An audience of 150 gathered Friday afternoon in the Annenberg Auditorium of the Ford School of Public Policy for a talk titled “Diplomacy in a New Transatlantic Era.” The event featured a conversation between former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley; former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried; and President and CEO of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition Liz Schrayer.

The speakers examined key diplomatic challenges facing the United States and the crucial role international affairs has in fostering the well-being of citizens within its borders. 

The discussion was held in conjunction with the launch of the Weiser Diplomacy Center and the Ford School’s Conversations Across Difference Initiative, a series aimed at fostering fruitful conversation across the political divide. 

The event began with a reflection by University Regent Ron Weiser (R) on the significance of the opening of the Weiser Diplomacy center — specifically in the Midwest. 

“Diplomacy can help change directions, especially for countries that are going in the wrong direction — sometimes you can bring them back around,” Weiser said. “Most of the diplomatic institutions of higher learning are in the east coast and the west coast, and there wasn’t anything in the central part of the country … and I feel the central part of the country has a great deal of importance.” 

The event began with a Q&A session, during which audience members were polled on their opinions on various diplomatic issues. Afterward, Schrayer moderated a discussion between Hadley and Fried, talking about a wide range of topics spanning competition with China to the impact Brexit would have on the United States.

Hadley began the event with a summary of his outlook on the United States’s current relationship with the larger world.

“The international system is under a challenge in a way that it has not been in the average lifetime,” Hadley said. “I think that accounts for a lot of chaos and disruption that you see in the world.”

He went on to discuss the specific challenges to politics and international diplomacy in a society consumed by social media. 

“I thought that social media was going to be a great force of democratization — empowering people to take responsibility for their lives,” Hadley said. “What we’ve seen is … in democratic societies, it has been an accelerant of division and rancor that’s put new pressure on our political systems.” 

Fried said the role of embassies involves engaging with real-life situations in their countries and explaining this reality to Washington.

“Embassies work daily with reality as it is on the ground,” Fried said. “A lot of the work of embassies is explaining to Washington … what is and is not possible in a given country at a given time. Tactical realism is what diplomats carry around in their heads.” 

The event concluded with a reflection on multiple current events that touch the lives of everyday citizens. Hadley and Fried took questions from the audience ranging from America’s relationship with Syria to the complicated role economics plays in influencing international diplomacy. 

Haris Missler, a Rackham student at the University of Michigan International Institute, discussed how he attended the event in an effort to better understand America’s role on the international stage.

“We are currently in an era of shifting alliances,” Miller said, “I would like to see how that plays out and how the United States will continue forward.”

Both Fried and Hadley concluded the event with advice for the next generation of students seeking a career in diplomacy. Fried stressed the importance of relying on core American values which allowed this country to prosper internationally. 

“We stand for something at our best, and countries are willing to forgive us our sins, hypocrisies, failures, blunders, because we stand for something higher, and that still means something today,” Fried said. “I am desperate that our country not forget what we have achieved and who we are at our best.”

Hadley responded, stressing that simply having faith in the United States is essential to propel it to greatness. 

“If we want to get to being our best, there is something particularly the young people in this room have to do,” Hadley said. “Be confident about the future of this country. I think our values are right, the economy is strong … and we have you — a generation well prepared to deal with the challenges this country is going to face. You need to get involved, and you need to get involved in politics if you are going to help lead America back to being America at its best.”

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