How did Karen Hughes perform as the United States' top public diplomat? 

Don't Panic ... your war questions answered

Karen Hughes recently announced she's stepping down as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.

President Bush tapped Hughes for the job in March 2005. Her appointment, he said, "signifies my personal commitment to the international diplomacy that is needed in these historic times."

At the time, I was one among the people who thought it was a positive development. After three years of dicking around with position, I thought Bush appointing someone so close to him was a sign he was finally taking public diplomacy seriously. After Karl Rove, Hughes was Bush's top political adviser as governor and during his early White House tenure. She even (co-)wrote his campaign autobiography, A Charge to Keep. (My favorite Amazon user review of the book: "If someone gives this to you, change your home phone number. It can only mean he or she really doesn't like you.")

It turns out my hope was misplaced. Instead of signifying a commitment to public diplomacy, Hughes' appointment signified once again that loyalty trumps competence in the Bush administration.

Hughes waited five months after Bush's announcement to actually assume her post. Why the wait? Hughes was busy earning $450,000 on the lecture circuit. Personal commitment in these historic times, indeed.

As it turned out, the five months she spent not working were probably the highlight of her tenure. Hughes' first trip abroad as the United States' top public diplomat was an exploding crap fountain of crappiness.

Speaking in front of reporters to a group of Turkish women prescreened for political friendliness, Hughes made an ass of herself and the country.

The women in attendance wanted to talk about the Iraq war. Hughes didn't oblige. She couldn't oblige. It turns out Hughes is only capable of speaking in Republican family-values gibberish.

"I am a mom, and I love kids. I love all kids," she said to the group. "And I understand that is something that I have in common with the Turkish people."

That crap may go over well with conservative-leaning moms in the Midwest, but not so well in the Middle East.

Rami Khoury, an America-friendly columnist for the Daily Star newspapers in Beirut, described Hughes' tenure as a "monumental and insulting hoax" that was not only "counter-productive" but also "un-American."

Writes Khoury:

"She rejected the honesty, humility and realism that define the values of most Americans, and instead opted to live in a dream world in which America was perfect, and foreigners who thought badly of it needed to be lectured about American values and policies.

"The core, devastating flaw in her entire mission was to completely separate the world's critical views of the U.S. government from the conduct of American foreign policy itself. She assumed that the problem was that foreigners misunderstood American values or foreign policy goals – but she never tried to understand Arab-Muslims in the same way she asked them to understand her country and its policies."

It's kinda cheap to use so much of his column in my column, but no one's gonna say it better than that.

Polling data supports the conclusion that Hughes' tenure was a giant waste of time, energy and money.

The Pew Global Attitudes Project, an international survey conducted regularly by the Pew Research Center, shows public opinion of the United States in the Arab and Muslim world at historic lows.

From Europe to the Middle East, people hate our foreign policy. And increasingly, they hate our environmental policy and our culture.

Among the places whose people have the lowest opinions of the United States are our so-called allies in the Arab and Muslim world.

In Pakistan, 68 percent of respondents view the United States unfavorably. In Egypt and Jordan, our unfavorable ratings are at 78 percent. In the Palestinian territories, it's at 86 percent.

What do all those places have in common? They're Muslim countries ruled by violent, corrupt and/or undemocratic governments, all of which are strongly backed by the Bush administration. While Hughes was spouting her Republicanese freedom-and-liberty blather, her boss was sending checks and weapons to people who put citizens in jail for walking down the street with a political placard.

And people wonder why we're hated.


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