Karen Hughes: Selling Bush to the World

Karen Hughes blows kisses to Turkish students

Karen Hughes blows kisses to Turkish students in Education Park during her Sept. 28 visit to the Turkish Education Volunteers Foundation in Istanbul. (Photo: Mustafa Ozer / AFP-Getty Images)

Sworn in on Sept. 9 as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, Karen Hughes became the latest top official charged with repairing a U.S. image soured by the war in Iraq, and complaints in Europe and the Middle East over Bush's policies and leadership. To that end, she visited three Muslim countries last month on what was billed as a “listening tour.”

Who Should Be Doing the Listening?

DUBAI — Gulf News (Independent, English-language), Sept. 28: Hughes is visiting Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey but seems unsure as to who should be doing the listening. Is it her job to listen to what the Middle East is saying of the U.S., she may wonder? Or for these “soft target” Middle Eastern countries to listen to what the U.S. wants to tell them. A U.S. official is already on record as saying it is not their intention to change U.S. policy on Middle East issues. Which poses the question: So why is Hughes on her visit? Anyone who has even a limited understanding of events in the Middle East can spell out loud and clear exactly what aggrieves people in the Middle East with regard to the U.S. It is their policy. Therefore, if the avowed intent prior to Hughes visit is for “no change, steady as we go” then it is best for Hughes to return home.

Counterproductive and Artificial

JERUSALEM — Al Quds (Pro-Palestinian Authority), Sept. 29: The White House has invented a slogan under the name, “Improving America’s Image” … to reach out to the Arab people. Though such a campaign has been counterproductive to its goals, the U.S. has put forth more plans for administration officials, all of whom have so far ended in failure, to visit the region. The most recent of such visits have been conducted by the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, who has herself just concluded a failed trip to Egypt. In a few words, the reason for the failure is the fact that her mission is artificial, one that tries to convince the Arab street that killing tens of thousands of people in Iraq … is a noble task … A successful public relations campaign [however] can only be achieved by taking care of the problem instead of trying to fix its outcomes.
— Daoud Sharyan

Unreasonable Point of View

JIDDA — Saudi Gazette (Business, English-language), Oct. 1: [In her] recent visit to Saudi Arabia … Hughes appears to have predicated her presentation on the assumption that everyone in the world wants to live as Americans do and was clearly bemused to find not everyone present agreed with her … Saudis, in common with other Muslims, want to enjoy the technological benefits of the modern age while retaining their religious and cultural identity. They want progress without the associated social ills that bedevil so many economically developed countries. It doesn’t seem an unreasonable point of view … Islamic values may not accord with the prevailing attitudes in places such the United States but then why should they?

Dressing Up Failed Policies

CAIRO — Al-Ahram (Semi-official), Oct. 3: Karen Hughes, the U.S. envoy to the Middle East and Muslim countries, clearly hopes to patch up the U.S. image. Her instructions are to promote U.S. policy as one might any new consumer durable. She hopes to overcome the hostility that Muslim and Arab nations feel toward U.S. policy — a hostility that is on a par with that felt by the United States toward Osama bin Laden … What the United States should be doing is changing policy, not dressing it up to look better … We notice the harassment that millions of Muslim Americans had to deal with. We notice the indefinite detention of hundreds of suspects in Guantanamo. We notice the horrors committed in Abu Ghraib. We notice things that no one — not even Hughes — can justify.
— Salamah A. Salamah

America as Morality Play

JIDDA — Arab News (Pro-government), Oct. 5: If all the world’s a stage, then what’s playing on it is America as morality play. And the painfully clueless Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes, who visited the Middle East last week to promote what is now called “public diplomacy” — the use of culture to foster goodwill toward the U.S. — was  drama director. The problem here is not American popular culture — beloved and emulated everywhere — or even American political culture, imbued with the richest ideas about freedom, democracy, and individual rights … The problem rather is American foreign policy, that remains, where it is not bellicose, overtly and unabashedly moralistic in tone … Let the record show that no one has identified the gushy Hughes as an “ugly American,” just an inane one.
— Fawaz Turki

Viewpoints includes items drawn from the U.S. Department of State’s daily digest of international media opinion.