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ETHICS MATTER: A Conversation with Anne-Marie Slaughter

By Anne-Marie Slaughter, Julia Taylor Kennedy | February 27, 2012

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Introduction

JULIA KENNEDY: Welcome to the Carnegie Council. I'm Julia Taylor Kennedy, program officer here at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. Welcome to everyone in the room and those who are tuning in on our webcast stream.

I look forward to a really robust town hall discussion with you here today. Anne-Marie Slaughter and I will chat for 25-30 minutes and then we will open the floor for questions from you.

In preparation for this conversation, I took a look at Anne-Marie Slaughter's c.v. It's 17 pages long, and not an inch of padding. Dr. Slaughter's accomplishments truly are extensive and at the top of the foreign policy sphere.

What stands out to us here at the Carnegie Council is her commitment to constructing and implementing foreign policy based on a well-defined set of values. Dr. Slaughter has developed this vision by earning four top-notch degrees—Bachelor's from Princeton, Master's from Oxford, law degree from Harvard, and then back to Oxford for a doctorate in philosophy.

She has continued on to a prolific and accomplished career. Among her extensive publications is the book The Idea that Is America: Keeping Faith with our Values in a Dangerous World, which is particularly relevant to our discussion today. She published it in 2007, during her seven years as dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Dr. Slaughter had the chance to implement these ideas when she left her position as dean in 2009 to head the U.S. Department of State's Policy Planning Department, where she stayed until 2011. She has since returned to Princeton and has also become a correspondent for The Atlantic magazine. Dr. Slaughter has written widely in popular and academic press about her positions on foreign policy decisions, like her support for humanitarian intervention in Libya and her ideas about the uprisings in Syria.

We've got a lot to cover in our conversation today, so let's get to it.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, what a great pleasure to welcome you to the Carnegie Council.

Remarks

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: Thank you. I'm so pleased to be here. I think this is the last place that I spoke before going into government actually, a couple of years ago.

JULIA KENNEDY: Yes. I remember. Someone was remembering that, because we weren't sure if we could talk about where you were going.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: Exactly.

JULIA KENNEDY: We were just so excited to know and we couldn't talk about it.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: Exactly.

JULIA KENNEDY: Now you can talk about it.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: And now it's almost your 100th anniversary, which is also a particularly wonderful time. So I'm very pleased to be here.

JULIA KENNEDY: We're getting there. We're so glad to have you here.

Why don't we start talking about why you think it's important to understand and then work from a set of values when implementing foreign policy?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: I guess the simplest reason, from a foreign policy perspective, is that values are an enormous source of our power in the world. There is the moral dimension, which I personally believe in very strongly. But when you are in government, one of the things you are conscious of is you have an obligation to represent the entire American people. Often there are things you might want to do for moral reasons that you could do on your own but you might not be able to do with taxpayer money.

Many people talk about the split between values and interests, and our interests are here and our values are there. I do not see that as a split. Obviously, there are material interests—we need oil; that's a material interest. But there are also value-based interests.

To me, the United States has a tremendous reservoir of power and goodwill in standing for the values that we were created to uphold. Now, we often fall short of them, without any question, and indeed I think our history is one where we proclaim the equality of all people and we still have slaves, and women have no rights, et cetera. But over time we are progressively held to that standard by our own people. Similarly, abroad we should not present ourselves as the paragon of these values—far from it—but we should actually try to bring together what we say we stand for and what we do as much as we possibly can.

JULIA KENNEDY: And so how did you first find yourself drawn to figure out what we stand for and what we say we stand for?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: I think the most dramatic example was certainly in 2004, when suddenly we were actively talking about torture as a policy option. The first time it happened I thought it was just an aberration. I was actually sitting at the Center for Human Values at Princeton, and a law professor started talking about a warrant for torture. I just couldn't believe what I was hearing. That's when I realized, "This is serious. People are actually willing to talk about this as something that we do."

I had come of age in the 1970s, and I still think that Jimmy Carter doesn't get nearly enough credit for bringing human rights into our foreign policy, for saying, "Wait a minute. We can't stand for the things that we stand for in our Constitution and the Declaration of Independence and support governments that are doing horrible things to their people. At least we have to put that in the mix."

When we started, not only talking about it, but the pictures of Abu Ghraib and the sense that when I traveled people were associating me with those pictures, with those policies, rather than with the heritage I thought I had grown up with, I really felt like I had to write a book, to speak, to do everything I could to basically validate the country I want to live in.

JULIA KENNEDY: Let's go back to that earlier period in your life, the summer before your senior year at Princeton. You had an internship with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. What was that like? You were an IR [international relations] major at Princeton at the time.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: Oh, my goodness! I had an internship at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I'm not sure they've ever had an intern since. They didn't have one before. I just called them about every day for a month-and-a-half and they finally gave me one just to get me to stop pursuing them.

