Some Arab leaders stood out, in part, by their sexist and disrespectful language against former Secretaries of State, Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat referred to Golda Meir as the Old Lady. There was a famous discussion about it when Sadat came to the Knesset, and in front of the camera she said to him: "I know that at home you call me 'the old lady.' Well, I'm a grandmother, and you're a grandfather. And so from one grandparent to another, let me express my hope that our grandchildren will know a future of peace..."
The Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, had what some referred to as a slightly eerie obsession with Condoleezza Rice, describing her as his "African Princess."
Yesterday, two women were named at the head of what is seen as the center of power in the US, the Intelligence services: Gina Haspel and Kirstjen Nielsen.
Secretary Nielsen was brought to the helm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a department staffed with 200,000 employees. The DHS was created after 9/11 to pool together a number of disparate branches of the administration, from emergency management, to customs, border protection and immigration. It is an extremely important position.
The United States' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Langley, Virginia, remains — beyond imagining— the best performing foreign intelligence organization in the world, and therefore an essential tool for US foreign policy. Gina Haspel is the first woman to be named to Langley.
This was not the result of "reverse discrimination." Director Haspel seems to have been born for public service. She wanted to join West Point, the prestigious military academy, but closed to women at the time. She nevertheless worked with the 10th Special Forces Group, then went to join the CIA.
For 30 years, Director Haspel worked first as a reports officer, then in several undercover overseas operations, and ultimately as station chief, before becoming assistant director, and finally the top job. One of her predecessors, John Brennan, albeit a Democrat, has praised her skills and integrity, and strongly defended her nomination.
Central Intelligence Agency Director Gina Haspel (left) and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen. (Images source: Nielsen - World Economic Forum / Haspel - CIA)
These are two sharp profiles, adapted to the responsibilities that they have shouldered until now.
The other point to emphasize is that the institutional architecture in the US is special. Although appointed by the President, the directors of the agencies obey his directives only in respect of the laws, and especially of the missions, of the institutions they manage. This is a constant in the United States whereby democracy lives and thrives.
The two women will handle two crucial battles in Donald Trump's agenda. Director Haspel will be in charge of the fight against terrorism, a file she knows blindfolded -- whether funding, religious indoctrination or recruitment. Her memos will be sure to affect diplomacy, especially as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is a former colleague who appreciates the primacy of Intelligence. Ultimately, the President's tweets will not impact the work of the CIA; rather, the other way around.
Secretary Nielsen will be in charge of the thorny issue of immigration. The president's maximalist proposals will be put to the test by realities on the ground and by the law. There is no doubt that the work of the homeland intelligence will be at the forefront of this job.
It is this permanence of public service that, in the USA, assures that a president cannot be omnipotent; it is a true sign of democracy.
This article was originally published with minor differences in L'Observateur du Maroc & d'Afrique and is re-printed here by the kind permission of the author.