The USC Center on Public Diplomacy hosted a roundtable discussion Thursday between leaders in public diplomacy focused on how foreign policy will affect the 2016 election in the wake of the last year’s terrorism and violence. The discussion — which was livestreamed on the center’s website — included four members of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, a co-sponsor for the event.
Ernest Wilson, dean of the Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism, opened the event with a welcome both to the televised audience and the students and guests present in the room.
“I want to welcome the young people in the room because it is to them that our remarks should be addressed,” Wilson said. “We want to encourage, here on a college campus, even greater involvement with one of the most important things in the world, which is public policy.”
Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, moderated the discussion. According to Schnur, each of the four members provided a deep and unique background in public diplomacy. William Hybl is the Chairman of the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy; Sim Farar is the Vice Chairman; and Ambassador Penne Peacock and Anne Wedner both serve as commissioners.
“The panel brings such a wealth of experience and such a tremendous amount of knowledge about global affairs and the diplomatic challenges that our country faces,” Schnur said. “International and diplomatic issues will probably play a bigger role in this campaign than has been the case in any election since 2004, at the height of the Iraq war.”
Before speaking about the election, the speakers touched on the importance of understanding public policy when traveling abroad. The discussion then launched into the topic of the campaigns and quickly became a more heated debate.
Farar and Wedner started by debating whether presidential candidates should lay out their tactical foreign policy plans as part of their campaigns. Farar supported the idea that candidates should provide voters with tangible plans and goals, while Wedner argued that doing so would not be ideal for the candidate nor the American public as a whole.
Peacock broke in and invited students to join in the debate, at which point Schnur opened up the discussion to questions from the audience, which was made up of almost 50 percent international students. Student questions ranged from how America is viewed by other countries to how the American system of democracy can be improved in the current election. This student involvement was the most important part of the event, according to Stacy Ingber, the assistant director of programming and events for the Center of Public Diplomacy.
“Students are the most appropriate group to bring together for any type of conversation, whether it’s about public diplomacy, the presidential election or the next tech app that’s coming on the market,” Ingber said. “They bring a fresh set of eyes [and] opportunities for how they experience the world differently from other generations, as well as a novel approach to questions that might be missed in various different groups. “
In response to students, the panelists shared their histories of working in public diplomacy and the way they viewed the election process. They also advised the public diplomacy students making up the majority of the audience that public policy leaders will be vital in future elections due to the rising importance of foreign diplomacy. The event ended with a discussion of what type of public diplomacy each panelist would like to see again in America. Each had their own response, but the overall sentiment was agreed — the panel believed that America needs a new tone and a new focus to its public diplomacy.
This event was part of a partnership between Annenberg and the Center on Public Diplomacy to bring to light a part of the presidential election that is difficult to discuss without experts such as the Commission panelists. According to Schnur, it was a necessary event in order to give all types of students an idea of the importance of public diplomacy in the upcoming election.
“Voters think about their job prospects, about their children’s schools, about the safety of their communities,” he said. “It’s easier to put aside the broader challenges that might not be in front of you on a daily basis. These challenges don’t tend to get as much attention in a daily campaign dialogue — but they should and that’s what we tried to create today, is an environment where we can talk about these challenges.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the panelists were joined by seven USC and Commission leaders. They were joined by guests. The article also stated that the panelists were experts in foreign policy and that the majority of the students in attendance were public policy students. The panelists were experts in public diplomacy and the majority of students were studying public diplomacy. The Daily Trojan regrets the errors.