That was actually fascinating, because that was during the SALT talks—my gosh, way, way back—Strategic Arms Limitation Talks. Frank Church was still the head of the committee. It was a fascinating summer preparing questions for arms-control talks, at a time, of course, where we were still very much in the Cold War. So it was really about "Here's our adversary. But we don't want to blow up the world, so it is in our interest and their interest to come together and reduce arms. At the same time we don't trust them." So how did you bring all those different perspectives together? It was fascinating.

JULIA KENNEDY: What did you think about those SALT negotiations? Did you find yourself drawn to this sort of "us vs. them" conversation, or not, or did it not really matter, you were just so excited to be at the Foreign Relations Committee?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: I was young. I studied Soviet studies as an undergraduate and actually had immersed myself in Russian literature and Russian philosophy and Russian poetry, on the theory that you really couldn't understand any country—but certainly trying to come to grips with Russia and its history—without understanding its literature. So I felt that I had an understanding of the difference between Russia and its government, which I think many people actually feel about the United States—they like Americans and don't like the American government.

So I don't think it was "us vs. them." I did very much understand, though, because I did a lot of reading of the dissident literature—this was when Solzhenitsyn is first coming out, and there is an entire set of novels and stories again about what the Soviet government had done to its people. I wouldn't have said I was sort of reflexively anti everything Soviet, but I definitely didn't trust their government.

JULIA KENNEDY: You went on, after law school, to work with Professor Abram Chayes.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: Yes.

JULIA KENNEDY: You were working on international litigation. It was really interesting to learn that in one high-profile case you and Professor Chayes represented Nicaragua, in Nicaragua v. The United States of America at the International Court of Justice.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: Yes.

JULIA KENNEDY: How did that work affect your thoughts on international justice?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: In the first place, Abram Chayes was my great mentor. He shaped my career more than probably any one other single person. He had been the legal advisor for John F. Kennedy. So he was the legal advisor during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

He wrote a wonderful book on the Cuban missile crisis and the role of law in resolving the crisis [The Cuban Missile Crisis (International Crisis and the Role of Law)], a book that I read as an undergraduate, and wanting to go to Harvard to study with him, and was fortunate enough then to work for him. So he had been America's top lawyer, and very proud to be America's top lawyer.

Then, in the mid-1980s, if you'll recall, we mined Nicaragua's harbors, and none other than Barry Goldwater wrote a letter saying this was absolutely unconscionable, that we couldn't just go and mine another country's harbors.

Abe Chayes took the case. It was interesting. It was one American, one Frenchman, and one British lawyer and a Nicaraguan. He got a tremendous amount of heat for it. I was a law student, so no one was concerned that I was on the case. But his view—and it very much has shaped my view of foreign policy, of international relations—was, as he put it to The New York Times, "There is nothing wrong with holding the United States to our own highest values."

That's what he thought he was doing. If he had to go to the International Court of Justice to do it against his former colleagues, he would do it because he believed in the underlying principles. He did not think that was being un American; he thought that was being über-American.

JULIA KENNEDY: Of course, the International Court of Justice did award Nicaragua reparations in that case. The United States avoided giving Nicaragua any of those reparations through the Security Council. So what lessons did you draw from that outcome?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: Formally the United States paid no reparations. When the government changed in Nicaragua, there were a number of things that we actually did for the Nicaraguans because, interestingly, even though the contras were driven out of power, the Chamorro government still recognized they had a binding judgment in their hands. In fact, I think when all the documents are released, although we never did anything that we said "this is to satisfy the judgment," they had a claim on us and we did actually meet some of that claim.

What it taught me, which was really the lesson for anybody studying international law and really the theme of Abe Chayes' book on the Cuban Missile Crisis, is the intertwining of law and politics, something we are seeing very much today, for instance, in the question of do you indict Bashar al-Assad or do you send that case to the International Criminal Court? There are many good reasons to think you do, and I'm a very strong supporter of the International Criminal Court.

On the other hand, as long as there's any chance you could get him out of office, I think you shouldn't, because the minute he is indicted, that ends. You saw that with Gaddafi, where the only countries he might possibly be able to go to were countries that did not recognize the court. That's the kind of "law vs. politics" where law shapes politics but politics sometimes trumps law.

This was a case where the Nicaraguans sued, they got a judgment, they didn't get the judgment satisfied as such, but they did get, first of all, vindication in global public opinion, and they did get something for their judgment in the end.

JULIA KENNEDY: Let's fast-forward a little bit. You started to bring this up a little bit in your last answer. One place that's a great place to analyze the way we apply American values is in the subject of humanitarian intervention. You've been looking at it for more than ten, fifteen years. Why were you drawn to that particular topic and that particular issue?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: You know, you're right. As you say this, I realize that I was part of a study that the American Academy of Arts and Sciences did on the emerging norm of humanitarian intervention way back, like 1996 or 1997, partly then, of course, because of the conflict in Bosnia, because now post-Cold War we were looking at a rash of conflicts breaking out within states, not between them, from Somalia earlier on, and later East Timor as well as Kosovo. So this question of the use of force within states was very much there.

