White House Correspondent, the Guardian
Douglas Dillon Senior Fellow and Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations
Cofounder and Chief Executive Officer, Foreign Policy Interrupted
Partner, Brown Rudnick LLP
This event is part of the 2018 Conference on Diversity in International Affairs. Other videos from the conference and more information can be found here.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon. That was good. The sound level is dropping right at—that’s good timing.
Thank you all very much for joining us today here at the Council on Foreign Relations. I’m very pleased to be joined by really an incredible panel. But I think, most importantly, I think we’re pleased we’re going to have such a great audience and eagerly await all your questions, comments, and criticisms, perhaps, of the things we say.
So the topic today is twofold, really. It’s the image of the United States abroad in the Trump administration and a little bit of an assessment of the policy of the United States and the Trump administration one year in.
We have, as I say, a fantastic panel here. So to my immediate right—and, by the way, their bios are in your materials, so I’m just going to touch on the highlights, and I recommend you do take a look at their bios as well—is Rachel Vogelstein. She is the Dillon fellow—
VOGELSTEIN: Yes, indeed.
MODERATOR: —senior fellow at the Council, and also director of the Women’s Study Program; has written a number of books, including a book on children’s—child marriage, which I think is a very interesting topic. We might touch on that as well. She served in the Clinton administration, Obama administration; I think both, or just Clinton?
MODERATOR: Obama. OK.
VOGELSTEIN: Before Secretary Clinton, so hence the confusion.
MODERATOR: For secretary—hence the confusion. So—and we’re going to cover a lot of very interesting issues with her.
David Smith, Washington correspondent for The Guardian, just came from a press conference, so has some interesting—perhaps some interesting fresh news from what’s happening in Washington. David spent, I think, almost five or six years in South Africa as the correspondent for The Guardian, covering Africa out of Johannesburg. So that should be a very interesting background as well for this.
And then Elmira Bayrasli, who is an entrepreneur and co-founder of Foreign Policy Interrupted, and I think, you know, has some very interesting background to bring to the table here. She also has spent time in government; has written several books that we’ll talk about.
BAYRASLI: Just one.
MODERATOR: I thought you had more than one.
MODERATOR: Maybe you’ve got some hidden away.
BAYRASLI: It’s in the pipeline. (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: In the pipeline. Good. Good. So—and just briefly, my background is I’m a partner at a law firm here in Washington. My affiliation with the Council goes back quite a few years. I was the CIA fellow at the Council in 2001-2002. And before that I spent a fairly long career with the CIA as an intelligence officer.
So with that background, let’s start with one year into the Trump administration. It’s easily been one of the most interesting years both in the media and in foreign-policy questions. Typically, most presidents don’t spend a lot of time on foreign policy in their first term. It’s the second term where they start trying to come up with their legacies. And perhaps that’s what this president will do. Perhaps this president will do something or is doing something different than others.
What is your take—and let me start with Elmira and then work this way—in terms of the role of foreign policy in the Trump administration? And how much of a priority do you think it is and how much he’s putting on that issue?
BAYRASLI: I appreciate what you said. I mean, you know, obviously the president of the United States’ main focus is, you know, to the people of the United States. But unfortunately, the reality is, the United States being the global economic power and a military superpower on day one when you come into that office, you are already thinking about foreign policy even if that is not your top priority.
And I think over the past year what we have seen is, you know, the struggle, I think, not only of this particular president, but I think presidents prior to this, where they have struggled with that. You know, you want to focus on what’s happening within the country, but things are happening abroad. And there is a lot happening abroad, and that is just the reality, you know, in this globalized, 24-7, technically connected world that we’re in, where, you know, regardless of who is in that office, they do need to pay attention to the foreign policy.
Now, that being said, I think, whether it is this administration—I have the same criticism of the Obama administration—I think they have been operating foreign policy still in a 20th-century mindset, and they have not actually caught up with the realities of this globally technically advanced world that we’re in.
China is now a global economic power. It’s a technological power. India, Nigeria, Turkey, Mexico—I mean, countries that we previously would dismiss as being in the Third World have now come into the middle class, and they are producing entrepreneurs. And this is what I spent several years looking at is, you know, these people are actually solving their own problems and not looking to the United States for the answers.
And I think that, whether it’s Donald Trump or the administration prior to it, I think that—I think the United States in its foreign-policy apparatus really actually needs to really kind of look inward and say, you know, what—are we actually—do we have a foreign policy that is reflective of the world today? And my answer is no.
MODERATOR: That’s a very interesting line of thought. And if I may pick up on it, does that mean that we should not worry so much about what they think about us outside the United States; the middle class, say, in Turkey or in my former country, Argentina, that they’re focused on their own issues, and so what’s happening in the United States doesn’t resonate as much as it might have in the past?
BAYRASLI: Look, I think what happens—I think it does matter, and I think it does matter how the world sees the United States. And I think one of the greatest powers that we have always had is our soft power and this leadership that we have put forward, whether it is in terms of civil liberties or human rights. And focusing in on this, I think, has had a huge impact on the world.
And retreating from that, I think, is very dangerous. I think it is very troublesome, because it does send a signal that these things don’t matter. And the reality is, if you do not have the United States, which continues to be the global economic power leading on those particular issues, it is very problematic.
