Ultimate Bush Insider Joins Rice at State Department
most intriguing aspect of U.S. President George W. Bush's nomination
of Karen Hughes to take charge of Washington's public diplomacy
apparatus and particularly outreach to the Islamic world
is the building out of which she will be working.
decision to put Hughes, who, along with Karl Rove, has been Bush's
closest political adviser since he first ran for Texas governor
in the early 1990s, under Condoleezza Rice at the State Department
took insiders by surprise.
suggested that Rice is building a major power center at Foggy Bottom,
one that is capable of ensuring that she can penetrate the circle
of foreign policy hardliners led by Vice President Dick Cheney and
bolstered by national security adviser Stephen Hadley, and his deputy,
J.D. Crouch, any time she wants.
always got the last word [with Bush] on foreign policy if he wanted
it," said one State Department official who asked not to be
identified. "If Hughes gets seriously involved, she can get
it, and she's one of the very few people who can actually deliver
bad news to the president."
administration officials told reporters last week that Hughes was
indeed returning to Washington after moving back to Austin, Texas,
in 2002, so that her son could attend high school there, the assumption
was that she would take back her old office at the White House,
close to Bush himself.
while the same sources said she would be working on international
affairs, rather than just domestic matters, it still made sense
that she would be based at the White House. After all, not only
is the National Security Council based there, but two recent blue-ribbon
commissions had also urged the administration to create a White
House post for public diplomacy that would oversee and coordinate
all related efforts throughout the government.
these recommendations, however, Bush nonetheless agreed to place
his most trusted adviser a mile away at the State Department where
she will be directly responsible not to him, but rather to Rice.
described by Rice Monday, Hughes' mandate will include implementing
a major reform of Washington's public-diplomacy work in addition
to reaching out to the public of other nations, particularly in
the Arab world, where Washington's image, according to public-opinion
surveys since Bush launched his "war on terror," has fallen
to all-time lows.
also announced that Hughes' deputy will be Dina Powell, a 31-year-old
Egyptian-born Arabic speaker who, as a top White House recruitment
officer, has also been a member of Bush's inner circle over the
past two years in addition to having worked on Middle East
outreach and democracy programs at the State Department under Elizabeth
Cheney, the vice president's daughter.
her own remarks, Hughes whose foreign outreach so far has
been confined to promoting women's programs in Afghanistan
also stressed the importance of better communication with Muslims.
job will be difficult. Perceptions do not change quickly or easily,"
she said. "This is a struggle for ideas. Clearly, in the world
after September 11th, we must do a better job of engaging with the
Muslim world. As the 9/11 Commission reported, if the United States
does not act aggressively to define itself, the extremists will
gladly do the job for us."
follows in the failed footsteps of two other very prominent women
who were posted to the same job. After 9/11, former Secretary of
State Colin Powell appointed Charlotte Beers, a legend on Madison
Ave. who pioneered the advertising technique of "branding."
Beers, however, made a series of televised ads to promote Washington's
image in the Arab world that were deemed ineffective at best and
finally left after two years for "personal reasons."
Tutwiler, a top aide and spokesperson for former Secretary of State
James Baker and a former ambassador to Morocco, succeeded Beers
but quit after only one year, reportedly out of frustration with
the lack of resources and the administration's general failure to
understand that the basic problems faced by Washington in the Middle
East had as much to do with U.S. policies as with general anti-Americanism.
(and her interim successor, Pat Harrison) really did understand
that Washington's image problems in the Arab world were being driven
by its policies and could not be addressed simply by sophisticated
advertising and message-spinning," said James Zogby, director
of the Arab-American Institute. "But that was something the
White House didn't really want to hear."
was also the conclusions reached by two high-powered panels on public
diplomacy over the last two years, which called on the administration
both to sharply increase funding for public diplomacy efforts focused
particularly on the Islamic world and to reject the comforting and
oft-repeated neoconservative nostrum that many Muslims "hated"
the U.S. for "who we are" rather than "what we do."
and manipulative public relations and propaganda are not the answer,"
according to an October 2003 report, "Changing Minds, Winning
Peace," by the Council on Foreign Relations and the James Baker
Institute whose principal author, former Assistant Secretary of
State for Near Eastern Affairs Edward Djerejian, was present at
Hughes' nomination ceremony Monday. "Foreign policy counts."
opinion cannot be cavalierly dismissed," the report said. "Citizens
in these countries are genuinely distressed at the plight of Palestinians
and at the role they perceive the United States to be playing, and
they are genuinely distressed by the situation in Iraq."
second report released last fall by the Defense Science Board (DSB),
which is made up of private-sector and academic experts appointed
by Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, reached a similar conclusion.
It called on U.S. policymakers to spend more time "listening"
to their intended audience and use messages that "should seek
to reduce, not increase, perceptions of arrogance, opportunism,
and double standards [by the U.S.]."
do not 'hate our freedom,' but rather, they hate our policies,"
the DSB wrote in a direct challenge to the administration's own
propaganda. "The overwhelming majority voice their objections
to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against
Palestinian rights, and the long-standing, even increasing, support
for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt,
Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states."
neither Rice nor Hughes alluded to these particular findings, although
both stressed that Washington must indeed do a better job of listening,
and Hughes, who stressed that she was born in Paris and lived in
Canada and Panama, said she had "learned firsthand that America's
policies can be interpreted differently in different places and
from different perspectives."
who has advised several administrations on both policy and public
diplomacy in the Arab world, hopes that such an appreciation may
bring Hughes to the same understanding about the relationship between
U.S. policy and image as reached by Tutwiler and Harrison, although
he worries that she will adopt "what seems to be in vogue today
the explanation that [the Arabs] don't really dislike us,
they dislike their own governments, so if we advocate freedom, we'll
win" as the main message for Washington to crank out to the
on the other hand, she reaches a similar conclusion about policy
issues as the DSB, in particular and she is more likely to
reach such a conclusion from her interaction with foreign service
officers experienced in the Middle East than in the White House
"this could be a very important appointment."
ability to communicate with the president is very clear," said
Zogby. "She could make a huge difference."
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service