But the most important development in terms of my own interest is not really about humanitarian intervention; it's about the redefinition of sovereignty itself. So the issuance of the report of the International Commission for Intervention and State Sovereignty—and that commission was commissioned by the United Nations, by Kofi Annan, who said, "Look at Kosovo. Look at Rwanda. You may have been opposed to intervening in Kosovo without the UN sanction. But does that mean looking back you wouldn't have intervened in Rwanda? And if you thought you should have intervened in Rwanda, then how do you proceed without some kind of UN mandate?"

That commission came up with something truly profound, something that the consequences of will be worked out not only over decades but probably over centuries, because it's a fundamental change in the way we think about government's obligations in international law. The sort of stylized history says there was the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 and, boom!, absolute sovereignty was born and every state allowed every other state to do whatever they wanted within their own borders because they had come out of the Thirty Years' War and they had discovered that meddling in each other's affairs created terrible destruction.

That of course is not true. There is the Treaty of Westphalia. It takes centuries to work out that dimension of sovereignty in international law. But, coming into the 20th century, certainly we have a basic idea that one of the founding principles of international law is states are sovereign and, as the UN Charter says, you cannot interfere with the territorial integrity or political independence of any other state except in self-defense if you are using force. This concept said, "Yes, that has gotten us through multiple centuries."

Actually, now we are in a world that has the human rights movement—individuals have rights under international law—and sovereignty includes the responsibility to protect your own citizens, at least to the extent that you are not committing genocide, war crimes, grave and systematic war crimes, crimes against humanity, or ethnic cleansing against them. It's a pretty high bar.

This isn't saying you can't have political prisoners, you can't do all sorts of things—we say that under human rights law—but this notion was you can't massacre your own people It seems to me a principle that most people understand. But it really is built into the idea of sovereignty itself.

And then it says: If you fail in that responsibility to protect—and, again, that means if you are committing genocide or crimes against humanity or ethnic cleansing or grave and systematic war crimes—then the international community has the right to protect those individuals. That to me is the framework that we have to use going forward in international relations, and what we are seeing is the beginnings of that principle actually being applied.

JULIA KENNEDY: Let's talk a little bit more about it. You wrote in strong support of the intervention in Libya soon after leaving the Obama administration. I want to go back to that period later, but since we're talking about intervention we might as well talk about it.

Why were you such a staunch supporter of that, and do you think the administration handled it right?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: I think they handled it right in the end when they did intervene. I wrote an op-ed in The New York Times a week before we made the decision to actually go to the Security Council to get authorization to intervene. At that point—it's interesting, because it's exactly where we are now on Syria—at that point it looked like we were moving in the direction of arming the rebels.

My view was, to begin with, that will simply ensure that the killing goes on for a very long time, and, even after one side wins, assuming the rebels win, what many people don't realize is you have then militarized the society and the women and the children in the society are in far greater danger. When you talk to women around the world about one of the biggest changes in their societies, they will talk about the influx of small arms.

So I was looking at this in terms of I didn't think it was going to work, I thought Gaddafi was still going to have an overwhelming advantage; but it would give people the ability to fight back enough that there would be a very long and horrible civil war, and that is exactly the choice we are facing now.

But here's again where values and interests come together. I thought: Look, we have signed on this principle of responsibility to protect. It is quite possible that Muammar Gaddafi is going to obliterate the city of Benghazi. He had said he was going to go house to house, and from everything we'd seen I thought he was quite capable of it. That meant that we, the United States, were going to stand by and watch that, in contravention of everything we've said since Rwanda and in contravention of this principle that needs to be given life.

At the same time, I spent two years in the State Department with all of my colleagues working very hard on how to change the perception of us in the Muslim world. Remember, Obama goes to Cairo and he calls for a new beginning and he calls for democracy and human rights, exactly as Condi Rice had called for in Cairo about three years prior. Now we had people taking to the streets willing to die for those principles.

My view was if we stand by and do not help, when the Arab League itself is calling for this, when the Organization of the Islamic Conference is calling for this, we will dig ourselves into a yet deeper hole in terms of everything we had been trying to do with the new beginning. This intervening may not single-handedly change people's perception of us, but at least we will be able to say, "We stood for these principles, and when the chips were down we acted."

And in fact, at least in Tripoli today, Americans are received as we have not been received probably in countries in North Africa for a very long time.

That was an interest-based argument as well as a value-based argument, and I felt equally strongly on both sides.

JULIA KENNEDY: Now we are at a position in the world where there is a crisis going on in Syria. What are some of the similarities and differences facing a potential intervention in Syria?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: The biggest difference right now is there is no UN authorization, and right as of now, although I think this is going to change within the next ten days, the Arab League itself is edging closer to calling for some kind of intervention. Yesterday it called for a UN-Arab League peacekeeping force. Well, there's no peace to keep, and the UN knows that. But again, now the Saudis are actually saying, "We will send in Saudi troops." That's a huge change.

But the biggest difference as far as I'm concerned is you cannot do this, or you really should not do this, unless the countries immediately around the affected country support you, and particularly if you are the United States. As it stands, Bashar al-Assad is saying, and many Syrians believe, "This is a foreign-inspired insurgency to topple my government. They don't like my government, they've never liked my government, we stand with Iran, et cetera." Giving credence to that, aside from the implications for the United States in the Middle East, would also I think not work, unless you have the support of the countries around.

The second issue, of course, is this is far more complicated in terms of Syria's neighborhood. Syria is a crossroads of Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Turkey, Jordan. Trying to think about how you would intervene is tremendously complicated, and each country is thinking about how that is going to affect it. That's a very big difference.

And finally, militarily this is much harder, I think. At least in Libya you had territory to hold. The rebels had gotten almost to Tripoli and then had been pushed back. But they had Benghazi; they had a base. It is not clear where you would start, which is why I have been arguing very strongly for the creation of a buffer zone on the Turkish border, maybe the Jordanian border, but at least try to get some territory that you can hold and that people can get to and be safe. But right now that doesn't exist.

JULIA KENNEDY: You have been writing about Turkey as a potential state to lead this intervention. Why Turkey?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: Because Turkey kept suggesting it and, after three months of having them suggest it, suggesting they do something about it. Really—I went back this week—November 1st the foreign minister of Turkey said—there were rumors that they were talking about buffer zones and he did not deny it.

Now, he didn't say, "We are going to do it tomorrow," but he said, "This may have to happen." And then he said it again at the end of November. And then in December it was more about the Arab League and the monitoring, and Turkey got more quiet. Then again last week it looked like he sort of said they were considering it.

I am no longer certain. If you compare the record of rhetoric to action, the Arab League has actually been extraordinarily active, particularly given what we might have expected. And Turkey, where I really would have thought: Here's a country that is playing an increasingly important role, seems to kind of get up to the precipice and then not do anything.

Without them I don't think this can work, I really don't. I mean Turkey is so important and Turkey's border is where, if you could create a buffer zone there, you could get people not only into Turkey but we could put a hospital ship in the Mediterranean right off the coast and provide tremendous humanitarian aid for people who are being injured.

JULIA KENNEDY: Now I want to zoom out a little bit again and ask you about—humanitarian intervention has gotten a bit of a reputation as a female pursuit. Obama in the Libya intervention was portrayed as being henpecked by his female advisors and this was all over the press. You wrote this great rebuttal. So I wanted to ask you about it while you were here, both about that sort of sector of foreign policy as being case female and then also about being a female in this field and how you have seen it change. I'm not supposed to ask two questions at once. I'm sorry.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: That's all right.

For a while there, and maybe again, Susan Rice, Secretary Clinton, Samantha Power, and occasionally yours truly were being identified as—I think one called us "Amazon Valkyrie warmongers," which as somebody said, "might make a great name for a rock band."

The first thing that frustrated me was many of the people who were writing these things were the same journalists who had come to my office in the State Department and said, "Why do you keep focusing on development and empowerment of women around the world and health and technology, all these soft issues?" and essentially saying, "Why isn't Secretary Clinton championing more traditional guns-and-bombs issues? What is this?"—and it wasn't even the subtext, it was the text—"This is all peripheral to real foreign policy."

One of the things I think Secretary Clinton has done that I am proudest to have been a part of and that I think will have the longest implications for how American foreign policy evolves, has been to elevate development. By "elevating development" what you mean is you're not just looking at governments; you're looking at society, you're looking at the conditions that affect society, whether that's health (and that of course has a lot to do with whether we end up, how we combat a global pandemic), whether that's climate change, whether that's empowering women, which in turn is educating families and strengthening economies.

There are very good reasons to do all those things as a foreign policy matter. Secretary Clinton has worked that side of the street as hard as she has worked negotiating with Iran or working with China or thinking about what to do in North Korea, any of the more traditional issues.

That perspective, which on the one hand leads you to be thinking about things like cook stoves and food security and water supply and all the things we worried about, also makes you think 60 percent of the population of the Middle East is under 30. This is the society we are now having to engage, these are the people who are now in the streets, we should help them.

So it was all of a piece, and it wasn't bleeding hearts and it wasn't morality, although I have no problem standing up and again saying: "Look, we are the United States of America. There are places we are never going to intervene, but where we can we should stand up to our values."

But it was really also this broader perspective. What's the other thing that unites all of us? Well, Susan Rice has been working on development issues for a long time. So has Samantha Power. Samantha Power is not just the author of A Problem from Hell; she has also been working very hard in the White House on a whole set of these kinds of issues. We were looking at the Libya intervention not just in terms of oil, not just in terms of Libya's strategic position, and not just in terms of the military costs of having to possibly pull weapons out of Afghanistan, but in terms of this larger picture of society.

