Spotlight on Anne-Marie Slaughter: A Conversation with the Foreign Policy Guru, Writer, and Feminist

Anne-Marie Slaughter is the Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. From 2009 to 2011 she served as Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. Department of State, the first woman to hold that position.

Hanna Siegel is a 2013 Master in Public Policy candidate at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She currently serves as a strategy and communications consultant at the Partnership for a New American Economy. Between 2007 and 2011, she was a reporter and producer for ABC News in New York.

HS

Your project at the U.S. State Department, the first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), was met with much enthusiasm and billed as a way to restore civilian leadership in foreign policy yet it seems to have completely disappeared from view. Has there been progress on any of these reforms? For those that haven’t moved forward, what are the obstacles to implementation?

A-MS

It’s been very successful; 70 percent to 80 percent of the reforms have been put in place. David McKean, who was hired as Hillary Clinton’s senior advisor, is formerly [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry’s chief of staff and is the new director of policy planning so that is encouraging . . . that means Kerry will move forward with it. I think the biggest issues are of course budgetary. In some ways the cuts in the military budget . . . help this because civilian power is cheaper than military power, and what you really want is building up civilian power while making sure that the core parts of military power are . . . advanced. That’s a good environment for the ideas that the QDDR put out there.

HS

In a January 2013 Project Syndicate column on Iran, you said, “If the U.S. gives negotiations one more serious try (a credible offer and a genuine willingness to engage), gets rebuffed, and then does nothing, it will effectively declare itself a paper tiger. At that point, the sanctions coalition will most likely disintegrate amid a much broader loss of confidence in U.S. leadership. The U.S. has thus painted itself into a corner.” What happens if President Barack Obama makes a genuine attempt at negotiations and is rebuffed? How can we keep from becoming a paper tiger?

A-MS

Well, this is why I think there is a quite significant likelihood of a military strike if we can’t reach a deal. It depends on what the negotiations look like. If Obama is just shut down cold and he can’t negotiate . . . we have to decide, we either prepare to live with a nuclear Iran or we decide to take action. . . . Iran is edging steadily and steadily closer to nuclear capability. It’s this creeping progress that is very hard to fight because at any one moment a military response looks disproportionate but if you put it against where Iran was at the beginning of the century and where it is now and where it continues to want to go, the president has to make a decision. I do believe that he does not want any other state going nuclear on his watch.

 

HS

You’ve criticized President Obama’s handling of the Syria conflict thus far. Now that we’re into his second term, do you foresee a change? What would you like to see moving forward?

A-MS

I would like to see marshaled support for a strike on [President Bashar] Assad’s air force, the one that’s approved by the Arab League. We have to get regional approval, even if we can’t get UN approval. . . . We’re rapidly moving past the point where even groups . . . that stand for a pluralist Syria makes any difference. The country is disintegrating before our eyes, and we’re going to live with the consequences for decades. The only thing that might be able to change the current dynamic is a bold action . . . a strike on the Syrian air force on the tarmac. [We need to] really cripple his ability to continue killing from the air.

HS

Do you think the administration is likely to employ that strategy?

A-MS

I think the White House is reassessing its policy, and I hope all options are on the table.

 

HS

On Afghanistan, what can we do after our troop withdrawal in 2014 to make a stable Afghanistan the most likely outcome? If Afghanistan were to begin to slip into a civil war, and given the United States’ own domestic political constraints surrounding any further military action there, what should we do? What can we do?

A-MS

Our best hope for a stable Afghanistan is actually to be able to convene a meaningful regional conference. [We need] agreement among neighboring states on a plan going forward. . . . A lot of what’s happening in Afghanistan has its roots in other countries, and the other issue that is relevant here is that Iran is an important player there as well. And so this is another important reason to talk to Iran again. Iran really is an important regional player . . . [with] other central Asian states. We’ve been focused on what’s happening within Afghanistan . . . but I think in terms of the long-term future of Afghanistan, there’s a very large part of that scenario that depends on the countries around Afghanistan as well as what happens inside.

HS

What if Afghanistan descends into civil war after we leave? What do we do?

A-MS

We are basically saying that that is up to the Afghans, and we will do everything we can to leave the situation in as good a situation as we can and to train and support and to support diplomatically, but we certainly won’t be going back in, I think pretty much whatever happens.