MODERATOR: David, you’re nodding. Care to add on that?
SMITH: (Laughs.) Well, as you said, I just came from a joint press conference at the White House with Donald Trump and Angela Merkel. And someone asked a question to Donald Trump, Mr. President, do you feel a sense of responsibility with North Korea and dealing with denuclearization? And he said, yes, I do. And, you know, if we can pull off this deal, it will be better for the region and for the world.
And I guess that was quite striking because it does sort of stand in such contrast to Trump’s election rhetoric and his inaugural address about America first, which, you know, a phrase which I think sort of sums up so much.
And indeed, North Korea apart and a couple of airstrikes in Syria apart, for the most part it has been America first. And I think the most striking example is just the decay and degradation of the State Department under the Trump administration, where, by most accounts, Rex Tillerson was a fairly disastrous secretary of state and many jobs went unfilled and many articles were written about tumbleweed blowing through the State Department and just such little activity there, and really, you know, a signal retreat of the U.S. leadership in the world, creating a vacuum.
I remember at one point Senator John McCain having to go to a conference—I think it was at NATO—and making this almost sort of desperate plea, you know, don’t give up on us, America still leads, because alarm bells were ringing about what Trump meant for the world.
As you also mentioned, I was the Africa correspondent based in South Africa for six years. That’s just one example of an ambassador position that, to this day, remains unfilled and not taken especially seriously. I think they are now finally filling South Korea, but that was a guy who was meant to go to Australia. So, you know, that’s all somewhat disturbing.
And I think overall, and just on the Africa theme—and, by the way, finally Buhari of Nigeria is coming next week to visit Trump—but I had a brief meeting with Sean Spicer when he was press secretary and I said, oh, you know, just to try and distinguish myself from all the other journalists, to say, oh, yeah, I was in Africa all these years, does the president have any plans to visit Africa? And Sean Spicer kind of looked at me like I was crazy, like, you know—(laughter)—as if such a thing would be so bizarre.
And then, of course, with Latin America as well, we saw Trump cancel his plans to go to the Summit of the Americas, ostensibly because of Syria, some would say also because of a personal scandal. So there’s already two entire continents who are getting very scant attention, and then other parts of the world as well.
So, yeah, I think the overall picture is American retreat. As Macron very eloquently warned Congress that could have serious implications for the liberal world order. And I think what’s telling, particularly in Africa, but other parts of the world, is that China potentially presents an ideological alternative of, you know, central command economy, of sort of more authoritarian states. And you’re sort of seeing that in various places. It’s a bad moment for America to retreat when China seems to provide that sort of—what seems to be an easy answer in some ways, certainly sort of, you know, a quicker way to economic growth and so on; so, yeah, a disturbing picture.
MODERATOR: And yet, if we look back maybe a couple of presidents, we do tend to go from having the outside world sometimes critical of our being too involved, right—second Bush presidency being probably the one that most people would think of. At some point then maybe the pendulum swings the other way. On some issues, like Africa, most presidents make at most one visit to the African continent. It’s not their most favorite location for many reasons, but it’s unfortunate.
Rachel, taken in that context, when we look at these—the first year of Trump and a longer time span, how much of an anomaly is it, not in the symbolism or the tone, but what they’re actually doing and the goals that they set for themselves?
VOGELSTEIN: Well, at the Council, I look in particular at global women’s issues. And in the Women in Foreign Policy Program, which is what I lead, we analyze how elevating the status of women and girls advances U.S. foreign-policy objectives, which is a priority that we’ve actually seen rising over the last several consecutive presidential administrations.
So when I think about the Trump administration one year in, certainly I agree with a lot of what my colleagues have said with respect to the retreat that they described. And there certainly is that bad-news story on global women’s issues; some of the most obvious examples, certainly women’s health, where we have seen troubling representation at the United Nations, at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, most recently at the Commission on Population and Development, where there’s been a retreat from the commitment to women’s health around the world; the dramatic expansion of the Mexico City policy, which previously was limited to one particular part of the global health budget at about $500 million or so, which has now been expanded to the entire $9 billion global-health budget line item, which is a dramatic expansion that I think we will see will have tremendous implications for women’s health globally.
Girls education, we’ve seen the termination of the Let Girls Learn program, which was focused on the critical priority of closing the gender gap in secondary education, which has long been a development priority that has the potential to not only improve the lives of girls and women, but actually to improve child health and to grow economies. Those are just a few that I could rattle off, and I certainly could go on.
But I also think that there is a quieter good-news story to tell, too, that tends not to get the headlines. And while I don’t think this cancels out what I just described, and certainly there’s also the symbolic message that is sent by the personal rhetoric and conduct of the current occupant of the Oval Office, which was referenced earlier as well, there actually have been some policies that are moving the right direction when it comes to global women’s issues. And I’ll give a few examples in the category of continuity and then in the category of progress.
With respect to continuity, we have seen since the Clinton administration that the United States national-security strategy has included important language on gender equality as critical to U.S. security interests. That’s been several administrations in a row. And we just saw the promulgation of a new national-security strategy under the Trump administration which includes language, while not as comprehensive as perhaps in some other national-security strategies, nevertheless continues to identify gender equality around the world as critical to U.S. stability and security. That’s important continuity, and it certainly could have gone the other way.
