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PS Say More


Anne-Marie Slaughter
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This week, Project Syndicate catches up with Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of the think tank New America and Professor Emerita of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Project Syndicate: By effectively giving Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan the green light to attack northern Syria’s Kurds, America’s most effective ally against the Islamic State (ISIS), US President Donald Trump has once again handed a victory to an authoritarian leader. You’ve underscored the danger of that approach with regard to Hungary, a far less strategically significant country than Turkey. What immediate and longer-term risks do you foresee arising from Trump’s withdrawal of US troops from Syria, and how might they be mitigated?

Anne-Marie Slaughter: The United States effectively has two foreign policies at the moment. Trump admires strongmen around the world and cultivates personal relationships with them. This often results in his taking impulsive and dangerous decisions that are deeply adverse to US interests – as defined by the State Department, the Pentagon, and even his own National Security Council.

Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of Syria and clear the way for a Turkish invasion falls into this category. It was a victory for Turkey, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Russia, Iran, and ISIS. And it was a loss for the US, which surrendered much of its influence in the Middle East and betrayed both its allies and its values.

This carries serious longer-term risks. For example, in Afghanistan, the Taliban might be encouraged to keep fighting, in the hope that Trump will simply decide to withdraw US troops from there, too. In the Baltics, Russian President Vladimir Putin might be emboldened to mount a direct challenge to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which holds that an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all.

The only way to mitigate these risks is to remove Trump from office, either through the ballot box next year or impeachment by the US House and conviction in the Senate before that.

PS: Even before the US withdrawal, you warned that ISIS was cultivating an “online narrative of victory” that could “translate into success on the ground.” With the Trump administration’s chances of winning the “battle for the narrative” presumably significantly depleted, who else could take the lead in countering ISIS’s communications offensive?

AMS: The European Union, with its many Muslim citizens, should have the capacity to shape and promote a decisive counter-narrative to ISIS. But, given the EU’s preoccupation with Brexit and the need to reinvigorate its own integration processes amid deep internal divisions, it is unlikely to play this role.

With ISIS eager to prove its continued power and relevance in the wake of America’s withdrawal from Syria and US Special Forces’ killing of the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, we should expect it to launch new attacks soon. Europe will be its most likely Western target.

PS: After the Democrats regained control of the US House of Representatives in last year’s midterm elections, you cautioned that the House has “just enough power to get into foreign-policy trouble and not enough to get out of it or to adopt and implement a coherent strategy.” The Democrats’ “best bet” was thus “to let Trump take the lead on global affairs,” and work to check and balance his actions. What actions could the House take today to check Trump’s foreign policy, not only regarding Syria, but also with respect to, say, China and North Korea?

AMS: The House is trying to check Trump’s foreign policy – most notably, by considering economic sanctions against Turkey. Already, it has voted overwhelmingly to impose sweeping sanctions on Turkey for its incursion into northeastern Syria, a significant bipartisan rebuke of Trump. As of this writing, five sanctions bills targeting Turkey’s access to US arms and energy are circulating in the US Congress.

Moreover, the House has voted – again, with bipartisan support – to recognize the 1915 killing of as many as 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide. The US had previously been reluctant to make that declaration, in order to preserve its relations with Turkey, which has predictably denounced the move.

On China, the House has passed three bills in support of the Hong Kong demonstrators. One condemns China’s intrusions into Hong Kong’s affairs and supports its people’s right to protest. Another makes Hong Kong’s special economic and trade status conditional on annual assessments by the State Department of whether the city is sufficiently autonomous to justify that status under US law. A third seeks to block the sale to Hong Kong of tear gas and other crowd-control tools.

It is not clear whether any of these measures will pass the Senate. But even if they don’t, the House votes signal to the world that a large share of Americans – even many Republicans – do not support Trump’s foreign policy. Furthermore, the House retains the power of the purse, which it will continue trying to use to shape foreign policy.

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Slaughter recommends

We ask all our Say More contributors to tell our readers about a few books that have impressed them recently. Here are Slaughter's picks:

  •  The Uninhabitable Earth

    The Uninhabitable Earth

    Climate change is the existential threat of our time. This book assembles the science on the vast array of consequences of climate change – food shortages, refugee emergencies, resource conflict, and economic devastation – in a way that drives home the true urgency of the situation.

  • The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

    The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

    We tend to think of surveillance in terms of cameras, images, and facial recognition. Zuboff forces us to expand the concept to large-scale data capture by the likes of Google, Facebook, and Amazon. She compellingly describes how such data are bought and sold, and ultimately exploited for behavioral modification. (And this is to say nothing of the intense debate over privacy.) Surveillance comes in many different forms, and it behooves us to ponder the implications of how it is done in the US, as well as in other countries, such as China.
  • The Hemingses of Monticello

    The Hemingses of Monticello

    A decade after recounting Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with his slave Sally Hemings, Reed wrote the story of the family that resulted from that relationship. The book is a reckoning, especially for someone like me, who grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Jefferson-worship is a way of life. Equally important, it is an account of an American family, just as American as the Jefferson’s “official” white family. It reminds us that the history of all Americans – regardless of race, class, and legal status – is American history.

From the PS Archive

From 2015
Slaughter called for shifting the focus of the movement for women’s equality to the role of men. Read the commentary.

From 2017
Slaughter and co-author Mira Rapp-Hooper advocated more networking among countries concerned about the loss of US security guarantees. Read the commentary.

Around the web

In one of the most-read articles in The Atlantic magazine’s history, Slaughter refuted the notion that women truly can “have it all.” Read the essay.

A year later, Slaughter expanded on her ideas, explaining how shifts in work culture, public policy, and social mores can lead to greater gender equality. Watch the TED talk.

In 2017, Slaughter answered The Economist’s questions about how network theory could be applied to global problems. Listen to the podcast.;

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