March 20th, 2012
03:37 PM ET

Slaughter: A pivot to the people

Editor's Note: Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former director of policy planning in the US State Department (2009-2011), is Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. For more from Slaughter, visit Project Syndicate or follow it on Facebook and Twitter. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Anne-Marie Slaughter.

By Anne-Marie SlaughterProject Syndicate

On February 1, the United Nations Security Council met to consider the Arab League’s proposal to end the violence in Syria. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton represented the United States. Midway through her remarks, she began speaking not to the Syrian ambassador, who was in the room, or even the Syrian government, but directly to the Syrian people. She said that change in Syria would require Syrians of every faith and ethnicity to work together, protecting and respecting the rights of minorities.

Addressing those minorities, she continued: “We do hear your fears, and we do honor your aspirations. Do not let the current regime exploit them to extend this crisis.” She told Syria’s business, military, and other leaders that they must recognize that their futures lie with the state, not with the regime. “Syria belongs to its 23 million citizens, not to one man or his family.”

Speaking directly to citizens – seeing a country’s people, as well as its government – is not just a rhetorical device. While many foreign-policy pundits have focused on the US “pivot to Asia,” Clinton has also executed a less-publicized, but no less important, pivot to the people. She has introduced policies, programs, and institutional reforms designed to support government-to-society and society-to-society diplomacy, alongside traditional government-to-government relations. These initiatives do not get headlines, but they will gradually transform much of American foreign policy.

In January, the State Department unveiled a new “super-office” of Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, under the leadership of Under-Secretary Maria Otero. The office brings together agencies that focus on international law enforcement, counter-terrorism, and reconstruction and stabilization with those charged with advancing democracy, human rights, and humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants.

Otero explains the logic behind the initiative in terms of “protecting individuals.” That, in turn, requires “not just engaging state to state,” but also working “with players and actors outside of the traditional [channels] we’ve engaged in.”

Viewed from this perspective, countering terrorism includes rebutting terrorist propaganda with a strategic communications campaign. Countering narco-gang violence includes working with Mexican telecommunications mogul Carlos Slim to develop tools that allow ordinary citizens to report violence anonymously by text message and enable police to map the results. Strengthening democracy means working with the Kenyan developers of a crisis-mapping platform that allows anyone with a cell phone to text information about election fraud or violence to a central monitoring station.

On a country-by-country basis, pivoting to the people means engaging with Egypt’s bloggers as well as with the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces; convening young entrepreneurs in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco and connecting them to funding and mentoring; and using social media in Russia to rebut government efforts to smear the US ambassador. And, working at an official level, it means co-sponsoring with Brazil the Open Government Partnership, which brings together governments committed to increasing transparency, accountability, and citizen participation, and uses mutual peer pressure and open reporting to hold them to their commitments.

Thinking about countries in these comprehensive terms also provides a different strategic perspective. Clinton has created a raft of new positions at the State Department to spur outreach to different social segments. The strategies and programs developed by the Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, the Special Adviser for Global Youth Issues, the Senior Adviser for Civil Society and Emerging Democracies, the Special Representative for Outreach to Muslim Communities, the Special Representative for Global Partnerships, and the Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs often present a very different face of the US.

As a result, Clinton has launched an actual strategic dialogue with civil society. For example, Ambassador Melanne Verveer has attended more than 1,000 events around the world focused on empowering women in areas ranging from peace negotiations to farming. Similarly, she has launched programs such as mWomen, designed to expand and support mobile technology that increases women’s independence, security, and access to health care and vital knowledge. The Office of Global Youth Affairs is building a local youth council at every US embassy around the world, to advise and help to implement embassy programming aimed at local youth.

Much of the programming aimed at youth, women, entrepreneurs, diasporas, technologists, and other social groups is partly funded and conducted by the private sector. Indeed, the Obama administration’s National Security Strategy mentions “public-private partnerships” more than 30 times. Clinton created the Global Partnership Initiative to build as many coalitions, networks, and partnerships as possible with corporations, foundations, NGOs, universities, and other civic organizations.

Here, the pivot to the people includes the American people: the dynamism, creativity, and resources of American business and non-profit organizations already engaged around the world. One privately-funded initiative spearheaded by the State Department will send 300 dogwood trees to Japan this spring, to be planted in the tsunami-affected region and in Tokyo to express the American people’s support for the Japanese people; another will send English teachers throughout Southeast Asia.

After participating in the Friends of Syria conference in Tunis, Clinton convened a town hall meeting with Tunisian youth. In her opening remarks, she told her audience that “young people are at the heart of today’s great strategic opportunities and challenges.” Speaking about her lifetime efforts to put “women’s empowerment on the international agenda,” she added, “It’s time to put youth empowerment there as well.”