There are also some areas where we have seen progress; a priority of women’s involvement in peace and security processes, which is something where we have seen really a growing body of evidence suggesting that it makes a difference to have women at the peace table. For example, peace agreements are more likely to be forged in the first instance when women are there and more likely to last at least 15 years, which is a really important research finding, particularly in an era of recidivism in conflict.
That issue was a priority of the last administration, which promulgated the first ever U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security and was implemented by executive order of the president. Amazingly enough, last year Congress, which at the time was struggling to keep its own lights on, managed to pass legislation, the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017, which President Trump signed into law. And again, that certainly could have gone the other way. That was clearly a priority of the prior administration.
And we are now seeing the National Security staff pull together an interagency process to promulgate an implementation plan that will involve critically not only the Department of State and USAID, but also the Pentagon, the Department of Defense. So that’s quiet. It’s incremental. But I think it’s significant that that continues to be a priority that is moving forward at a moment like this.
Another example I would point to is women’s economic participation. We saw at the G-20 last year the United States join with the World Bank and with the Canadians, the Germans, the Saudis, UAE, others, to come together and support the imperative of expanding access to capital for small and medium-size businesses run by women around the world.
Again, that was a priority of the prior administration, which had launched an initiative through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, OPIC, that was structured really in almost exactly the same way. And what this does is expand that idea to leverage a billion dollars in funding to advance women’s economic participation around the world.
You know, I would certainly argue that the United States could be doing a lot more, having contributed only $50 million to this initiative, which I think doesn’t even rise to the level of the proverbial drop in the bucket. Nevertheless, the fact that the United States championed this at the G-20, I think, suggests that this is a priority that is not going away any time soon.
MODERATOR: Very good.
Elmira, Foreign Policy Interrupted—as I understand, it gives you the platform to engage with a lot of entrepreneurs. And now you yourself are doing the same thing. As you look at this—you speak with entrepreneurs around the world—what’s their perspective on the United States? What’s their image of the United States?
And in this context especially, picking up on Rachel’s point, it’s also been a very interesting year—and I’m really, really downplaying the significance here—of the issue of women in all kinds of institutions and a lot of things happening that have been long overdue. #MeToo is becoming a global phenomenon.
How much of that are you seeing with the people you’re speaking to? And maybe you could talk a little bit about your work with Foreign Policy Interrupted too.
BAYRASLI: Sure. I mean, I think one thing that I want to add to Rachel’s is, you know, there is continuity and there is progress, but I think that there has been a great step backwards in this administration in terms of diversity in policymaking at all levels, and I think particularly in foreign policy. I mean, there are virtually no women and no minorities represented in senior positions. And I think that that is very troublesome.
Last week I was actually in Istanbul, where the Global Entrepreneurship Congress took place. And you had 170 countries. There were 7,000 people that came. And I—you know, I was in a room with entrepreneurs from Congo and Mozambique and South Africa, in addition to Jordan, Japan, China, Taiwan, Argentina, Mexico. And it was actually—it was the first time—and I’m a frequent visitor to Turkey; my parents are immigrants from Turkey, so I’m a frequent visitor there.
And I have to say, on recent visits it’s actually been—it’s been depressing to go there. You know, just from a political point of view, there’s been a lot of setbacks in Turkey. And this time I came back and I was very invigorated and I was inspired, and I kind of felt like this was such a—it was—I was in a little bubble and it was such a delusion.
Number one, there was very little talk about politics, which is probably why I felt so inspired. (Laughter.) You know, I felt so happy. People weren’t talking—they weren’t talking about politics. And that’s the thing about entrepreneurs. They were very much focused in on the work that they’re doing.
But I also have to say that—you know, and that’s very true of the entrepreneurs here in the United States. And the one thing that strikes me is when I go out to Silicon Valley, I’m always surprised at how entrepreneurs there don’t know what’s going on in the world. They don’t know what’s going on in Russia and they don’t know what’s going on in Turkey and they—you know, and they—you know, and this to me, I just have to say, is surprising, because when I do—when I was writing my book, and I went to Nigeria and I went to India, and certainly when I’m in Turkey, the entrepreneurs know what’s happening around the world. They know about world events because their businesses actually depend on it.
And I actually think one of the things—you know, the Trump administration came to power, and just in talking to a lot of these entrepreneurs, it was interesting not so much about how they view the United States but about how they view themselves. And I think, as the world has been changing, one of the things that you have actually seen is a rise in confidence in the people in India, in China. Certainly I see it in Mexico, Brazil, and I’ve seen it in Turkey, where people think, oh, you know, we can actually build these technological products and we can build these businesses and we can solve our own problems and we can attract the capital.
And so, interestingly enough, you know, we have this—we’re looking at a world where you’re seeing the rise of authoritarians and you’re seeing the rise of strongmen. But I would posit, you know, maybe we should take a step back and say, you know, that’s maybe a result not so much of a world stepping back but a world actually moving forward and people feeling much more empowered about who they are and thinking, you know, I can actually stand up and I can compete with the likes of the United States and I don’t have to be bossed around by Washington, D.C. or the United Nations or the World Bank.
