Friday, March 25, 2011

So much for aggression being “male” and conciliation being “female”

Maureen Down observes that in the Obama Administration, the liberal men (including generals) waffled on the no-fly zone over Libya, but not the women, the were strongly in favor of taking military action. She sees this as a shift (perhaps fleeting) on the hegemonic view of women as peaceful and conciliatory and men as militant and aggressive. Perhaps - but for Rush Limbaugh to call Obama and his male advisers the "new castrati" is to perpetuate the old stereotypes. But should expect nothing less from a bloviator like Limbaugh.

I see it a little differently.

Obama's leadership style is a little too centered in the "Human Bond" stage of development (worldview), generally seen as "Consensus" leadership, and identified with terms such as egalitarian, feelings, authentic, sharing, caring, and community. To me, this is the biggest flaw in his presidency - he won't simply step up and say, "after consulting with X, Y, and Z, I am going to do . . . ." He wants a consensus, and human beings as politicians are never going to reach much of a consensus about anything, especially if many of them are operating in the same worldview as Obama (or concerned about re-election).

So, in this case, many of the generals were probably hesitant to commit more resources to yet another military action, especially after Iraq and Afghanistan (and remembering Rwanda). And my guess is that many of Obama's advisers feared the liberal response that was vocally opposed to this action, while fearing if they did not act the GOP (McCain wanted to send in troops) would brand him as a effeminate wimp.

Looks like he got both responses anyway - which is all the more reason to make a choice and make it happen. He needs to stop worrying about getting people to agree - he is president now, not a community organizer.

Certainly, as this article suggests, there were some gender differences - but as the explanation also details, the differences in opinion between the men and the women were more a factor of experience, which in this case the women had and the men did not (and those men with experience did not want to get sucked in to another regional skirmish).

In the end, this is yet another example of Obama lacking the fluidity to adapt his leadership style to the situation at hand (added to health care reform, closing Guantanamo Bay, corporate regulation, and all the other instances where he has failed to step up and take charge).

Fight of the Valkyries

Published: March 22, 2011

They are called the Amazon Warriors, the Lady Hawks, the Valkyries, the Durgas.

There is something positively mythological about a group of strong women swooping down to shake the president out of his delicate sensibilities and show him the way to war. And there is something positively predictable about guys in the White House pushing back against that story line for fear it makes the president look henpecked.

It is not yet clear if the Valkyries will get the credit or the blame on Libya. But everyone is fascinated with the gender flip: the reluctant men — the generals, the secretary of defense, top male White House national security advisers — outmuscled by the fierce women around President Obama urging him to man up against the crazy Qaddafi.

How odd to see the diplomats as hawks and the military as doves.

“The girls took on the guys,” The Times’s White House reporter, Helene Cooper, said on “Meet the Press.”

Rush Limbaugh mocked the president and his club of “male liberals,” saying: “Of course the males were opposed. It’s the new castrati. ... They’re sissies!”

Susan Rice, the U.N. ambassador and former Clinton administration adviser on Africa, was haunted by Rwanda. Samantha Power, a national security aide who wrote an award-winning book about genocide, was thinking of Bosnia. Gayle Smith, another senior national security aide, was an adviser to President Clinton on Africa after the Rwandan massacre. Hillary Clinton, a skeptic at first, paid attention to the other women (putting aside that tense moment during the ’08 primaries when Power called her “a monster”). She also may have had some pillow talk with Bill, whose regrets about Rwanda no doubt helped shape his recommendation for a no-fly zone over Libya.

How odd to see Rush and Samantha Power on the same side.

We’ve come a long way from feminist international relations theory two decades ago that indulged in stereotypes about aggression being “male” and conciliation being “female.” And from the days of Helen Caldicott, the Australian pediatrician and nuclear-freeze activist who disapprovingly noted the “psychosexual overtones” of military terminology such as “missile erector” and “thrust-to-weight ratio.” Caldicott wrote in her book “Missile Envy:” “I recently watched a filmed launching of an MX missile. It rose slowly out of the ground, surrounded by smoke and flames and elongated into the air — it was indeed a very sexual sight, and when armed with the ten warheads it will explode with the most almighty orgasm.”

There have been women through history who shattered gender stereotypes, from Cleopatra to Golda Meir to the “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher, whose critics on the left sniffed that she was not really a woman. As U.N. ambassador, Madeleine Albright pushed back against Colin Powell on a Balkans intervention — “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” she asked him — and Condi Rice pushed ahead with W. and Dick Cheney on invading Iraq.

When President Obama listened to his militaristic muses, it gave armchair shrinks lots to muse about. As one wrote to me: “Cool, cerebral president chooses passion and emotion (human rights, Samantha, Hillary, Susan) over reason and strategic thinking (Bob Gates, Tom Donilon). Is it the pattern set up by his Mom and Michelle — women have the last word?”

White House aides smacked back hard on the guys vs. girls narrative. A senior administration official e-mailed Politico’s Mike Allen that Power, Smith and Hillary Clinton weren’t even in the meeting where the president decided to move forward and tell Rice to seek authority at the U.N. for a no-fly zone. Maybe they were already nervous that the president was sightseeing in Rio with his own girls and watching drum performances while senators like James Webb and Richard Lugar were charging him with overstepping his authority in Libya, and Dennis Kucinich talked impeachment.

Whatever the reason, the spinners were so afraid that the president would seem to be a ditherer chased by Furies that they went so far as to argue that three of the women were not even in the room for The Decision. So the women were in their place? Where, the kitchen?

As compelling as the gender split is, it’s even more interesting to look at the parallels between Obama and W. Candidate Obama said about a possible strike on Iran, “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

Yet both men started wars of choice with a decision-making process marked more by impulse and reaction than discipline and rigor.

Denouncing the last decade of “autopilot” for presidents ordering military operations, Senator Webb told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC: “We have not had a debate. ... This isn’t the way that our system is supposed to work.”

No comments: