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International Relations

'Credibly threaten force against Assad'

The US state department’s former chief policy planner urges the West to threaten the use of force against the Assad regime. She also tells DW why she worries about President Obama’s drone program and his family policy.

DW: Your article 'Why Women Still Can't Have It All' caused quite a stir in the US and also internationally last year. It was probably the first coming out for a female, high-power professional to say that, despite all your best efforts to combine a high-profile job with a family life with kids, it simply didn't work. After Barack Obama's inauguration speech, you followed up with another piece that basically said Obama still doesn't get the issue. So has nothing changed at all since you wrote your first piece last summer?

Anne-Marie Slaughter: I actually think a lot has changed. And I just would like to clarify that some women are obviously managing to do it all. So I don't want to say that nobody can do it. But I do want to say that it is extraordinarily hard, and far too many women actually end up having to make choices for their families that disadvantages them in their careers. I could now be in the second Obama administration - at least, I hope I would be a candidate - but I have to take myself out because my children are of an age that it just doesn't work.

But the conversation has continued dramatically. In the United States, I hear from people every single week. But we still have a long way to go, and what I was saying about the inauguration was that Obama and the Democrats in this campaign have been focusing on equal pay for equal work, which is enormously important, and I am strongly supportive. But it misses the fact that fundamentally what is going on is that the caregivers - male or female, but they are mostly female - are being disadvantaged. And that is true up and down the chain. The people who are poorest in our society are single mothers. And at the top, you have far fewer women leaders because women end up having to defer promotion. So that's the issue.

Obama talked about love when he talked about gay rights, and he said the love you bear each other must be recognized. But what I was saying was: Yes, but what about the love we all bear our children and our parents and all our family members? And love is just as important a part of that conversation as it is of gay rights.

Anne-Marie Slaughter speaking at a conference
(Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Women in Cable Telecommunications)

Slaughter served as policy director in the US State Department from 2009 to 2011

You are an Ivy League professor, a leading intellectual and were a top government official. What does it tell you that the one thing you are most noted around the world for isn't your work with the Princeton Project or with strengthening the non-military focus of US foreign policy via the first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), but with your personal account about the impossibility to combine career and family for a magazine article?

It really says that foreign policy is a small community. Everybody in the foreign policy community still knows who I am. But fundamentally you realize that the world is infinitely bigger than our small community. Two million people have downloaded this article, and when you get to that level, there are far more people who know me because they have read that article and who would never read anything else I said.

I think this is a very important subject. I am writing a book about it, and I am talking about it. But I am definitely still a foreign policy person. And if you would ask me, 'Who are you?', I would tell you I am a foreign policy person before I would tell you that I am a women's rights - but more importantly - a work-family advocate.

If you could wave a magic wand to do something meaningful about work-life balance for women, what would you do concretely?

If I could wave a magic wand, I would make every workplace focus on results rather than time put in. I would make every workplace something where workers could say together with their manager: All right, these are the things I have to get done by this time, but everything else is on your own.

And I would let people themselves fit together work and life. I think that is the future of work because work is going to be wherever computers are. Siemens, for instance, has a whole new way of working that basically means you have a computer, and you can go into a cubicle in whatever city you are, but you don't have a fixed office. Women and men are tremendously creative if they are committed to their work and committed to their children. They will make it fit. But they can't make it fit if you make one part of that completely rigid.

As I mentioned earlier, you advocated non-military means of US foreign policy during your tenure in the State Department. The Pentagon's use of military drones to kill enemies of the US has skyrocketed during the first Obama administration, and now the US is expanding its drone program in Africa. Isn't that contradictory - because you can kill terrorists that way, but, in the long run, it doesn't help you solve the problems you want to address?