And so there’s this confidence that I see in entrepreneurs. I certainly saw it in China. You know, there’s a vibrancy in Beijing that is really very infectious. And you’re starting to actually see that, and people are embracing their own national identity and their national culture.
I’m not necessarily saying that that’s a great thing, but it is certainly in forms. And I think, at least for me, the one interesting thing that I have seen in the conversations that I had last week is that entrepreneurs saying that, well, Americans are—they’re people too. You know, we have our faults. And I actually think that, in many ways, it’s a good thing that we’re not so perfect and that, you know, people see that we have our own demons that we actually have to deal with and grapple with here.
But I also have to say, especially with the Turks, the one thing that is striking is, inasmuch as—you know, whether you do support or, you know, criticize the current president, the one thing that I always—the comment I get is about how surprised people are that the system in the United States really works, that there is a system of rule of law; that despite the fact that Trump comes up and he puts—you know, he implements a Muslim ban and he does these things, that the courts actually push back on him and he can’t just do what he wants. And, you know, certainly the entrepreneurs that I talk with in Turkey, you know, that simply just does not happen there.
MODERATOR: David, on the overall point of how other countries are dealing with globalization, I thought it was very interesting this week during Macron’s visit that, to some extent, it seems Macron has taken up the cause of globalization for many, which is somewhat incongruous, considering that France for a very long time has been on the other side of that debate.
What do you make of that and the relationship particularly that seems to be a pretty good one between Trump and Macron, at least as a result of the White House—the White House sessions?
SMITH: I just have a very quick point on something you said earlier about, you know, sometimes people welcome U.S. intervention in the world and sometimes they—
SMITH: shrink from it. Just to say I think, both domestically and internationally, I mean, that often feels like one you can’t win. And everybody wants the U.S. to join the First World War and the Second World War. Vietnam, however, sort of terrible mistake, and more as you hear the pendulum swinging back and forth. You know, intervene in Somalia; don’t intervene in Rwanda; do intervene in Yugoslavia. And then, of course, you know, more recently, the Iraq War has scarred an entire generation and made intervention in Syria so much more difficult. So you’re often sort of damned if you do, damned if you don’t, I think, in international eyes.
Yeah, I mean, I think Macron is becoming, you know, the unofficial leader of Europe, I suppose, and certainly Europe’s unofficial envoy to the White House, partly because Trump sees him as a strongman of sorts in that he’s in that sort of Napoleonic mold, and, despite some shaky opinion polls domestically, stronger than the likes of Teresa May and Angela Merkel.
One might also suspect that with Trump there’s an agenda dimension to that as well; and, yeah, I mean, this week an incredibly sort of lavish state visit and all that sort of extraordinary body language—(laughter)—the not just handshakes but hand-holding—(laughter)—the kisses, which, you know, by the way, I mean—
MODERATOR: This is PG-rated, OK, so—(laughter)—
SMITH: (Laughs.) Well, and even, you know, perhaps sadly, a stark contrast with Donald Trump and Melania Trump. (Laughter.) But we won’t go into that. But that was patent; and then, obviously, today also a contrast with Angela Merkel, where at least she got a couple of handshakes today, but again, the body language was frostier.
You know, I was talking to a foreign diplomat this week about this issue of why someone like Macron, sort of one of Donald Trump’s favorite foreign leaders—I think sort of Shinzo Abe of Japan, as well as obviously—play the role of trying to be the sort of Trump whisperer. And, you know, in Abe’s case, perhaps a lot of golf has been a factor. With Macron, clearly he impressed Trump with a big military parade in Paris, and now Trump wants one here.
This diplomat said, you know, the American president wants to be liked. Trump wants to be liked. And, you know, he wants somebody who will, you know, latch on to the same things that he does in a conversation; you know, clearly sort of flattery goes a long way. But, yeah, what’s interesting is the extent to which, perhaps more than any other American president, certainly modern times, Trump does see foreign relations through the prism of personal relationships, and—which, if you get on with him well, that will win you sort of diplomatic points and affect policy.
With Japan, I mean, there’s an interesting debate there, because, you know, some would argue actually for all the dinners at Mar-a-Lago and the state dinner in Tokyo, actually Abe’s got very little so far on trade, on North Korea, and so on. A report at the Axios website put the opposite point of view, that actually without all of that Trump would have been far harsher on trade and other things. So, I mean, you know, hard to say.
What’s interesting with Macron is that we will, as best as we can, actually have a scientific way of measuring this; like, you know, was the huge charm offensive actually worth it all? And, by the way, I think, you know, he did get hammered in the French press for just being too sycophantic. And, you know, critics would say to these world leaders, you know, where is your dignity? You know, sort of—if you’re a never-Trumper.
Our scientific test will be the Iran nuclear deal. If Trump walks away, some would argue, look, all this was for nothing, and Macron sort of spent a lot of political capital there. Perhaps he’ll win some concessions on that.
But I thought the other interesting thing about Macron was, you know, he, as I’ve already remarked, sort of literally embraced Trump the man, but a day later in Congress, you know, skewered Trumpism as an ideology and said a whole set of different things, which I suspect, you know, are far more true to what he really thinks. And just that 24-hour—24-hour period expressed the tightrope many of these world leaders are walking.
But I guess, like any politician in an election campaign, they tailor their messages to certain audiences. So, you know, one set of people can select—cherry-pick things they like; others can cherry-pick things they like. And Macron, I thought, did all that sort of very skillfully, and the whole thing was a sort of master class in how to play Trump.
MODERATOR: So this is where we get into, I think, the most fun part of this, and that’s where you get to ask questions. So just a reminder: We are on the record. And I would like you to please, if you would, stand up and identify yourself. And then if you would ask a question, that would be very helpful.
So who’s first? The gentleman here. And if you would like to direct a question at anyone in particular, please do so. Otherwise I will take the prerogative.
Q: I’m Gene Spearns (sp).
This is a general question. Is there a JC—is there a possibility of a JCPOA without the U.S.? I’m not sure on all the signatories. But is it possible that a current version of this could exist without U.S. signing, because if Trump does tear it up, does Europe and all the other signatories, do they try to recreate the current one and then build on that, or is this really going to—if he tears it up, is that really going back to square one?
MODERATOR: Very good. And just—so JCPOA, we’re talking Iran. We’re talking about the deal, the deal of all deals. So shall I—who’s—David, do you want to jump on that one first? And then Elmira and Rachel, if you want to make a comment.
SMITH: You know, I’ll speak briefly. But I have a feeling probably everyone else on this panel is more of an expert on the—(inaudible).
My understanding would be that sort of, yeah, technically it could exist without the U.S., but in practice it would be sort of virtually meaningless, the U.S. being such a big player. And, you know, we heard Macron talk about a new deal which was incorporating his view and building on it. Today Merkel described it as a sort of—part of a mosaic, a building block for something bigger. But I sort of think and assume that with Mike Pompeo very negative on the deal and others, you know, that if the U.S. walked away, then it’s an alarming step towards, you know, military confrontation that Europe couldn’t do much about.
MODERATOR: Rachel, any—you want to jump on that?
VOGELSTEIN: I think that’s exactly right, and, you know, would just observe that we are seeing such kind of radical swings with respect to not only this, but everything from, you know, Paris to TPP to, you know, take your pick; that it’s also hard to know exactly how to project what will happen.
BAYRASLI: The only thing I would add is I think the JCPOA will exist whether the United States pulls out or not. And I think that this would also actually be an opportunity for Iran to actually stick with the agreement and to actually show the Trump administration that it was wrong. And I actually think that if the Europeans can work with the Iranians on this, I actually think it would be a big blow to Washington.
MODERATOR: The lady back there. Yeah.
Q: I’m Madison (sp) from George Washington University.
And my question is for all of you and is kind of a two-parter, if that’s all right.
Q: Thank you.
OK. So the first part is you all talked about diversity and how important that is. So my first part of the question is, how do you define diversity? Is it just immutable characteristics that have no bearing on a person’s skills and competence, like race, gender and religion? Or does it also include things like diversity of thought and diversity of approaches to a problem or situation?
And then my second part is what risks are there if we focus on increasing diversity in agencies and departments over increasing the overall skills and competence of agencies and departments, regardless of a person’s race, gender, religion, and other such characteristics?
MODERATOR: Thank you. And if I may, I’d just touch on this very quickly. As I mentioned when I started, I came out of the CIA. And very early on we identified, particularly in what we call the HUMINT world, so the human intelligence—that’s the spies we recruit—that having diversity across a number of different definitions of that was very important, because you’re not going out there to recruit on the streets of Washington, D.C. You’re going out there to recruit in lots of places and deal with those challenges as they come. So you need to have a team that has lots of different types of people and ways of thinking. But I think that’s a great question.
Rachel, can I look to you to start off that discussion?
VOGELSTEIN: Absolutely, yes.
I tend to look at this as a both-and proposition rather than an either-or. So when you think about, on the one hand, your description of diverse characteristics and, on the other hand, skills and qualifications, I would submit it’s not an either-or at all. And, in fact, this gets back to—(scattered applause)—what I am currently writing about with respect to increasing the representation of women in peacekeeping, given the really solid evidence that we have that when you have women represented as peacekeepers, you actually have better outcomes.
One of the sections of this report that I’m writing is called Whither the Women, the idea—this kind of myth that we just can’t find the qualified women and that we have to make some kind of inherent tradeoff between quality and representation.
And, you know, this gets back to the age-old binders-full-of-women question. I mean, I think the bottom line is we just have too much evidence at this point that there are a range of factors that are keeping qualified women—and I would submit that this goes to the other characteristics you mentioned as well—from being represented. And we know that outcomes are worse when we fail to have that diverse representation.
You know, peacekeeping is what I’m writing about right now. And, interestingly, despite the whither-the-women question that we hear, it turns out that there’s really solid evidence that women are being trained but they’re not being deployed as peacekeepers. So we actually have trained, qualified women who are willing to serve, because there’s often a question of, you know, do women really want to do this? Do they want to be deployed away from their families? It turns out the answer is yes. They are qualified. They are ready. And they’re not being given the opportunity. And that gets into a whole set of questions about why that is.
