Last week, Sam Abrams attended the annual conference of the D.C.-based Center for a New American Security. “Shaping the Agenda: American Security in the 21st Century” featured guests discussing “the most salient national security challenges America faces.”
Let’s a look at the third panel first, since it featured Director of Policy Planning Anne-Marie Slaughter’s eyebrow-raising statement in response to a question about traditional democratic allies. “We don’t think about them strategically,” Slaughter said. This made former Bush deputy national security adviser and co-panelist Elliot Abrams’ head nearly explode.
Though Slaughter qualified her statement, saying that the United States would always have strong relations with, and work through, its traditional allies, the implication was clear. The current administration does not really think it needs to consider allies’ means or commitment to American interest. These things, Slaughter seemed to be saying, would always be there. It was more important to focus on adversaries and to develop relations with rising powers.
Slaughter’s case for engagement left Abrams (no relation) unconvinced. He argued that engagement has not gotten us anywhere with Iran or North Korea, and has only allowed China and Russia to weaken sanctions. In a back and forth vaguely reminiscent of Celebrity Death Match, Slaughter countered that engagement deprives adversaries of the ability to demonize the United States as an aggressor, thus avoiding strengthening hardliners in places like Iran. Engagement helps maintain alliances, Slaughter said, and that reduces misperceptions. These benefits, she added, will not become apparent for years after the fact.
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