JULIA KENNEDY: The second question is: How have things changed for women in foreign policy?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: Not enough. It's really quite extraordinary actually. We've had three women secretaries of state, which is amazing. I grew up in Virginia in the 1960s, and the idea that there would be one woman secretary of state much less three—just extraordinary. For the younger women in the audience, it's impossible to let you know just how much change has happened over my lifetime. That's great.

I am still very often one of one or two women in any national security conference. Again, much as I try, Secretary Clinton tries, other women have tried, to broaden the agenda, there is still a sense that the "real stuff" is the core national security guns-and-bombs. Again, that's very important—I wouldn't say it isn't for a minute—but I think other things are equally important.

In that world you are still hearing mostly male voices. Just check out any panel on television or in conferences. Where there are women, they are likely to out-tough the guys, because if there's one or two women in a situation like that, you are not going to hear them talk about development and humanitarian intervention; you're going to hear them be as tough as they can possibly be.

So it's not until we get a critical mass of women and men that you will get a full range of perspectives. And again, it's not like all men are going to think this way and all women that way—far from it—but I do think there are some pretty general differences in how men and women look at the world, at least as we've been socialized now, and I think we should have that full perspective represented in the U.S. government, on every peace-negotiation team.

It makes a really big difference when women are at the table, from Northern Ireland to many more localized conflicts, where you would expect the full range of issues to be raised and a full set of perspectives to be brought to bear.

JULIA KENNEDY: It's time to turn this open to the audience. I have one more question for you before I do.

In 2007, around the time you released your book, The Idea That Is America, you wrote in The New York Times, "American foreign policy has lost its compass." Do you still believe that?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: In 2007 I wrote that?

JULIA KENNEDY: Yes.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: About what particular issue?

JULIA KENNEDY: I think it was just before the election.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: I'm trying to remember the specific piece. In general, this is of a piece. To be fair to the George W. Bush administration, actually it changed a lot between 2004 and 2007. There were many things that Secretary Rice did that we when we came in actually—we might have changed a little—we agreed fundamentally. One of them is on development. The George W. Bush administration doubled our foreign aid budget, and that was very important. And they did some things that I agree with—not all.

But overall, I think the sense that we acted in the world primarily through military means, something that most members of the military agree we went way too far, that we saw everything through the lens of the war on terror—and, again, I'm in New York and I was in Cambridge on 9/11. Obviously, I understand the paramount importance of fighting individual terrorists, but to see the whole world that way was I think very much skewing how we were seen, but more importantly, what we saw.

I do think that has been remedied. I think in many ways Barack Obama reintroduced this country to the world. That sure doesn't mean everybody loves us, and there are various people who have been disappointed with him. But fundamentally we are in a different and better place in the world than we were then.

I think the proof is that you could actually go to the UN and get the intervention in Libya. The United States, if they had tried to do that four years prior, there would have been no chance whatsoever.

JULIA KENNEDY: Great. Thank you so much. Let's give her a round of applause before we—

[Applause]

And as I said, if you don't have any questions, I have tons. But I have a feeling you will. Let's start right here.

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: Sondra Stein. It was such a pleasure to hear you.

I'd like to bring up the subject of drones and, apropos of The New York Times today, special forces, drones in Pakistan and wherever else we are doing them. What guidelines do you think? Where in the world as we define it, as terrorists here and there, what should define where we can go and where we can't?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: It's a great question. I don't have a substantive answer, in the sense that I don't know exactly what the rules should be. I am very convinced we have to have rules and they have to be rules that are negotiated and agreed with other countries.

China has some of this technology, will have much more of it. Just think about ten years from now when a number of nations have the ability to kill individual Americans on the streets. I mean this reminds me—and I wasn't alive—when we first had nuclear technology, there was a period when only we had nuclear weapons. The way we thought about them then was very different than the way we thought about them when other countries had them, for obvious reasons.

Not only are we going to worry about how other countries use drones with respect to us, but what have we opened in terms of how they are going to then make war against one another?

Now, I understand that for the president, who is charged with protecting this country—and we are still at war with al Qaeda, so to the extent we are using drones to attack leaders of al Qaeda, I think there is justification. I can understand why he says, "This is a godsend. They are precision. I don't have to send troops in."

Overall, even though I think we have certainly killed civilians with drones, we kill many fewer than with any other kind of munitions.This is the answer to a very difficult problem. I understand his calculus, and I'm not saying I would have made different choices in many of the cases he has made choices.

