“Policy is about people”

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.

With U.S. Absent, China and Qatar step-in at UNESCO

UNESCO's Declaration of Human Rights, held by Eleanor Roosevelt
UNESCO’s Declaration of Human Rights, held by Eleanor Roosevelt

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, was established over six decades ago to be the public diplomacy organization of the West, countering the influences and false promises of Communism.  Last year, the U.S. cut its funding to UNESCO resulting in a severe budget shortfall and program elimination by the agency.
Defense News reports that immediately after the U.S. cut, China stepped in with “a first-time $8 million funding for the U.N. agency’s education program, while Qatar chipped in $20 million.”

The State Department’s “Smart Power” policy relies on UNESCO as a partner and facilitator for informing, engaging, and empowering people around the world, particularly in difficult places often low on the list of priorities.  Today, UNESCO has a role as an anti-extremist organization through developing civilian capacity and self-governance.  This mission fits in with and compliments the Departments efforts found mostly in the ever-expanding and increasingly central Office of the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.

It is unlikely the timing of the Chinese and Qatari contributions are coincidental.  Rather, they are surely taking the opportunity to gain influence with the U.S. withdrawal.  Last month, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice testified to Congress that a “loss of U.S. clout is the price for axing funding.”

Almost exactly sixty-six years ago today, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs William Benton also urged the House Foreign Affairs Committee to support the then-proposed international agency.  The State Department was vigorously supporting UNESCO.  Some in the Department even suggested the U.S. should drop the idea of establishing a cultural and affairs office, then being debated, in favor of relying on UNESCO.

At the Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Benton presented a statement from Secretary of State James Byrnes that UNESCO was designed to carry out recommendations of the President and others for an agency “for consistent and thorough interchange of thought and ideas.” Benton listed three basic purposes of UNESCO:

  1. Stimulate the use of the media for mass communication to advance mutual knowledge and wide true understanding among the peoples of the world;
  2. Encourage schools and other educational institutions to build “defenses of peace” in the minds of children as well as adults; and,
  3. Cooperate in the growth and sharing of useful knowledge to the peoples of the world may strive together for a better life.

Today, the concept UNESCO appears to have completed a circle, moving away from the radical opposition of the past.  Once again, it is poised to have an important role in the struggle for minds and wills.

But with the U.S. withdrawal, the need to engage and empower people, and build more secure regions, has not gone away.  Neither has the need to have other actors do the work.  Are we safe in the implicit assumption that China and Qatar will support America’s interests?

Thoughts?

(Note: a research paper on how UNESCO was transformed from supporting anti-communism to support communism might be interesting for public diplomacy. Did the East “capture” UNESCO due to poor strategy, possibly of focusing on governments rather than people?  Are there lessons to be learned today?)

The Future of Public Diplomacy, a USC conference

The Association of Public Diplomacy Scholars at USC has their annual conference tomorrow, April 6, 2012.  The conference will provide a discussion on new technologies and emerging actors in the amorphous “thing” sometimes called public diplomacy.

The Association of Public Diplomacy Scholars invites you to join the discussion, with a half day of panels and speakers from around the world. The conference will feature an opening address by Dr. Nicholas J. Cull, director of the Master’s of Public Diplomacy program at USC, and keynote speaker Ben Hammersley, the U.K. prime minister’s ambassador to East London TechCity. We will also have panelists from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs, United Nations Global Pulse, Facebook, Carleton University, the South East European Film Festival, the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles, and the Brazilian Consulate in Los Angeles.

Attendance to the conference is free, but you are requested to RSVP with the USC Association of Public Diplomacy Scholars by going to this RSVP link.

The phrase “public diplomacy” is variously viewed as a concept, a bureaucracy, and/or a practice. The community craves to see the word “diplomacy” follow the word “public” and debates when the phrase does and does not appear.  Is it something defined by the objective, as Betty Hanson eloquently asked this week? Is it defined by means, by the actor? Is the term “public diplomacy” itself problematic and self-limiting, suggesting an adversarial bureaucratic relationship with other agencies, a use of the softest of “soft power” to “win hearts” and be “liked”, or activities that “influence” rather than merely “inform”, or all of the above?

Unfortunately, I will not be at the conference but I look forward to the discussions and hope the students press the opportunity to engage the uniquely qualified speakers beyond the soft and fuzzy.

The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Under Secretaries

By Brian Carlson
The following originally appeared at the Public Diplomacy Council and is republished here with permission.  

Tara Sonenshine was confirmed Thursday night by the Senate, and she will probably take office officially early this week.  (She can be sworn in privately by some current official and begin work, even as a more formal ceremony is planned for a few weeks hence.)

It is a new beginning down at Foggy Bottom.  Tara becomes only the seventh Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs since the job was created upon the merger of USIA into the Department in 1999.

It is a propitious time to consider what habits lead to  success at the State Department, as well as what experience teaches about being the nation’s Olympic spear-catcher when they think we’re being out-communicated by some guy in a cave.  Here are a few suggestions for how to succeed at this job, all gathered from my time working directly with five of the six previous Under Secretaries.  (I had no contact with Margaret Tutwiler.)

Continue reading “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Under Secretaries”

Winning Hearts and Minds in the Information Age at ISA

There will be a healthy (and impressive) number of panels and roundtables at next week’s Annual Convention for the International Studies Association (ISA) in San Diego.  These include: Understanding Public Diplomacy in Different Contexts: Issues of Culture, Science and Power;  Public Diplomacy 2.0; Public Diplomacy and New Media in the Information Age; and others.