 

HS

You cochaired a report in 2006 on U.S. national security in the twenty-first century, which laid out a vision for facing modern security challenges. One aspect of it was reviving and creating innovative alternatives for global institutions, including the recommendation of creating a “concert of democracies,” a more or less informal group of democratic nations that could legitimize the use of force without United Nations (UN) approval. This can be seen in the context of dilemmas raised by the Iraq War: an alternate third “way out” of the binary choice between either “going it alone” or subjugating U.S. foreign policy to the approval of a UN Security Council where China and Russia (countries seen as insufficiently rights-regarding or popularly accountable) wield veto power. How has the situation changed between 2006 and 2013, and do we need to build new international institutions or groupings, or just strengthen and reform the ones that already exist?

A-MS

I would not build a new set of institutions. The Obama administration has strengthened the community of democracies and more importantly has created the Open Government Partnership, engaging a wide range of countries without the democracy/non-democracy label. In the world we’re in, it makes more sense not to use the label. But I strongly support the Grand Strategy that John Ikenberry and Daniel Deudney have just put out . . . [to] emphasize reforming current national institutions to bring emerging powers on board.  It happens that almost all [of the countries in that] are emerging democracies. We need to embrace twenty-first century democracies, not just twentieth century democracies.

 

HS

When you were at the State Department, you promoted the idea of international development as an important component for shaping U.S. foreign policy. How would you frame a short-term foreign policy or international security issue like Libya, or Syria, or Iran through the lens of development? 

A-MS

This is exactly what we were trying to do with the State [Department] and the QDDR because in all of these, whether or not you have to use military force, and I’m not fan of using that for the sake of it but sometimes diplomacy needs [that support] . . . here clearly the problems are enormously rooted in the living conditions for ordinary people, and one of the reasons the Iranian revolution was able to succeed in 1979 was they were perceived as caring far more about the lives of ordinary people than the Shah. In many ways the Arab revolutions . . . are grounded not in an abstract commitment to liberty and justice but a concrete desire for a better life. In those three examples [Libya, Syria, Iran] and in every other, U.S. foreign policy has to be as attentive to bottom-up conditions of ordinary people as it is to the traditional geopolitical balance power chess game. That’s where we need different tools and we need really to be emphasizing development. And frankly, we need to be marshaling all our assets, government as well as corporate and civic, to focus on how we solve these problems.

 

HS

Your 2012 Atlantic article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” discussed how women can/can’t/should/shouldn’t make various work-family trade-offs. How can we actually change our system to support families instead of talking about the issue as just another thing women need to figure out for themselves?

A-MS

This is why I’m writing a book, to offer concrete strategies, solutions, and advice to make change so we move from conversation to action. But I think some immediate things we can do is to ask bosses to just experiment, not complete sweeping policy change, but “Can I work from home one day a week? Can we give that a try?” Incremental change. [There is] a lot more room to ask for what you need if you ask in an experimental way. Second, really educate yourself about what other companies are doing that are like yours so that you can say, “So and so has this policy, and it’s worked really well,” so there’s a peer pressure . . . because other firms are doing it. They’re going to be the firms much more effective about retaining talent. Fortunately, the demographics are pushing in the right direction; firms recruiting millennial talent need flexible policies.

HS

What piece of criticism, if any, has made you rethink your position in this piece?

A-MS

Salon’s Rebecca Traister’s criticism of the whole term “having it all” convinced me that it’s hard to get away from but I try not to talk about it in those terms now but instead much more in terms of breadwinners, caregivers, and equal opportunity. It’s less sexy but harder for people to caricature what you’re saying. And I’ve really been listening hard to men. I increasingly think that although this article needed to be written by a woman, and women are more systematically disadvantaged, this is a male issue as well as a female issue. Men who have written to say, “Wait a minute, look at the choices we face, it’s hard for us to be equal partners because we pay an equal or worse price if we try to get flex time or part time or make the accommodations we need to be able to be a full parent and a full professional.” . . . So I’m looking as much at men as women.

 

HS

In your speech at the Harvard Kennedy School last year, you said the United States is becoming a closed society, because if equal means open then unequal means closed. But you said we have the free press that can hold us to those values we profess to share, and that’s where your speech ended. Do you think our press is actually doing that, and if so, is it having any effect?

A-MS

I think they are doing that, and it’s not enough, but thank goodness for our press. You think in the past year of the coverage of Occupy Wall Street and then Joseph E. Stiglitz’s book on inequality and the tremendous debates we are having around what kind of society we are. [Talking about] the 1 percent, the 99 percent, the press has made a very big difference. That’s a critical part of our democracy, and it prevents us from being closed in the way that we look at closed societies—Burma, North Korea—we’re not like that. But what I do think is unless we take this much more seriously from a government perspective, a society-wide perspective, and ask ourselves what are the consequences of this widening income gap, [this] social divide, [this] cultural divide, really two Americas, we risk closing ourselves off from some of the things that have really made us the country we are.

 

Photo source here.