In the end, the call didn’t come at 3 a.m. But the Decider in Chief who answered the phone made sure that everyone in the White House knew who wore the pantsuit around there.
And just as in the (first) Clinton presidency, the leaks began to pour out. It was Hillary - not the former junior senator from Illinois - who forced the decision to intervene in Libya, “according to senior administration officials speaking only on condition of anonymity” to the New York Times.
What’s more - and these are classic Clintonian leaks - word wafted out from all West Wing offices that going to war was pressed by a host of strong women, who faced off with a batch of weak and vacillating men.
The reason you know it’s all true is the immediate defensive pushback from a slew of Obama defenders.
“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,” wrote Garance Franke-Ruta, a senior editor at The Atlantic. But it was hard to tell what she was driving at in her piece titled: “On the Idiocy of Framing the Libya Intervention as a Battle of the Sexes.”
Too late. The cat was out of the missile silo by then. The storyline, deemed farfetched and borderline chauvinistic by the president’s minions, was already detailed by none other than NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.
“In the end, it became the women foreign policy advisers against the men,” she reported.
Republicans were predictably giddy. “I don’t know how many people have died as we wait to do something. Thank God for strong women in the Obama administration,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said.
And strong they are. Mrs. Clinton had been pressing for days, working the world. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron were already on board, in fact leading the effort in Mr. Obama’s absence. But hour after hour of debate within the Obama administration led nowhere, prompting Mrs. Clinton, according to one report, to dismiss the Oval Office squatters as “a bunch of amateurs.”
In stepped Susan Rice, the administration’s ambassador to the United Nations, and Samantha Power, a senior aide at the National Security Council. Both had seen genocide up close, Ms. Rice through Rwanda, Ms. Power in the Balkan wars.
On the other side were Defense Secretary Bob Gates and the National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, along with other reticent men, who argued that Libya held nothing of significance for the United States. (On Sunday, Mrs. Clinton delivered a serious smackdown to Mr. Gates, who said Libya was not in the “vital interest” of the United States. She cut off the wavering Mr. Gates during “Meet the Press” and voiced a muscular defense of Mr. Obamas policy. Mr. Gates never spoke again.)
At the helm was Mr. Obama - the Mr. Obama that Hillary had warned about during the 2008 campaign. He was slow as molasses on Egypt; Bahrain and Yemen left him more paralyzed by analysis.
Even though Mrs. Clinton was against George W. Bush’s Iraq war (after, of course, she voted for it as a senator), she took the lead on pressing for intervention in Libya. And even though Ms. Power abruptly resigned from the Obama campaign for calling Mrs. Clinton “a monster,” she got the secretary of state’s back.
Debate ended swiftly. Mrs. Clinton already had won the support of the Arab League, giving Mr. Obama the cover he needed. Ms. Rice had lined up the votes in the U.N. (along with the key abstentions of China and Russia). Missiles rained down on Libya hours later.
So it makes perfect sense that the Libya mission - whatever it may be - is being led by a woman. “It was a spectacular display of airmenship watching this coalition come together the way it did to execute the first airstrikes on behalf of the Libyan people,” Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward said after the bombing began. Sounds a lot more macho than the secretary of defense.
By then, though, it was all but over for Mrs. Clinton, who already had leaked out (herself) that she had no intention of returning for another term (should that even occur). She seemed to decide that if she was going to answer that 3 a.m. phone call, she ought to at least be able to make the decision on what to do.
Rush Limbaugh, as he often does, summed it up best: “Somebody has to wear the pantsuit in this White House.”
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at jcurl@ washingtontimes.com.