I’ll be at ISA Sunday through Tuesday.  Besides attending various panels, I will be the discussant for one, “Winning Hearts an Minds in the Information Age.”  This panel starts at 8:15a Tuesday, April 3, in the Hospitality Suite #1501.  About the panel:

In the new information environment world leaders are finding that they must communicate—effectively—with multiple audiences. This panel considers the range of approaches governments are using to meet this public diplomacy imperative as well as the diverse objectives behind these efforts. Hayden provides a comparative framework for analyzing how various power mechanisms are adapted to fit specific strategic requirements. Hanson focuses on one particular new approach, the use of social media, of one country, India. The main target audiences are youth at home and abroad, and the primary objective is to provide vehicle for Indian soft power. Corman focuses on changes in the information and communication environment that require a reconceptualization of public diplomacy and a reformulation of policies. Finally, Cull considers emerging trends and provides recommendations for the conduct of public diplomacy in the new information environment.

The panel chair is Robin Brown (PD Networks). The panel discussant is your author.  The panelists are:

  • Emily Metzgar: Building a Public Diplomacy Network: One JET at a Time
  • Craig Hayden: Audience, Mechanism, and Objective: A Comparative Framework for Soft Power Analysis
  • Betty Hanson: India Would Like to Be Your Friend: New Initiatives in Indian Public Diplomacy
  • Steve Corman: New Concepts of Audience for Public Diplomacy in the Information Age
  • Nick Cull: The Future: Tracking Forward Trends in Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy

If you’re there, stop by.

To single one of the many fine discussions that will take place, “Public Diplomacy and Power: To What End?” should be interesting.  Phil Seib chairs a discussion with Kathy Fitzpatrick, Ali Fisher, and Craig Hayden.  Scene settings questions include:

  • If public diplomacy is viewed as an extension of power over others, then how does relationship building fit within such a construct?
  • What does power mean in a collaborative public diplomacy context?
  • What influence does the relative power of nation-states (or other international actors) have on cross-border relationship building?
  • What moral aspects should be considered in discussions of power in public diplomacy?
  • Do links between public diplomacy and power define (or mask) public diplomacy’s purpose and value to nations and other international actors, as well as to global society?

See alsoDebating the Theory vs Practice of Public Diplomacy

Congratulations Tara Sonenshine! confirmed to be Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

Tara Sonenshine (USIP)
Tara Sonenshine (USIP)

Congratulations to Tara Sonenshine, who was confirmed this evening to be Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs!
Also confirmed was Mike Hammer as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs (finally dropping “Acting” from his title).

Below is a list of all State Department.

  • Michael A. Hammer to be Assistant Secretary of State (Public Affairs)
  • Anne Claire Richard, of New York, to be an Assistant Secretary of State
  • Tara D. Sonenshine, of Maryland, to be Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, vice Judith A. McHale.
  • Robert E. Whitehead, of Florida, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Togolese Republic.
  • Larry Leon Palmer, of Georgia to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Barbados, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
  • Jonathan Don Farrar, of California to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Panama.
  • Phyllis Marie Powers, of Virginia to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Republic of Nicaragua.
  • Nancy J. Powell, of Iowa, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Personal Rank of Career Ambassador, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to India.
  • Frederick D. Barton, of Maine, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Conflict and Stabilization Operations), vice Bradford R. Higgins.

For Tara, getting started requires waiting for the President to attest (certify) the confirmation, then swearing in (mostly like at the Department, possibly by Secretary Clinton but possibly Under Secretary Kennedy, unless she has a specific individual in mind), and then she’s off and running.  She could start as early as Monday but Tuesday may be more likely.  It largely depends on the White House’s ability to turn around the certification and get it to State.

Congratulations also goes to State’s public diplomacy, including the people, bureaucracy, the practice and the supporters.  Having a strong leader like Tara confirmed for the job is long overdue.  

American Avatar: The United States in the Global Imagination

One of the most important public diplomacy books you have never heard of is American Avatar: The United States in the Global Imagination by Barry Sanders.  An adjunct professor of Communications Studies at UCLA, an international corporate lawyer, President of the Board of Commissioners of the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, Barry provides a unique, fascinating, and worthwhile exploration of the opportunities and risks of American global engagement.

In American Avatar, Barry looks at narratives, their foundations and  trajectories.  “Now more than ever,” Barry writes, “foreign views of the United States also affects its national security.”

As a panelist at the November 2011 meeting of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, Barry explained that stories at the heart of everything: the study and practice of law, movies, group membership, and more.

Barry was in DC to discuss his book earlier this month.  Watch this meeting and read a discussion here.

I recommend Barry’s book for students and practitioners of strategic communication and public diplomacy.

SAGE: independent strategic communication for America

Public opinion has always had a major role in foreign policy and global affairs. Information flows, which help shape public opinion, are critical to the power of diplomacy, the ability of the military persuade and dissuade, and to the health of the economy, including trade. There is little argument that the United States Government lags in its ability to effectively understand, inform, engage, and empower people in the conduct of foreign affairs and across global affairs.  The notable exception is domestic politics, but the role of public opinion appears to end at the water’s edge.   Continue reading “SAGE: independent strategic communication for America”

A Call to Action on Public Diplomacy

The Smart Power “Equalizer” by Matt Armstrong

Guest Post By Morris “Bud” Jacobs

The mission of public diplomacy is generally described as seeking to “understand, engage, inform and influence” foreign publics and elites in support of national policy objectives. Public diplomacy has been practiced, in one form or another, for a long time – think Benjamin Franklin in France, charming the nobility to garner support for the American colonies in their struggle for independence. Its modern origins include the first broadcast of the Voice of America in February 1942 (VOA celebrates its 70th anniversary this spring) and the establishment of the Office of War Information in June of that year.  Continue reading “A Call to Action on Public Diplomacy”