I think, you know, what we are learning with respect to the evidence of unconscious biases that exist kind of across a range of industries really suggests that there’s a reason to look at this less as a tradeoff and more as an opportunity to improve the bottom line.
SMITH: Can I just say—
SMITH: —just very quickly, yeah, I agree with all that. I think study after study shows that both countries and businesses are more successful when women are in important positions, and indeed, the top level is very diverse.
And just very briefly, two things I—two quick points. I’ve had interesting—just looking at Barack Obama as a man and as a politician, there was quite a lot of diversity in one person there in terms of—you know, I think his mother is an anthropologist and he grew up in all sorts of interesting places—Hawaii, Indonesia. He was mixed-race.
I think you saw a lot of that particularly when he was traveling the world. But just the expression as a politician, he had an ability to see the world through other people’s eyes and step in other people’s shoes, and there was a sort of sensitivity and a cultural understanding of the world there (because of ?) his own upbringing and his own cultural background.
And just briefly on my profession, the news media, speaking of different types of diversity, along with gender and race and so on, I think geography and class are incredibly important. And one could make an argument that many journalists, many media organizations, underplay the Trump phenomenon because—for all sorts of reasons these days.
This is true in Britain as well with the dominance of London, but in the U.S., the dominance of the coasts. A lot of journalists are drawn from Washington, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and therefore were sort of out of touch with things that are going on across other parts of the country.
And I wouldn’t overplay that, because The New York Times, The Washington Post, and others, and we at The Guardian, actually, you know, did do a lot of stories about that, you know, working-class Pennsylvania and places where Trump was strong. But even so, I witnessed in the U.K. as well there was a danger of journalists being drawn from specific classes and geographical areas.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
I think there was a question over here.
Q: Hi. Genevieve Boutilier from the Peace and Security Funders Group.
My question is for Rachel. You spoke earlier about the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017. I’m curious as to what—or what you think implementation and oversight might look like, given the state of the State Department and USAID. From what myself and my colleagues have been hearing, there also isn’t a ton of staff at the Pentagon who’s dedicated to this. So I’m just curious what your sort of insight and intel is as regards to implementation and oversight.
VOGELSTEIN: A great question. We actually just recently had Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who was lead sponsor of the Women, Peace, and Security Act on the Senate side—on the House side, Republican Chairman Royce was really the leader there—and had a conversation exactly about this question. Now that we have this law, what does implementation mean and what does it look like?
At the session, we actually had kind of the senior-most-ranking person from the Department of Defense here, I think kind of belying the notion that there aren’t folks working on this. In fact, there are. And there are also examples of where, even looking backwards at the implementation of the National Action Plan and the executive order, that there are a number of ways in which we’re starting to see reform.
Now, I don’t want to overstate the progress. You know, I’m teaching a class at Georgetown Law School right now, and I have a student who has been in the military for many years. And the first time she heard of the National Action Plan was in class. So that’s troubling. And that was certainly true for many of her peers as well.
But what we heard in the session from the Department of Defense is what they really need. They need funding. And, you know, I would argue that they also need to elevate the seniority of the people who are charged with implementing this agenda. One of the recommendations that my colleague, Jamille Bigio, and I have made in a report that we’ve written about this issue is that there ought to be someone appointed to oversee this agenda who can kind of cross the various different silos at the department.
And I would argue, just given what we’ve seen with respect to implementation of the National Action Plan that predated the Women, Peace, and Security Act, that we need almost more attention at the Department of Defense, understanding the difficult situation that exists right now at the State Department.
For example, we saw a lot more activity at State and at USAID than we did at DOD. And really, because of the budget and because of the influence, DOD is really, I think, the place where there’s a great opportunity.
One of the recommendations that Jamille, my colleague, and I included in the most recent report that we wrote about this was to actually require a threshold, a 30 percent threshold, for any training that the Department of Defense supports. And so that would help build the pipeline of women around the world who are participating in the security sector.
You know, I know there’s often an aversion to quotas. Here in this country, interestingly enough, through our foreign policy, we’re very happy to export quotas and support them around the world; much less receptive here in the United States. But, nevertheless, I think there’s an opportunity to create some type of a target, if not a quota. And that should have an effect as well. So I would say resources, leadership, and then really concrete targets, along the lines of what I described.
MODERATOR: Let me—a question that picks up on that. You spent a lot of time in Bosnia during the aftermath of that war. I was there when the peacekeepers were then in full-blown mode. There were very few women certainly in the peacekeeping side. There were more on the OSCE side and the U.N. side.
Has that situation, do you think, improved much in terms of the field and the international organizations and the work that they’re doing, that women are having more traction in being able to get the operational work that is the most important in those areas?
BAYRASLI: Well, I mean, thankfully, I actually—I went back to Sarajevo this past October, and I did actually go to the OSCE and to the OHR, the Office of the High Representative. And thankfully, most of the work is actually being done by Bosnians themselves.
There is still a very big problem in terms of women at senior levels. And here is, I think, where my work at Foreign Policy Interrupted comes in. It’s not just putting the women in the senior levels. I think there needs to be a whole systematic change. And what I’m particularly focused in on is, where are the female expertise on the op-ed page or when you turn on CNN or MSNBC at night? You know, where are—where are the national-security, foreign-policy pundits there?
