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A departing diplomat's dispatch

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Phyllis Oakley, with a master's degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, joined the United States Foreign Service in 1957, but was forced to resign the next year when she married another diplomat, Robert Oakley. Back then, spouses could not serve with US diplomats. But in 1974, when the rule changed, she rejoined the service. She later became the department's first female deputy spokesman and, just before her retirement in September, assistant secretary of State for intelligence and research. Here are edited excerpts from a recent Monitor interview:

NATO's bombing of Kosovo was intervention in a sovereign state. What should be the rules for such interventions from now on?

It's certainly preferable to have the blessing of the [UN] Security Council. That makes it legitimate in the eyes of the world. We've been very successful in building coalitions to do that.

You have to have very clear, realistic expectations of what you're going to be able to do and not set the bar too high. We've had a lot of loose talk about democracy and stepping into societies to bring forth elections. It just doesn't work that quickly.

We also have to be prepared to use enough force to get the job done rather quickly, because I don't think there's the public support for long, drawn-out things.

Of course, prevention is far better. We talk a lot about conflict resolution, about mediation. But we need to pay more attention to these - why the rise of ethnic hatred and conflict, and how you prevent it - not a year before, but five or 10 years before. The State Department today is threadbare. We're emasculating the UN because we don't pay our bills. What do we have left? The military. And we use the military because that's the tool that is well-funded and ready to go. If we want preventive diplomacy, we have to pay for it.

The tolerance for American casualties seems to be less. Is this going to cause a problem for future interventions?

Yes. We have to accept that there is a price to pay if you are going to be the sole surviving superpower and throw your weight around.

Are we returning to a pre-World War II isolationism in the US?

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