Andrew Bacevich: Three Harpies?

Andrew Bacevich refers to Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power as "the Three Harpies."

An otherwise unremarkable piece by Andrew Bacevich titled “How America conducts foreign policy” is creating quite a buzz on Twitter for this sentence:

Efforts to divine this administration’s intent in Libya have centered on the purported influence of the Three Harpies: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, and National Security Council Human Rights Director Samantha Power, women in positions of influence ostensibly burdened with regret that the United States failed back in 1994 to respond effectively to the Rwandan genocide and determined this time to get it right.

Three harpies? Really?

He links the term to a truly bizarre piece by Justin Raimondo titled “French Fraud Behind Libya War Drive.” It uses the phrase thusly:

I have to admit to being taken by surprise, because, as low as my opinion may be of President Obama, it was never that low. I never thought he would fall for Henri-Lévy’s line of guff, as regurgitated by the Three Harpies of the Libyan Apocalypse.

His link, in turn, goes to a John Avlon essay in The Daily Piece called “Libya Airstrikes: The Women Who Called for War.” Avolon does not use the term.

The phrase doesn’t appear in a non-Greek mythology context on the first page of Google. The only other instance in Google News is to a piece (“The Game of the Rich“) by a Mark Sashine on something called OEN: OpEdNews (ironically under the motto: Progressive. Tough. Liberal.)

I’ve had the occasional disagreement with Bacevich over public policy over the years but he’s a bright, accomplished man of unquestioned integrity. And the father of three daughters.  “Three Harpies” is not how such a man ought to being referring to talented women advising the president.

Via Dan Drezner and crosstalk with Blake Hounshell, Andrew Exum, Marc Lynch, and  Robert Farley.

UPDATEEx offers expanded thoughts at his blog:

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. 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 ugly.

Not to mention: It’s the only part of Bacevich’s essay anyone will be talking about.

Although: Ex’ use of the word “monster” as a substitute for “harpy” is somewhat amusing in this context, given that’s what Power called Clinton way back when.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, US Politics, World Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. mantis says:

    I think you know as well as anyone, James, that some of these old military guys don’t really like having women tell them what to do.

  2. The Q says:


    The reason he is the father of 3 daughters is because his only son was killed in Iraq in 2007

  3. James Joyner says:

    Mantis: That attitude wouldn’t be entirely unexpected from a 64-year-old retired colonel educated at West Point more than a decade before they allowed women. But he’s a Princeton PhD who teaches at Boston University. If nothing else, he’s been well trained to channel his attitudes using more respectable language.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @The Q: Yes, I wrote about it when it happened three years ago: “1LT Andrew Bacevich Killed in Iraq.”

    Presumably, he already had three daughters.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    Probably a poor choice of words. I’m guessing he meant amazon or virago.

  6. Rock says:

    Three reasons the USA has not accomplished much of anything in the Middle East during the last few years, if accomplishment is possible there, are Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

    For example, which Arab leader or head of state in that area is willing to be seen brokering a binding peace agreement with an infidel female? Especially with Madeleine Albright a Secretary of State who happened to be Jewish. Everyone knows this is a fundamental problem but will not say it, but Andrew Bacevich comes close. Add in Susan Rice, United States Ambassador to the United Nations and Samantha Power to the mix and make that five harpies.

    Hell, even Barack Hussein Obama II can’t do it even after his Word Apology Tour and Nobel Peace Prize. I don’t think anybody can do it. Could a woman President of the USA do any better in the Middle East? I doubt it. It’s where US foreign policy goes to die.

  7. 11B40 says:


    National Security Council Human Rights Director – Who knew we needed one of these ???