This week, Tara Sonenshine was formally sworn-in as the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs by Secretary Clinton. Secretary Clinton’s introductory remarks were personal, insightful, and deeply supportive of public diplomacy and of Tara. While the Secretary’s comments are not available online, she began by emphasizing the importance of public diplomacy when she said the Constitution begins “with We the People, not We the Government.”
Tara’s theme was the same: policy is about people. It may seem obvious to some, but it has yet to be internalized by all, whether in the Department or across the other agencies.
The job of Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs will not be easy, for the simple reality that the office must find itself and establish its relevancy to the Department and the interagency. Tara’s tenure will likely make or break an office that has never found its role or footing, suffered severe and frequent gaps in leadership, radical changes in objectives and tactics, uncertainty on what “public diplomacy” is, and a lack of a true strategy. Done right and not only does she greatly empower the Department and the U.S., but she will set the parameters for the selection of those who follow her.
Tara’s remarks at her swearing-in ceremony are below.
Thank you, Madame Secretary. It is an honor to be here with you, today, and I am grateful for the confidence that you and President Obama have placed in me.
Let me also echo your appreciation for Ann Stock, and for Ambassador Kathleen Stephens, for stepping forward so readily and effectively as Acting Under Secretaries. And thank you to all my predecessors in this job for laying a strong foundation upon which I can build. I am fortunate to be joining a strong team with Ann, Mike Hammer, Dana Smith, Dawn McCall, Nick Giacobbe, and the entire R family.
My mind today is on family. I thank my siblings—Nancy, Marshall, Michael, and their families. Our parents would be proud of all of us and I wish they could see this day.
My deepest thanks are reserved for the three men who make my world go round—my husband, Gary Friend, and my sons, Jordan, and Yale. You bring music into my life – literally and figuratively. Together (with Rocky, of course,) our home is a place of joy. That is something to celebrate.
There are friends here today who are like family—who go back with me 20 years, some 25 years, and yes a few –and you know who you are–go back to high school—I won’t say how many years ago that was. My friends have been pillars of support during these challenging months as I awaited word on confirmation. Understandably, people kept asking –are you confirmed yet? Have you started? Thanks to Gary we instituted a “Don’t Ask We’ll Tell You” policy.
As I look around the room, I see so many people who have mentored me and inspired me. Regardless of your various religions, you are all my rabbis in addition to the real ones who are here today. But in particular, I single out:
- David Burke—my first boss at ABC News …. He had faith in a 22-year-old kid fresh out of college.
That first year, he let me watch the evening news with him each night to explain the business to me. That’s mentoring.
- Ted Koppel …. you were a tough boss and you set a high bar. But you also let me stretch and fly sending me overseas to places like Beijing, Soweto, Tehran, and Chiliabynsk. During the apartheid years, no television program could get South African leader Pik Botha and Desmond Tutu on the same show…you sent me over to negotiate it and we did. And you let me camp out in Lusaka begging for the first interview with Nelson Mandela. Thank you for teaching me excellence in journalism.
- Tony Lake and Sandy Berger – my bosses at the White House …. You helped me make the leap from covering the news to being covered by the news. You showed me that my newsgathering skills – asking the tough questions and settling only for direct answers – would serve me well in government.
- Richard Solomon, president of the United States Institute of Peace. You helped me evolve from someone who could produce content to someone who could lead staff.
And you helped me not only work to build the USIP facility from the ground up – but to also build an architecture of conflict management around the world.
- And Madeleine Albright, who couldn’t be here today, but has been an example for women in foreign policy, reminding us that there is, to quote Sec. Albright, “a cold place in—you know where—for women who don’t help other women.”
What connects all these stories today are relationships. Secretary Clinton understands the importance of connecting to people. She has made people-to-people diplomacy central to our foreign policy. And I am reminded of something Ashley Garrigus my Special Assistant told me recently, after she came back from an official trip to Algeria, the Middle East, and Qatar.
Ashley’s in her twenties, and when she met young people, they didn’t pepper her with tough questions about foreign policy. What they wanted to know was–What do you Americans do on weekends? Do you have a pet? Where did you get those cool shoes? Which college campuses in the U.S. are the most fun?
Policy is about people. Without a deeper understanding of foreign publics, our policies are just flying blind. We can’t depend only on conversations with political leaders. We have to connect with people, and let them know we are listening, we care, and we are working to support them.
We have to be texting, blogging, tweeting, and connecting face-to-face–to empower young people, women and girls, and minorities, engaging to change the minds of extremists who spread misinformation and hatred online, reaching out to make sure our narrative is as robust as the character of our nation. If we enlist public diplomacy effectively, we can enlist the problem solvers and leaders of tomorrow.
I want to close by thanking the people of the public diplomacy field—those engaged in extending America’s narrative overseas. Some are in embassies, missions, consulates, bases. Others work in the education and exchange field.
Wherever you are—virtually, or physically, you are contributing to national security and you have this country’s support and encouragement.
Madame Secretary, once again, thank you, for giving me this opportunity – and thank you, everyone, for being here today.