A silhouette of a drone aircraft at an airstrip

Slaughter wonders whether US drones are 'sowing a harvest we do not want to reap'

I wrote a piece for the 'Security Times' on drones. I certainly understand the value of them. In the first place, they kill far fewer than bombs or missiles or certainly troops would, but I am very worried that the United States, in using them unilaterally without any kind of agreed framework, is sowing a harvest we do not want to reap - when multiple countries have them, and many countries do already. Imagine that in Mexico they decided to use drones to combat their drug problem, and drug traffickers fleeing across the border into Texas suddenly were being taken out by drones. Suddenly the American people would be up in arms.

Death in the skies without any legal framework, any sense of who is being targeted and why they are being targeted, and some checks against making mistakes, is, I think, a very dangerous path to go down. I truly hope that President Obama, who is a constitutional lawyer, is not going to leave office having expanded presidential power to basically include the execution of individuals without due process of law.

The crisis is in Syria seems to get worse every day. More than 60,000 people are now estimated dead, and there is no solution on the horizon whatsoever. Do you see anything that could be done?

I see a number of possible things that could change the game, so that we might be on a path to a solution. And the first is - if by a miracle you could convince the Russians to join in a Security Council that essentially said Assad had to go. I think that could change the domestic balance of power such that people around Assad might decide we have to get rid of him, but we can stay in the transitional government. I do not see Russia doing that anytime soon, but that could change matters.

A second thing that could change matters would be to deliver massive amounts of aid not through the Syrian government, but directly across the border to the Syrian people. And note that delivering that aid directly across the border means violating the Syrian government's sovereignty, it means recognizing - as the United States has done - other organizations as the legitimate representation of the Syrian people. But fundamentally, we must be able to help the Syrians on the ground. Right now we are pouring in money, but it is going through the government, and it is not reaching the people who need it. That, I think, would at least help people on the ground in the sense that aid is coming, and the West is doing something.

Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin stand together at a conference
(AP photo/RIA Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press service, File)

Russia's public support for Assad is unlikely to wane, Slaughter says

But fundamentally, I think you have to credibly threaten force. And to credibly threaten force means you have to be ready to use it. Last night (at the Munich Security Conference, the ed.), Khatib, who is the head of the Syrian Coalition, said: If all else fails, you need to take out Assad's air force and heavy weapons, so he can no longer kill us the way he is killing us. And there are American experts who have said that is a very limited strike, and it is not a buffer zone. But at least it would say to Assad: You can't be doing this. We will not stand by and kill 100,000 or 200,000 of your people. And frankly, almost a million people are refugees. Many of them are in peril as well. I think Assad is perfectly capable of using chemical weapons. So nothing is going to happen unless the West finds the will to either convince Russia or to act independently.

Europeans are always very concerned with the state of the transatlantic relationship and especially since the Obama administration's so-called pivot to Asia. What's your take on transatlantic ties at the moment, and what should Europeans expect from the second Obama term?

One thing I will take back from the Munich Security Conference is that we are back together. We may have been temporarily estranged, but Vice President Biden's speech left no doubt when he said that the US turns to Europe first, and you are our best ally. He couldn't have made it any clearer that, if there is any pivot to Asia, it is the US and Europe together. I think this is very significant because I think this administration came to office much more focused on Asia than on Europe. I think the euro crisis got Americans to think that this is the largest economy in the world and if we take it for granted and it doesn't prosper, we are in trouble.

The relationship is quite strong and Vice President Biden said this, the United States will do everything to get a transatlantic free trade agreement, whether that is US-EU or broader remains to be seen, but at least US-EU. That is significant, because then you are knitting together the area of the world that is responsible for fifty percent of global GDP. That has all sorts of implications, not just for the US and Europe, but also for Latin America and Africa, because you are talking about the Atlantic. Our trade flows are increasingly north-south, Europe's trade flows are increasingly north-south - you put that together with trade across the Atlantic, and you have the Atlantic basin. So I think things are good.

Anne-Marie Slaughter is professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University and one of the leading foreign policy experts in the US. From 2009 to 2011, she served as director of policy planning in the US State Department, becoming the first woman to hold that position.

Interview: Michael Knigge

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