But at some point, just like with the Middle East, you have to see that your short-term interests and your long-term interests are radically opposed, and somebody has to say, "I have an obligation to the security and welfare of this country in ten years and not just for the rest of my tenure." That to me means you convene a global conference, just as we have the Geneva Conventions, to start hammering out rules. We havedone it before and we can do it now.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Vanessa Tucker. I am a project director at Freedom House's Project on Democratic Transitions. I wanted to talk to you about foreign policy in relation to the wave of pro-democracy uprisings.

The United States has been criticized for being more vocal and active in relation to uprisings in Libya and Syria than, for instance, in Bahrain, where there are ongoing uprisings and severe repression and crackdowns but also a U.S. ally and home to the Fifth Fleet. However, the United States is also occasionally under fire for its support for pro-democracy organizations. As I'm sure you know, there is a growing crisis in Egypt over U.S. funding of pro-democracy groups, including groups like Freedom House.

Do you think that a more coherent approach to support for pro-democracy movements is possible? Do you think that it's something that we really need to do? And what would that look like in terms of political feasibility; what's possible?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: The first thing to say is I actually think we have been far more consistent than we are getting credit for. I think Bahrain is actually the exception, and I am going to come to it.

But in fact, Hosni Mubarak was one of our closest allies in the Middle East. If you were going to say, "Oh, we only support people in the streets when it's a government we don't like," then how on earth do you explain the fact that within a week we were basically saying, "You have to step down"—we were saying that privately, we were saying it publicly—when plenty of countries (Israel, Saudi Arabia) thought that was a crazy thing to do? So I don't think it's fair to say we have only done this where it's governments we don't like.

I would say the same with Yemen. We worked very closely with the Yemeni government. We may not have loved them, but they were very important in counterterrorism. And again, I can assure you, there were plenty of people in the White House saying, "Are we really going to support the overthrow or the transition of this government, and we don't know what's going to come, and we've got people in this country who are very much actively threatening us?"

I think the first thing to say is, actually remarkably, this president, certainly contrary to all those people who said, "Oh, this is a realist and he really is not going to make value-based decisions," he has made value-based decisions about what we have to stand for, and I think we have done that remarkably consistently.

Indeed, in Syria, interestingly, if anything, we were more reticent to step in precisely because we thought, "This is going to be seen as a self-interested move against a government we have had trouble with." That's the first thing. I think that is the right framework.

Bahrain is a very difficult case. There are some critical differences. The scale of killing is much, much, much, much smaller in Bahrain. Killing is never legitimate, but in terms of what kind of intervention you are going to support, magnitude of the crisis is certainly there.

We did push for a national dialogue, and I think we pushed for the commission investigation. I think that is making some headway. I know from my Twitter feed and elsewhere that there are many things going on in Bahrain that we do not support and should not support.

There is the question of the Fifth Fleet. That does have to be factored in. We are talking about interests and values. At least you'd have to think, if you were going to take a stronger stand, you have to make some provision for what is going to happen.

But the other question is this is Saudi Arabia's backyard, and Saudi Arabia feels incredibly strongly about this issue and we need Saudi Arabia's support in other areas—in Libya, in Syria, and just in general in terms of oil. The president is in an election year. Iran is cutting production. These are factors he has to weigh.

So I don't think you can excuse Bahrain on values terms. I don't. I think if you're 100 percent consistent we should have been much stronger in terms of our condemnation.

I do think that overall, given that you cannot pursue our values only and you have to take other things into account, we have made the right call as much as we possibly could.

QUESTION: This is a topic that we're talking about in my class right now at NYU. Basically my question is: Why is it the United States' responsibility to protect and our responsibility to intervene and our responsibility and right to secure territory in other people's rightful home? And where did this exceptionalist attitude come from, where did it originate, because if that happened on our soil it sure would not be accepted?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: It's a very good question. I tend to see this a little more like the French coming to our aid during the Revolution, which we were actually very grateful for and wanted.

But I think you get to the heart of a very fundamental misunderstanding. It is not America's responsibility to protect. It absolutely is not our responsibility to protect. It is the international community's responsibility to protect. Every head of state signed on to the 2005 UN Summit document that spells out the responsibility to protect. The Security Council then invoked the responsibility to protect in 2006 and again in the Libya case and in Cote d'Ivoire.

It is an emerging norm of international law. That's why I say it's such a fundamental change. All governments signed on to something that said governments have a responsibility to protect their own people—so the Syrian government has a responsibility to protect its own people—and that if it fails in that responsibility up to the level of a crime against humanity or genocide, which again is a high bar—we're not going to intervene when many, many governments do terrible things to their people. We can protest, but no one would ever intervene. It is the international community then that has taken on a responsibility itself, and we the United States should support that.

Then you say, "But we're the ones holding the bag when actually that intervention happens." I think the Libya intervention was done exactly right. I don't think you should do this unless the regional organization is not only willing to call for it but to participate. In Libya, we basically said to the French and the British, "It's your neighborhood. If this country implodes or explodes, it's your neighborhood. You have the responsibility to lead." And we said to the Arab League, to Qatar and the UAE [United Arab Emirates] and Turkey, "You need to really help." And they did.