The implications of all of this activity, which Clinton calls “twenty-first-century statecraft,” are profound. From now on, US diplomatic relations with other countries will engage directly with their people and connect them to the American people as much as possible. From the perspective of US diplomats, the people of every country stand on the same footing as their government. That assumption is the heart of democracy; it is a revolution for diplomacy.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Anne-Marie Slaughter.
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soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. George Patton

    Who is Hilary Clinton to decide what the Syria people want or don't want? In fact, if Bashar al-Assad was half as unpopular in Syria as Hosni Mubarak had been in Egypt or Saleh in Yemen, he'd be long gone by now!

    March 20, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Reply
  2. jal

    So, the Syrian regime has been beating the Sh&t out of their own people, and Clinton's answer is what?

    March 20, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Reply
    • George Patton

      Did you hear Sen. John McCain's answer to that last week? He wants to send in a fleet of planes to bomb the daylights out of the people over there. Good grief, what a no-brainer!!!

      March 20, 2012 at 10:14 pm | Reply
  3. Rz

    Hillary's efforts are ok with me. If anything, it appears that she is certainly doing more good than harm. No, her efforts and achievements may not save the world, but at least they don't push in the direction of destroying it. Way to go Hilly!

    March 20, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Reply
    • George Patton

      Come on Rz, get serious, will you? Hilary Clinton is nothing more than a mouthpiece for the right-wing thugs in Washington!!!

      March 20, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Reply
      • Rz

        Gee, a guy can't even get a couple of measly points for chivalry around here, can he ?!?

        March 20, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • jal

      I see your point Rz.

      March 21, 2012 at 9:16 am | Reply
      • jal

        But if she is going to be rewarded for kicking the barrel down the road, might I suggest a pair of steel-toed boots.

        March 21, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  4. sjdsh

    MS.SLAUGHTER = aptly named

    March 21, 2012 at 1:44 am | Reply
  5. j. von hettlingen

    Hilary Clinton does, what many world leaders fail to do. She reaches out to the young and women, who – fundamentally – all have a say in a democracy. With the use of soft power she is trying to train and coach hopefuls on popular level. These people might one day run their country. It's a good idea but it takes decades of engagement. Who knows if her successor would keep the course.

    March 21, 2012 at 5:13 am | Reply
  6. Benedict

    Talking to the people has and will continue to be,the best way to base foreign policy. If all politicians around the world decide to act based on formed opinion, there would be less conflict between nations.

    March 21, 2012 at 5:44 am | Reply
  7. Vickie W

    Clinton's pivot to the people represents the kind of thoughtful, respectful leadership that leads to change. She is trying to empower change agents that lie within the country. This is the best kind of change that will never occur with the impatient mindset such as we saw with our actions in Iraq. I am still reeling from the "shock and awe" mentality that set out to democratize Iraq by bombing its infrastructure. The reasoning in that was severely flawed.

    March 21, 2012 at 7:35 am | Reply
    • Marine5484

      Who are we to say that democracy is the best form of government? Many, if not most, of these "democratically elected" leaders around the world turn out to be either incompetent, corrupt or both. This is the way that the right-wing thugs in Washington like it since many of these people can be bribed!

      March 21, 2012 at 9:50 am | Reply
  8. Chichi

    , take a look at what Zakaria actually said, Ms. MoreLies:1. This prargom, whatever it is, began early in the Bush administration.2. Zakaria clearly says "WERE this mosque being built in a foreign city, chances are that the U.S. government would be funding it."Now, think about that for more than a millisecond. On your own. (Go ahead, I'll wait until your brain cells finally get started.)Is "this mosque" being built in a foreign city? No. It's being built in NYC.So what does that mean about the U.S. government paying for it? Well, it probably means that the federal government is NOT paying for this mosque. Or, at the very least, there is no indication WHATSOEVER in the words used by Zakaria that there's any federal funding.So what does our local rightwingnut blogger Ms.MoreLies conclude?"We are funding mosques on American soil."There is NOTHING that would support that assertion whatsoever.It's a lie. And it's a blatantly stupid lie.But it's par for the course for Ms MoreLies.

    April 23, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Reply
  9. tueni

    The use of soft power she is trying to train and coach hopefuls on popular level thats great. These people might one day run their country and the world. It's a good idea but it takes decades of engagement like seriously decades in the mean time I will listen my music instead with my headphones

    November 27, 2014 at 10:45 am | Reply

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