Obama’s women of war

By Robert Dreyfuss

So Obama’s 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 it appears that the bellicosity is worst among Hillary Rodham 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, lifesaving character to it.

Far from it. Unless President Obama’s better instincts manage to rein 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 the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol, and Sens. Joe Lieberman and John McCain, along with various other liberal interventionists outside the administration, such as Sen. John Kerry. They 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 three: "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 Robert Gates, Tom Donilon, the national security adviser, and John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism chief.

Did the United States win legitimacy through the vote at the United Nations? Hardly. Five huge world powers abstained: India, Brazil, Germany, China and Russia. Using its enormous clout as the world’s last hyper power, the United States had to dragoon tiny countries such as South Africa, Nigeria and Portugal to vote yes, or it couldn’t have won the nine votes it needed. The vote almost didn’t pass, because the United States, the United Kingdom and France ended up with only 10 votes in the U.N. Security Council.

Did the Security Council resolution that passed demand that Moammar Khadafy step down? No, it didn’t. While it gave open-ended permission to the United States, the United Kingdom, France and other powers to attack Libya (short of an invasion), it has nothing whatsoever to say about regime change.

It calls for "the immediate establishment of a cease-fire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians," demands "a solution to the crisis which responds to the legitimate demands of the Libyan people," and "demands that the Libyan authorities comply with their obligations under international law."

That, however, hasn’t stopped Obama from acting like he has a mandate for regime change, and U.S. officials are making it clear that even if Khadafy accepts the United Nation’s terms, he can’t survive. Rice says the United States is prepared to go beyond the U.N. resolution, by arming the anti-Khadafy forces.

Meanwhile, Khadafy made some good points. According to CNN, Khadafy "called the U.N. moves ’invalid’ because the resolution does not permit intervention in the internal affairs of other countries," adding: "Libya is not yours. Libya is for all Libyans. You will regret it if you take a step toward intervening in our internal affairs." And he "asked Obama what he would do if such an armed movement controlled American cities. ’Tell me, how would you behave so I could follow your example?’ "

While far-fetched, it’s an important point. Whatever else it is, the battle in Libya is an internal matter and a civil war. Under what provision of international law does the United States have the right to muscle the world’s nations into supporting a U.N. resolution giving Washington, London, Paris and Abu Dhabi the right to attack Libya?

The Nation

Robert Dreyfuss, a contributing editor for the Nation magazine, is an investigative journalist in Alexandria, Va., specializing in politics and national security. Send your feedback to us through our online form at SFGate.com/chronicle/submissions/#1.

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