Similarly here, no one today is talking about sending U.S. troops into Syria. No one is even talking about U.S. air power in Syria. What we are talking about is supporting logistically—with intelligence, logistics, supplies, maybe weapons—an intervention that would again be led by the troops of the region.

To me that's a vision of the world that the United States should want, a world in which all other countries recognize the responsibility to protect their own citizens—that's a principle we were founded on, that government exists to serve its citizens, not to oppress them—and a world ultimately that would be much more peaceful and we would have to do less, because, as you see in Africa, as you see now in the Middle East, as you could see in Asia with East Timor, other countries can take the lead in terms of sending in troops.

QUESTION: Thanks very much. My name is Angie. I'm a grad student at NYU and also work with the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect here in New York. So this is right up my alley.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: You have no bias.

QUESTIONER: No bias. I was trying to decide between a drones question or DTP [diplomacy to protect]. I think I'll go DTP.

Our executive director just had an op-ed in the Huffington Post a couple of days ago calling for, his term, a diplomatic surge in Syria. So obviously there are a lot of things floating around right now—I think even Secretary Clinton threw something out about possibly arming the rebels in Syria—to obviously intervention. So my question to you is: What do you think a diplomatic surge would look like? Do you think that that's a good option, involving talks with Assad, involving talks with Russia, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon?

And then, just kind of another part to the question, where do you see RTP [responsibility to protect]; how do you see it developing in the next five to ten years?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: On the first question, believe me, I don't want this to be resolved by force. Far from it. Indeed, one of the reasons is responsibility to protect implies you should do everything you possibly can first to prevent and then to act very swiftly before conflict breaks out or when it's still relatively limited.

If I thought there were any way we could do this diplomatically—and there may still be; it's a very small window, but it may still be—I would be all for it. The window is there are people defecting from the Syrian army who say it's very weak, it's totally demoralized, that most troops do not want to fire on their own people; that they would defect if they could, but they're afraid, they're afraid for their families.

So it is possible that you will see an implosion and someone else who is willing to negotiate. I do not think Bashir al-Assad is willing to, and of course they denounced the most recent Arab plan practically before it landed on their doorstep, it was so fast.

The other problem is that a diplomatic surge—essentially we can pull people out, but we can't force people in. So we have pulled out our ambassador and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries have pulled out their ambassadors. We are trying to let the Syrian people know, "Look, you're really isolated here and you need to rethink your own allegiances."

You could invite Assad to Moscow—the Russians did that—but the opposition won't come, and I can't say that I blame them.

So I'm for doing everything that we can, but I see our diplomatic options dwindling very fast unless something changes inside Syria, which maybe could still happen.

And Russia today apparently supported the most recent Arab League plan. That's not confirmed, but there was at least one report. That would be a big difference. The Russians are realizing that they are not on the right side of this issue.

In terms of how RTP develops, again I think it is going to take a long time. But the forces of history are with it, both in the sense that it took a long time for democracy to emerge, it took a long time for human rights law to emerge. This is I think the natural evolution as people are able to exercise their own rights and stand up for themselves.

I think this younger generation is so interconnected and so much more aware of each other as fellow human beings around the world that they actually see these people. In other words, when my generation grew up there was us, there was the Soviet Union; we were these two opaque societies that had almost no actual interconnection.

Now my sons are in touch with people all around the world. So this notion that governments have to protect their people and that if they are massacring their people something needs to be done, I think that will simply get easier and easier to implement as this generation comes into power and the more times we do it.

JULIA KENNEDY: Interesting.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: You can tell you're getting to a certain age when you start placing your faith in the youth.

QUESTION: I'm John Hirsch from the International Peace Institute. I also teach at Columbia and I use your book on global governance [A New World Order: Government Networks and the Disaggregated State] among others.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: Wonderful.

QUESTIONER: I want to ask you a question about the use and abuse of the concept of American values in American public life. As I know, your general view is the United States should play a key role in multilateral engagement and not just push its weight around by itself. But in a lot of the rhetoric these days we are getting the phrase "American exceptionalism," which was mentioned a minute ago, from those who really kind of disdain the United Nations, disdain engagement completely.

So if you are an American citizen, how is somebody to distinguish between an appropriate and an inappropriate use of the concept of American values?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: I think I know how the students in your classes feel—on the spot. It's a hard question.

I do actually think that as our foreign policy evolved, if you think back to Woodrow Wilson, we were at the forefront of creating those very institutions that many people would like to disdain. So I'm not going to say multilateralism was written into the Declaration of Independence—it wasn't—although, interestingly, the Declaration of Independence is a justification to the world; it is written as a bill of particulars against the British government to the world. So even from the beginning we have always cared about the global community, about the opinion of others.