And I’m actually getting ready to release data that we’ve done. And in 1996, when the war ended in Bosnia, the percentage of—when you’re taking a look at The New York Times, the percentage was, I think—don’t quote me on this, because I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I think it was about 8 percent women, and the remainder men.
And then, in increments, when you take a look at 2006, that number goes up about 8 percent. And then in 2006 it goes up another 8 percent. But we’re at about 20 percent right now in terms of women writing about national security and foreign policy, versus 80 percent men. And that is very, very problematic, because if we are talking about—and just to address the question of diversity, groupthink is very dangerous.
And I think that this is the problem when you have a—you know, whether it’s a group of white men or just a single group of anything, no good will come of that. And diversity of thought is actually essential. But that comes from having diverse people there, whether it is geographic or whether it is socioeconomic. But I think this is where race and gender also come in, because we have different experiences.
And I can tell you that my experience as the daughter of a mechanic—you know, my father was a refugee in this country, you know, to prove the point that, you know, not all refugees are awful human beings. You know, refugee in this country—you know, my experience is so different. And I actually bring so much more to the table, I think, in a different perspective than a lot of—I mean, I think just on this panel right now, and I think, you know, just the way that I look at the world is so profoundly different. I think that this is what is so important.
And so while I think it is important to have the quotas, and I am a proponent of that, and to look at women in senior positions, but we also have to—we also have to listen to the women who are not in the senior positions and listening to them and asking them what their input is, because the reality is they’re the ones doing all the work. (Scattered applause.)
MODERATOR: Very well said. Very well said.
Let’s see—on this side of the room. Anybody on this side? Oh, there we go. OK, I thought I saw one. Yeah. We’re also diverse on the sides of the room here too, so—(laughter)—just to makes sure.
Q: Hello. Thank you so much for your insightful perspective. My name is Fatima Jalloh, and I am from Eastern Europe. I grew up and was raised in Moldova.
So this was very interesting panel because you’ve touched on whether or not the United States should worry about its image in the world. And I can say, from my perspective as being an immigrant woman, minority in Moldova and here, that U.S. has established itself as a leader in so many, so many ways around the world. So I think it’s almost like there shouldn’t be a question whether or not it should worry about its image in the world, because it already has a reputation. It has an image. And for me growing up, I always wanted to live in the United States because, you know, there’s diversity there. People are treated equally and, you know, all of that.
And unfortunately, with the Trump administration, this has been advantageous for some key powerful members of Eastern Europe, like Putin’s administration, right. But unfortunately for people like minorities and developing countries, it’s been very saddening.
So my question is, how will America untarnish its image? Or, you know, how will it make it so that it can be regarded as a leader again and as a leader in all the right ways?
MODERATOR: Very good. And let me add a postscript to that question. So if we’re talking about the key issue here, Putin and Russia, I’d be also curious to hear from the panel about does Mr. Putin think that he got what he wanted from this election? Because there are lots of things he’s getting now that he didn’t want, like most of his—many of his buddies are getting all their bank accounts frozen and the like.
But maybe start with you. And want to tackle the issue of how the U.S. can come back?
VOGELSTEIN: Well, I mean—and this is related to Putin, because when I—I went to Russia for my book, and I have to say, the one thing that I was so surprised at is the tech talent in Russia, I think, is—I mean, at the time that I went—I think I was there in 2013—if it had not been for Putin, I think that—I think Moscow could rival Silicon Valley as being a technological center for innovation. I mean, just the ideas that I saw, the entrepreneurs and the kids, you know, pitching, were far superior than I had in any other country that I had been to.
And to answer the question, how do you improve America’s image, you know, I don’t necessarily think it’s up to one person occupying one house. You know, where is Silicon Valley on this? You know, they have a responsibility here. I mean, Mark Zuckerberg goes out into Congress. And I was actually shocked at how the senators did not push him on this issue. And it was all about privacy. But the reality is, Facebook has more constituents abroad than it does here in the United States. And so who is Facebook accountable to, and what are the values and principles that Facebook is going to stand on and push forward?
You know, we’ve seen the bad behavior of the tech bros in Uber and in Silicon Valley itself. And I think that they have a responsibility. If they are actually going to be the billionaires and have the unicorns and lead this nation’s economy, well, then, they also have a responsibility to care about the values and the principles that they put forward.
SMITH: A couple of answers. One is, you know, this too shall pass, that Donald Trump may be voted out in 2020. And when you step back and look at the big picture, George W. Bush was extremely unpopular in Europe and other places. Barack Obama was phenomenally popular. Trump now is on a downswing again, but he’s going back and forth. And towards the end of the administration, Obama said, you know, countries are not speedboats. They’re more like sort of big ocean cruise liners.
And one could make the case that for any president it’s hard to turn that around in four or eight years. Maybe you can shift it in a few degrees one way, maybe another. But I think for many in the popular imagination, America is a lot more than just a president. It’s soft power. It’s culture in particular—Hollywood movies, music, (cooperation in ?) space, the thousand and one other things that are going on on a daily level involving NGOs and just American citizens around the world. Many people can make a distinction between that and Trump.
