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Battle of the Sexes Over Libya at the White House

One Libya narrative that’s been gaining traction is that the female members of the Obama foreign policy team – Clinton, Rice, and Power – were the ones who finally pushed the president to take military action. While this is an interesting piece of trivia, it’s not particularly significant. After all, it doesn’t make much of a difference whether the more hawkish members of the administration are men or women.

But for some reason (macho insecurity? Pride? Self-aggrandizement?), the media meme appears to have particularly irked Obama. Mike Allen reports in the Playbook this morning:

The White House is pushing back hard against a narrative that started in the blogosphere, was echoed in weekend papers, and culminated on the front page of today’s Times of London, with the tease, “The three women who persuaded the President to take action,” and photos of Secretary Clinton; Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and Samantha Power, the senior director for multilateral affairs on the National Security Staff. Top aides insist that it was Obama who exerted decisive leadership throughout the debate, making calls behind the scenes to “nudge” allies, expressing impatience when he wasn’t given options responsive to events on the ground, and forcing his team back to the drawing board.

A senior administration official griped to Allen that “this notion of a gender split is just totally fabricated.”

“I know of male staff that were in favor of action; I know female staff that were not,” said the official. “At the end of the day, what mattered to the president was 1) the clear information that indicated Qaddafi would create a humanitarian crisis in Benghazi, and the message that would send Libya’s neighbors and the world, and 2) that there was a true international coalition.”

The most amusing part of this story is that Obama is apparently so concerned about the perception that his foreign policy was driven by a bunch of women that he felt the need to “push back hard” against the narrative. If anything, you’d think he’d embrace this story, but instead he seems to be almost embarrassed by it.


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