Again, I think we in our own traditions have set up these institutions, have believed that ultimately a world ruled by law would be a better world for us, and we have done everything we could to advance that. I am very comfortable taking the position that I believe in a values-based foreign policy and looking to cooperate as often as I can. I also think that's basic self-interest. We don't do well when we go in without the support of other nations. We end up paying much more; it gets a whole lot harder. So there is a pragmatic reason as well.

I do think there is a very hard question that comes down in Kosovo or that may come down in Syria. In Kosovo, you were watching a tyrant who had set in motion ethnic cleansing across the Balkans essentially try to expel the Kosovars, and we were not going to get a UN resolution. What do you do in that sense? Well, I don't think you say, "We're an exceptional nation and we get to do it;" that absolutely not. But would I have made the same decision that Bill Clinton did, to go with NATO? We did have NATO with us.

In Iraq, we didn't have NATO with us, and that's a very, very telling sign. So at least you have a substantial number of countries with you. Then, at that point, I think I would say, "We have to go back to the UN." But there are circumstances in which I would say, "I am not going to let one nation that has clear political interest block something that many nations believe in their interest."

But I agree with you it's a double-edged sword, and it is easy to abuse, and there are people who think you should just stick to self-interest and ultimately fewer people will die.

QUESTION: Thank you. James Starkman.

On the subject of regime change, advocacy of regime change, just going back to 1953 Iran, how would you say that values and interests of the United States intersected in the overthrow of Mr. Mosaddeq?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: The easy thing to say is I don't think we should have overthrown him, but it's easy in the sense that I wasn't alive then, I was not aware of how things were being perceived, and of course you would have perceived things very differently than we do now.

As a general rule, I don't believe in forcible regime change. I have never called for overthrowing—I'm not calling for overthrowing the Syrian government now. I'm calling for getting the Syrian government to stop killing its people and to then allow a peaceful process of change, which I think will lead to change. But it's up to the Syrians how they want to do it.

In general, I think overthrowing governments has hurt us much more than it has helped us. Indeed, I think the ghost of Mosaddeq still haunts us in the Middle East. So on pragmatic grounds I don't think it has been a good idea.

On values grounds, this is in some ways going back. How far are you willing to go? I would be willing to intervene as NATO intervened in Kosovo, and I might be willing under certain circumstances, if that were the only way to protect a population, to authorize the covert overthrow of a government.

But as a general principle I don't think that's the way we ought to run our foreign policy. This is not about calling for other governments to change. We are a democracy, we believe people can choose their own government, but we also believe in fundamental human rights, and sometimes those conflict. But I think my answer is I think it was a bad idea.

QUESTION: Bob Frye.

You've described a world that is ever-changing, unpredictable in many ways. Based on your experience in the government, have you changed your views as a result of having gone through that experience?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: No. Government has intensified my sense of exactly what you described, of this unbelievable complexity of issues.

There was one week in the spring of 2009 where on Monday the headlines were that the Pakistani Taliban were within 100 miles of Islamabad. If you remember, the Pakistani government had made a deal over the Swat Valley, and now it really looked like the Taliban were within 100 miles of Islamabad. So of course we went into full action. We were negotiating with the Pakistanis, trying to convince them that they really had to take a stand. Classic—maybe not classic, but very complicated high national security problem in a state that has nuclear weapons and you've got terrorist-affiliated groups close to the capital.

On Tuesday, the news was that it looked like we were heading for a double-dip global recession, which had huge implications, not just for our economy. We were in the State Department. Treasury is over there worrying about that. We were worrying about what that means for all the foreign policy issues we are dealing with, if you are really going to have what was starting to look like a depression worldwide.

On Wednesday, the H1N1 virus broke out in Mexico.

As Secretary Clinton said, "You just tell me which of these I'm not supposed to focus on." She would say people were always telling her, "Prioritize, prioritize, just focus on a few issues." She'd say, "My bar is pretty high; it's anything that could kill a million or more Americans or fundamentally change the way we live." That list led to proliferation; terrorism; conflicts in all these states, certainly in the Middle East and Afghanistan and Pakistan; the global economy; climate change; global pandemics; and resource scarcity.

Already—we don't see this, but part of what is happening in Syria is a function of climate change, of growing desertification and less and less water, which means many people are not able to survive the way they once did. Again, the correlation between the price of bread and revolution is fairly high.

So I come out saying we have to be prepared for just about anything. We can't have that kind of lovely strategy that we once did in the Cold War, where "this is our top priority and then we do this, this and this." We have to have a set of issues that we are prepared to respond on.

And we, above all, have to be far, far more flexible than we are now in terms of our capability to respond quickly as a government. The military can do it; they can send out special forces very quickly. The government has a long way to go.

JULIA KENNEDY: On that note, I think—

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: Oh my, such a negative.

JULIA KENNEDY: It wasn't so negative. Thank you so much for your comments.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: And a shout out to all my Twitter followers.

JULIA KENNEDY: Thanks for watching the webcast.

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