed to implement one, because a handful of the president's more senior female aides argued in private meetings, according to reports, on behalf of an interventionist posture.

Note to anyone still playing with this idea: You might as well title your story, "Hello, I am an idiot who has not been paying attention to politics in the past 15 years."

And yet away we go, as the story trickles down from a totally fair and balanced observation -- "an unlikely alliance" between "a handful of top administration aides" -- into a kind of shorthand -- "Obama agenda: The women vs. the men?" -- into accusations a weak president was railroaded by harpies into backing an intervention that's against America's interests -- the women "nagged him to attack Libya until he gave in" -- or that only the women of Obamaland have any balls.

Um, hello: Hillary Clinton pushed for intervention in Libya not because she's female, but because, cautious as she may be, she also is among the more historically hawkish members of the administration. Indeed, one of the central reasons she is not president today -- and Obama is -- was her vote in favor of the military intervention in Iraq that Obama opposed. Then-state Sen. Barack Obama stood up against President Bush's fear-mongering push to invade Iraq, and opposed authorizing the use of force that Clinton backed. And he won support for his presidential bid because the left-leaning Democratic primary electorate wanted more change on the foreign policy front from the Bush years than Clinton represented.

"I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars," he declared in October 2002.

If Clinton is now, years later, still a more hawkish individual than some other Obama aides, it is not because she is female, but because in selecting her for his team of rivals Obama brought in someone whose foreign policy leanings have been for more than a decade far more aggressive than his own. That was his call, just as it was his call as Commander-in-Chief to back a strong resolution before the United Nations Security Council authorizing intervention in Libya in defense of threatened civilians there. There were other men and women, less hawkish, he could have chosen to lead the State Department, and he certainly demonstrated an ability to deliver a sharp rebuke to Clinton during campaign 2008, both before the primaries and after, when he chose not to select her as his vice presidential ticket-mate.

As for Samantha Power, the most important fact about her is not that she is female, but that she is one of the leading proponents of Clintonian (president, not secretary of state) liberal internationalism, an individual whose conscience was seared by the brutality of the Balkan wars, which she covered as a reporter, and who later wrote the definitive work about the consequences of America's failure to intervene in Rwanda.

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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