I have voiced both my admiration for and disagreements with Andrew Bacevich in the past, and I too chuckled at the things my mother used to tell me about how we would never go to war if women ruled the world, but what, I wonder, is Andrew Bacevich's rationale for using the phrase "the Three Harpies" to describe Samantha Power, Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton? If three men convinced the president to go to war in Libya, would we be calling them "the Three Minotaurs?" By all means, let's criticize the president's decision to go to war in Libya, but I do not understand why so much of the discourse concerning the role played by three prominent women in the administration has been so sexist. Women make wise and poor national security decisions -- men make wise and poor national security decisions too. This focus on gender is silly, and using a term like "harpy" which carries the implication that there is something monstrous about the woman in question, is itself ugly and unnecessary.
Update: @InkSptsGulliver thinks Bacevich is trying to actually dismiss silly gender-related explanations for the decision to go to war in Libya, which is true to an extent. Bacevich wants us all to put the decision to go to war in Libya in a broader context. But if that's what he is trying to do, he should have simply written "misleading explanations that point to the influence of three powerful female advisors to the president distract from larger concerns about U.S. foreign policy." But he doesn't write that. He chuckles along with the "Harpies" bit twice. One of the things I have liked least about Bacevich's last two books (and I rather enjoyed The Limits of Power)
is the fact that on the one hand, he wants to make a case that something is structurally wrong in U.S. foreign policy, but on the other hand he delights in taking aim at individuals in a highly personal, ad hominem manner -- whether the individuals in question are Allen Dulles and Curtis LeMay (in Washington Rules) or James Forrestal (in The Limits of Power). I see this ugliness with the "Harpies" slur in the same vein. It's apparently not enough to argue that a person is wrong in their thinking on an issue -- there is this need to also make the case that the person is somehow an immoral and ugly person as well. I don't like that at all. Gah, and now I am remembering when Bacevich attacked David Kilcullen's character in a review of his book! Why, Andrew Bacevich? Why this compulsive need to say ugly things about a person when discussing the merits of their argument or a particular policy?
Update II: Aeschylus on the Harpies:
δ᾽ ἐς τὸ πᾶν
δ᾽ οὐ πλατοῖσι
ἐκ δ᾽ ὀμμάτων
Before this man an extraordinary band of women slept, seated on thrones.
No! Not women, but rather Gorgons I call them; and yet I cannot compare
them to forms of Gorgons either. Once before I saw some creatures in a
carrying off the feast of Phineus; but these are wingless in
appearance, black, altogether disgusting; they snore with repulsive
breaths, they drip from their eyes hateful drops; their attire is not
fit to bring either before the statues of the gods or into the homes of
I have never seen the tribe that produced this company, nor the land
that boasts of rearing this brood with impunity and does not grieve for
its labor afterwards. (translation by Herbert Weir Smyth, whose guide to Greek grammar
is on the shelf of pretty much every student who has ever studied Greek.)
Update III: Hahaha, this is awesome. My mother taught Greek and Roman Mythology, and now her former students are teeing off on those poor souls in my comments section who confuse Harpies with Sirens. (See Visitor 8:33.)