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Alumna Tara Sonenshine discusses foreign policy experience

Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013

Updated: Thursday, February 28, 2013 07:02


Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine (LA ’81) spoke with the Daily yesterday about her foreign policy work, her journalism background and her experience at Tufts. Sonenshine came to Tufts yesterday to meet with Tisch Scholars over lunch. 

Prior to her appointment last spring, Sonenshine was the Executive Vice President of the United States Institute for Peace. Sonenshine spent several years as a strategic communications adviser to international organizations and served in various capacities during the Clinton administration, including as Special Assistant to the President and Transition Director for the National Security Council. Her career in journalism earned her 10 News Emmy Awards.

Tufts Daily: What do you think are some of the most important aims of American foreign policy today?

Tara Sonenshine: American foreign policy today is really about three issues. One, we are trying to work towards a more peaceful environment for all nations, so reducing the level of violence and hostility and intolerance so that we are in a more peaceful world is always a foreign policy aim, because conflict is not good for people who live with the conflict and not good for the global neighborhood. The second area is economics. I think we all understand that part of foreign policy today is creating a global economy that is open and transparent and creates opportunity. When there is a good economic environment that enables peace and prosperity, they tend to go together. So one is creating a less conflicted, less intolerant, less divided globe, and second is a more economic, open and transparent world, and the third is always a more secure world. We are always looking at how to create global security, and that can mean energy security, environmental security and it can mean nuclear security. We work on peace, prosperity and security. Those are some of the pillars of open, transparent, democratic, pluralistic, less divided and more prosperous countries.

TD: What are you hopeful about in the near future? What goals do you think are attainable during this administration?

TS: I’m hopeful about citizen diplomacy and people-to-people ties. I am very hopeful that we can create a peaceful, less-divided society if we engage publics. I’m optimistic about the power of public diplomacy. I’m optimistic about the potential to unlock the power of women and girls in the next set of years. I am hopeful about unleashing the power of economies and entrepreneurs, and lastly I am excited over the next few years [about] helping less developed, more marginalized, underserved communities to be part of this whole global world. I’m excited to see us connect the lesser connected populations and individuals.

TD: What motivated you to get involved in foreign policy?

TS: Many of my formative experiences and global motivations were born on this campus. Tufts introduced me to the power of global engagement. I first went abroad on a study abroad program during my years at Tufts and went to London

[I] interned in Parliament and studied at the London School of Economics [and Political Science]. Part of my motivation and interest and curiosity about the world formed on a campus with so many international students, with so many international events, that my eyes were opened. Tufts University was a window onto the world for me. 

TD: You’ve served in many posts prior to your current post, including as Executive Vice President of the United States Institute of Peace. How did some of those experiences contribute to what you are doing today? What do you draw on from those past experiences?

TS: Every professional and personal experience is a building block. My experiences in journalism fostered curiosity and enabled me to travel and see different parts of the world. My experiences with the United [States] Institute of Peace gave me curiosity about how to build peace and how to avoid conflicts and how to manage conflicts and what do you do when a conflict is over to ensure that the cycle doesn’t happen again. So the experiences in news and with the Institute of Peace and with some other nonprofits ,and then my experience in the White House in the 1990s, each of those were building blocks to this position, which is really about communication, information, international affairs and engagement. It came together as a logical extension of these different perspectives. 

TD: What was the transition from journalism to foreign policy like?

TS: Going from the media to the policy side is a big leap. You are essentially going behind a different camera, in that you suddenly go from the one covering news to the one being covered by news. You go from the one asking the tough questions to the one trying to provide answers, and you go from the one digging into the news story to digging into the policy makers’ mind, so they are very different. The common ingredient is listening. Good journalists listen to questions. Good policy makers listen to their publics.

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