You were director of policy planning in the State Department, and you gave it up to spend more time with your teenage sons. Are you sure you weren't fired?
I am quite certain. I think that says it all that leaving to spend time with your children is a euphemism in Washington for getting fired.
What made you write about it for the Atlantic?
It was hard to do. Saying that women can't have it all felt like a betrayal. But if you look at the numbers, women enter the workforce in the same numbers as men, and by the time you get up to leadership positions, the pool is much smaller. I thought, We need another round of feminist conversation.
There are millions of mothers who have to go to work at whatever job they get. Have you overlooked them?
I'm making a statement about change that would ultimately benefit everyone. Part of it is getting women equally represented in the ranks of leadership. I don't think women automatically lead differently than men, but women have different perspectives.
Are you suggesting that mothers get special treatment?
No. If a woman decides not to have children, she's going to make it further faster. I'm not talking about holding open positions. I am saying that when you have a 60-year-old woman and a 50-year-old man applying for the same job, do not assume that a gap in her rsum is any reflection of her talent or ability. Let's judge her on the merits.
Does it gall you that you've written influential books, papers and policy, and the article on motherhood is what gets you on all the talk shows?
It does a bit. I'd love to be talking about foreign policy.
Me too. Has the Arab Spring played out in the way we hoped?
I can't tell you how many memos I and others wrote that said the trade-off of oppression for stability cannot last, that we are allowing governments to oppress their people because they're our friends, and sooner or later that will erupt. Given that it's happened, there was bound to be a tremendous amount of chaos, of unforeseen turns, of forces that we couldn't control. I think we're doing as well as could be expected.
Do you think we should be doing more in Syria?
Right now I'd say, Let's keep doing what we're doing providing intelligence, communications and some arms to the opposition and pushing diplomatically. If by the fall that has not worked, then we need to do more, including probably no-fly zones and what I've called no-kill zones.
Why is it that so many capitalist democracies have public-health systems and the U.S. struggles to find a legal framework for one?
I ask myself that routinely. You've got a broken political system. You've got a culture that is very suspicious of Big Government provision. With the legacy of our private-enterprise health care all these vested interests you've got a perfect storm. Major change in health care is more likely to come from the bottom up, in terms of individual states, than from the top down.
As an academic, do you think what happened at the University of Virginia, where the board suddenly fired the president, would've been different had the president been male?
I'm a Charlottesville native, so I've followed this. I think it is much less likely. Not impossible. But I think they really might have thought twice.
Does your last name help when you face legal adversaries?
When Samantha Power and I were advocating to intervene in Libya, somebody said, "If I wrote a novel that said two women named Slaughter and Power were advocating military intervention, nobody would believe it." In court, I'm not sure it hurts me.
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