Commentary Magazine


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Secretary of State Anne-Marie Slaughter?

Will she be Hillary Clinton’s Secretary of State, or Barack Obama’s? Or will she merely be a UN ambassador?

Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, has been visiting Australia, and from there she has penned some reflections on the world as it seen from Sydney. Or at least how it is seen from Sydney through the eyes of a dewy-eyed, Left-liberal American academic.

Slaughter’s first point is that Americans and Australians see the world very differently. Over the past week, for example, the big issue in the U.S. has been the prospect or non-prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. The obsession with nuclear proliferation is part of a larger distorted framework.

Americans like President Bush and “arch neo-conservative Norman Podhoretz” see the world “as engaged in an epic struggle that pits tyranny against freedom, tyranny that today takes the primary form of Islamo-fascism. Islamo-fascists are the heirs to Nazis and communists, determined to suppress individual freedom in the name of a totalitarian ideology.”

But this is horribly simple minded. Down in Australia the big issue is “combating climate change.” The term Islamo-fascism “was never uttered in the recent Australian election.” Australians are for more sophisticated than to see the world in terms of black and white; instead, they “see the world as full of various threats as well as many opportunities.”

But the good news, writes Slaughter, is that not all Americans are as blinkered as Bush and Podhoretz. Thus, “the  Democratic candidates running for US president in 2008 largely take the Australian side in this debate.” Hillary Clinton, for one, sees not only threats from states and non-state actors but also from “nature itself,” while Barack Obama acknowledges “the variety and interconnectedness of many different threats facing people across the world.”

The bad news is that on the whole the American electorate is benighted:

It is far easier to explain to voters that “the enemy” is one movement, one ideology that “hates us for what we are and what we value,” a vast terrorist network that has declared war on the US and attacked us repeatedly, than to spend ten minutes cataloguing the complexities of an interdependent world and listing dangers from nuclear proliferation to climate change. Moving from clarity to complexity is rarely a vote-getter.

It is unfortunate that Americans are so much dumber than Australians and fail to see the “interconnectedness” of everything. And it is also unfortunate, goes the corollary, that so many of them stand in the way of a high government position for a Princeton dean.