But I think another point to make, which we sort of touched on the other day, is that, you know, on his book tour at the moment, James Comey is repeatedly using the metaphor of a forest fire and making the case that, you know, the Trump administration represents a forest fire. It’s very damaging. It’s very destructive in other ways. But a forest fire also allows new things to grow that wouldn’t have grown otherwise.
One example of that might be the #MeToo movement, which arguably might have happened anyway, but perhaps it’s got an extra boost from what Trump is about and the pushback against that; the students at Parkland School in Florida; the Women’s March; the phenomenal level of activism that has taken off as a response to Trump literally since day one.
And I also think part of that is an incredibly vibrant media culture here, some terrific investigative journalism that’s going on every day to try and Trump hold to account—hold Trump to account, and indeed, you know, a tremendous sort of flourishing culture of satire—(laughter)—comedians having an absolute field day with the Trump administration. You know, it famously saved Stephen Colbert’s career in the David Letterman’s slot late at night; Trevor Noah on The Daily Show. This morning I saw Jordan Klepper speaking at The Washington Post; many, many others.
On one level, that seems trivial. On another, it’s incredibly important. It’s about the way a society analyzes itself and self-critiques. And it’s a reminder of, you know, some of the greatness of America that there are many other countries and societies where, you know, that would not be possible. And the moment a satirist sort of mocks the president, they’d be sort of thrown in jail. But for the world to be able to see that so far, at least, journalists and comedians can go about their business and not be imprisoned, you know, is a very powerful message.
MODERATOR: I have to say it’s very comforting and encouraging to hear an optimist in the press corps. (Laughter.) It’s not usually the case, so.
VOGELSTEIN: Fair enough.
SMITH: Well, just in—just in microcosm, in South Africa something similar happened, where there is also a country that very wisely is extremely self-critical, constantly self-analyzing, constantly in a perpetual state of crisis of, oh, dear, things are about to fall apart. But again, I should have mentioned in the case of America, and South Africa too, the judiciary pushing back against the president; South Africa also a tremendously vibrant free press; also its share of comedians.
So I—you know, it rhymes. I see echoes there in both cases, just the strength of civil society keeping a leader in check.
BAYRASLI: I think that’s right. And, you know, one way to look at the U.S. image abroad and U.S. influence abroad is certainly to think about the reception by the rest of the world to whoever the occupant of the Oval Office happens to be. But I think, as my colleagues have pointed out, the U.S. image abroad and its influence is bigger than that, and no more powerful testament than the global rise in women’s activism that has been catalyzed in part by what we see going on right here.
You know, the Women’s March in 2017 was significant, not just because of the millions marching here but because of the hundreds of thousands marching all—in countries, you know, cities, countries, every continent in the world. That is incredibly significant, perhaps the most significant global moment of the international women’s movement that we’ve seen since the 1995 U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, where, as we recall, 189 nations came together for the first time to declare with one voice that women’s rights are human rights.
You know, it’s been dormant in a lot of ways since then and inward-facing. And now we see this proliferation of activism. There’s a new product that Google just put together to help visualize the influence that the #MeToo movement, which, you know, was started by a civil-society activist here, Tarana Burke, which has now been projected in, you know, almost 90 countries around the world. And we’re seeing significant effects already. So, you know, I think that also says a lot about not only the U.S. image abroad but U.S. influence.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
I think we can squeeze one more question in, so maybe the gentleman here up in the front.
Q: Hi. Thanks very much. My name is Juan.
I have a question about—just to piggyback on this topic of the U.S.’s image abroad and, I guess, the permanence of the impact of the current administration. I remember—I’ve been living abroad for work for these last few years, and I just came back to the U.S. And I remember having a conversation kind of—I was complaining about Russia’s meddling in our elections. And the person I was speaking with said, well—basically, he suggested you shouldn’t be complaining because the U.S. has meddled in elections itself.
And so there are, I think, some aspects of the U.S. image that maybe they’re larger than one administration, but there are other things that sometimes stick. And I remember I was in Tunisia for work during—right after the 2016 election. And, like, the—I would meet with entrepreneurs while I was abroad. And before the election, there was this sense of respect for the U.S., kind of like what you were saying before; this awe that, you know, this country went through slavery but then was able to elect a black president, and then the transition after the election. There were differing degrees of reactions. But it was very different. And there was bemusement and a little bit of concern.
So, that being said, are there things about this administration and its impact on the U.S. image that might eventually stick? You’re seeing that it’s bigger than one administration. But are you concerned about some things that might eventually end up sticking?
MODERATOR: In 10 seconds or less—(laughter)—because you know the Council’s rule on ending on time, so—
VOGELSTEIN: I don’t. I mean, I think—I agree with David. I think—you know, I think America is larger than one man in the White House.
MODERATOR: Well said.
SMITH: I worry about the term fake news sticking, because it’s amazing how you see other world leaders saying that. But in general, no, I think 10, 20 years from now we’ll get past this.
BAYRASLI: I’m similarly an optimist. But I will say it’s too early to tell. I mean, this is one example. What comes after this is really the test.
MODERATOR: Please join me in thanking this amazing panel. (Applause.)