Tara Sonenshine
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Remarks to the American Security Project
Washington, DC
June 28, 2012

Thank you, Nelson. It’s always great to arrange to have friends introduce you. Nelson is not just a friend, he’s a really special friend, and a trusted colleague, and maybe I’ll let ASP share him with me.

Thank you, Steve, and Peter’s here and Mathew. I wanted to take – and 15 minutes is way too long in the land of television, you could probably do a whole documentary – so I’m going to only use five or so and then really have this be interactive.

Let me start out by saying the mission of ASP is very much in line with my vision of public diplomacy. So I don’t know who stole whose lines from the website. But what you’re trying to do is educate the American Public. What I’m trying to do is educate the global public. But we’re both trying to do something important, which is to bring about engagement and education on the changing nature of 21st century national security.

A couple of other things we have in common: We both believe in the value of honest public discussion and the importance of information. For me, information is oxygen. It is the oxygen with which a society breathes.

So, you care deeply about many issues, including countering violent extremism. And that too has become part of the public diplomacy mission. So what is the challenge of the public diplomacy mission in 2012, looking ahead, even to 2013?

The challenge of public diplomacy is to explain America. What are its policies, its practices, its values, its ideals and its ideas? And how do we bring that narrative into a rapidly expanding and deepening global conversation?

So I always begin with, well, what is this nation about? What are we defining? And most people hesitate to go there. They want to say they’re going to define America, but they don’t want to tell you what America’s about. They want to tell you they’re going to describe how they’re going to define it. I see some heads shaking. Because it’s not easy to sum up America.

I’m going to try.

America is a nation with strong principles and purpose. We’re a country whose strengths lie in individual resourcefulness and national resilience. We tend to proceed from the notion that each individual has the potential to achieve his or her individual dreams or desires, while also contributing to the common good. We believe in unlocking human potential through access, rights and the human freedom to imagine, to innovate, to inspire, to achieve peace and prosperity. We believe in interests, values, and security.

That wasn’t that hard!

We also believe in a world without violence. We believe that personal security is linked to national security, and national security is linked to global security. And so we work every day for a world that is not torn apart by division, intolerance, hostility, and violence.

What do we seek from the global community? I say we seek to engage in a global community where goods, services, and ideas flow freely. A world of fair play, fair rules, open and transparent structures, and a diversity of views and opinions. That doesn’t sound that hard to me.

So, here we are – an inspired nation. Welcoming and beckoning. Preparing to lead the way in helping individuals shape their own destinies. A nation with purpose, principles, and the power of ideals. So now we’re ready to ask, how can we use public diplomacy to explain ourselves?

I begin with the first principle. Public diplomacy is short term, midterm, and long term. It has to be. The world is measured in megabytes – less than seconds of information, exchanging hands on keys, typing feverishly, generating messages, blogs, tweets, news, analysis, commentary, entertainment. It’s all moving so fast. So if you want to be in step with citizens, you have to be in step with their momentary ideas, and their midterm ideals, and their long term values and aspirations.

So, what next?

I am going to build on a very strong public diplomacy foundation laid by my predecessors. One predecessor, Judith McHale, put together some working groups. They came up with five strategic things that public diplomacy could do, and I think they’re pretty good: Engage people-to-people, in diplomacy that informs policymakers, counter violent extremism, deploy resources in line with policy, and plan how we do public diplomacy, and how we measure and evaluate it.

But of course, like all newcomers, I’m going to layer on a few of my own things on to the foundation – my own goals. First, to professionalize this field of public diplomacy. We’ve got to define it internally across government, externally in the United States, and most importantly, overseas.

In addition to explaining public diplomacy, we’ve got to integrate it with economic statecraft, entrepreneurism, outreach to youth, and in particular, outreach to women and girls. I would like to enhance social media outreach, particularly with youth, ensure that our educational engagement is robust, improve international broadcasting strategies.

And one last one: We have all around the world these American spaces. Sometimes they’re just a corner in a library on in an embassy. Sometimes they’re a binational center. Sometimes they’re a stand-alone facility. We seem in this country to know so little about them. Do you know in the world today, how many American spaces there are? Over 800. Over 800 places of engagement, interaction, and outreach. So I’d like to look at them all. How are they doing? What are they doing? Where are they headed? What do they need? What do they have in common?

And lastly, I know I have to make the public diplomacy case on Capitol Hill, throughout the nation and overseas. That will mean speaking, traveling, and engaging. In the first eight weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to go with the Secretary of State to China, and go with a smaller group to Pakistan. I look forward to doing more of these trips in the months ahead.

What will I be doing? Just what I am doing here: looking, listening, engaging, communicating. Sometimes it will be in non-permissive environments. Sometimes in places where information flows more accessibly. But most importantly, I will be looking at that whole of community, that whole-of-government, where you get all the stakeholders thinking in a common direction. That is working with DoD, USAID, the Peace Corps, the Department of Education – it’s all about leveraging.

In the end, I will be doing what I love – working at the intersection of communications and international policy. And they say that’s where the action is. So thank you for being here. I’m delighted to take your questions. And I hope we’re on a journey together to explain who and what we are.