Anne-Marie Slaughter: A Woman’s Journey in Foreign Policy

Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Director of Policy Planning at the State Department

Life is full of tough decisions, and Anne-Marie Slaughter spoke about a wide variety of them - how to raise two young sons while holding down a hectic high-profile job at the State Department, how to handle the war in Syria, and what to do with President Putin of Russia. At a dinner on October 8th Slaughter told the Los Angeles World Affairs Council that her toughest decision was between family and career.

Slaughter was appointed as the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department by then-Secretary Hillary Clinton in 2009. "The first director of policy planning was George Kennan and he came up with the Marshall Plan," said Slaughter about her job. "So it was kind of a high bar." At the time, Slaughter was commuting to Washington on Monday mornings and returning home to her family in Princeton on Friday nights. This was "very tough on my family. And very tough on me," said Slaughter. When she was offered an even more senior job at the State Department, which would have meant even less time at home, "for the first time in my life I really realized you just have to make a choice." She left the State Department and returned to her job as a professor at Princeton - and found that when she told people why she "would watch herself drop in the esteem of the other person," she said. "That really made me mad." Slaughter went on to write "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" in The Atlantic magazine in 2012, which became the most-read story ever in the magazine. Three years later she wrote the book Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family.

"I would not be standing here if it weren't for the women ten years older than I am," said Slaughter. "They really broke those barriers." She said we've made progress, but said "we're stuck" and we still have a long way to go with regards to the women's movement. Slaughter said that in the last 20 years we've basically been in the same place with numbers of women in the workforce. "In a good industry you have 15-20% women in senior management. In a bad industry you have 5%," said Slaughter. Although her Atlantic article was seen as an attack on Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who famously encourages women to have it all, Slaughter says she agrees with much of what Sandberg says. "I have seen the impact of Lean In on women who work for me and I truly tip my hat to her. But it's just not enough," said Slaughter. "There are too few women at the top, and there are far too many women at the bottom." The reason? "Discrimination against caregivers. We have to stop focusing on women and focus more on care - care for kids and care for elders." And while we have dramatically changed the role of women, we have barely changed the role of men," said Slaughter. "If I had a daughter, I'd be raising her completely differently from how I was raised," she said. "But men are still brought up to be the principal breadwinner."

Slaughter argued the women's movement is not only a social or personal issue - "it's a national security, economic and competitive issue," she said. On security she said, "The next generation of weapons involves computers more than it involves traditional guns" so, as the Pentagon is doing, it is important to invest in women in the military. On economics and competitiveness, Slaughter said there are more women working in Japan as a percentage of the workforce than in the U.S. "They have 64% and we have 63%," she said. "Abe's goal is to have 55% of women return to work after their first child by 2020," said Slaughter adding that Abe has estimated that Japan's GDP would then grow by 15% with the support of new day care programs and flexible work arrangements. "We used to be 4th in the world," said Slaughter with regards to the progress of women in the workforce, "and we are now 17th."

When asked if the U.S. should interfere in gender equality issues in other countries Slaughter said, "I don't think we can afford to not protest and stand for women's rights as a basic human right, and as Secretary Clinton says, to live up to human potential." She cited a report that estimated, "if all women globally could live up to their potential in the work force, the increase on the economy would be $28 trillion - that is the GDP of China and the U.S. combined," said Slaughter. "The world would be a lot richer and a lot more stable," said Slaughter.

When asked about Syria, Slaughter said, "I think Obama has badly handled this." She said, "I think he's determined to be a president who doesn't start wars but ends them." Slaughter, who grew up during the Cold War, said the U.S. should take a stronger stance against Putin. "Obama is not going to use force in Syria and my view is we're going to pay for that." She said there have to be limits to what Assad is allowed to do, "there's got to be some kind of coalition and it has to be reinforced by regional power," she said, pointing out that when the U.S. threatened to use force after Assad used chemical weapons in Damascus "we got a deal within three days. Diplomacy has to be backed up with a credible use of force. We learned that dealing with the Russians in the Cuban missile crisis."

At the moment in the Middle East we are faced with the worst possible of worlds: "We're looking at an alliance between Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria that is deadly," said Slaughter. It has to be reversed. "I'm not saying it's easy," she said, "but I have watched this cancer grow since 2011 and it's just getting worse." She said Putin had to be shown that he cannot come in to the region and defy the US by bombing soldiers that the U.S. supports in Syria.