By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
October 31, 2007
An American gaffe machine gets set to go home. Good riddance. No amount of costuming on this Halloween can convince us that Mrs. Hughes made a valuable contribution to U.S. foreign policy.
We are not big fans of the U.S. State Department these days so the announcement that Karen Hughes will leave and return to Texas didn’t break any hearts here.
Mrs. Hughes was give her cushy Foggy Bottom job by her pal George W. Bush. When she came to State — amid much publicity and hoopla — the world was informed that Mrs. Hughes would take charge of “winning over the world’s hearts and minds.”
Mrs. Hughes was supposed to restore respect for America and highlight the importance of America’s lustrous democracy.
Mrs. Hughes didn’t exactly impress anyone in the world outside of her buddy at the White House.
Officially, Mrs. Hughes is Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
On her fist major trip as America’s “Goodwill Ambassador,” Mrs. Hughes proved that she was a gaffe machine with little knowledge of the Arab world.
John Brown wrote in The Second Coming of Karen Hughes on August 9, 2007 in the Huffington Post: “her infamous ‘listening tour’ to the Middle East in the fall of 2005 — was ridiculed by both the US and international media as an illustration of her ignorance (she disclosed, to an Egyptian opposition leader, that our Constitution cites “one nation under God”) and lack of cultural sensitivity (she offended some Saudi women by reproaching them for not having the right to drive). After that disastrous overseas venture, she seemed to keep a lower profile, and by 2006 was practically off the media radar screen, especially during the Second Lebanese War. When she did engage in rare (for her official position) public events (many directed to American audiences to show them how good we US citizens were because of our compassionate-conservative aid to less fortunate foreigners) she was not infrequently criticized, including by the right-wing media, which accused her of being too accommodating to Muslim organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).”
Today, the Fox News Channel is extolling Mrs. Hughes’ many accomplishments and achievements. They even allowed Mrs. Hughes to go on screen to brag about, well, herself.
Charm machine turned into a gaffe
machine right in front of the world.
But polls show no improvement in the world’s view of the U.S. since Hughes took over. A Pew Research Center survey earlier said the unpopular Iraq war is a persistent drag on the U.S. image and has helped push favorable opinion of the United States in Muslim Indonesia, for instance, from 75 percent in 2000 to 30 percent last year.
“The great irony of this administration is that its opponents credit it with being masterful at spin,” wrote Mr. Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post on September 3, 2006.
“When it is in fact pathetic in managing its messages and its collective image. Whatever small credit Bush was gaining for becoming more realistic about Iraq was quickly wiped out by the controversy created by sharply partisan speeches of Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld last week in the latest example of a gang that can’t spin straight,” Mr. Hoagland concluded.
When asked by NBC News reporter Brian Williams on August 29, 2006 why there is so much anti-American sentiment and out-right hatred for America in many parts of the world., President Bush said “We are great with TV but we are getting crushed on the P.R. [Public Relations] front.”
About a month later Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld mused, “The enemy is so much better at communicating. I wish we were better at countering that because the constant drumbeat of things they say — all of which are not true — is harmful. It’s cumulative. It weakens people’s will and lessens their determination, and raises questions in their minds as to whether the cost is worth it.”
So if the President and his cabinet were Mrs. Hughes’ “customers,” it is difficult to find them happy about her performance.
We were ourselves so distressed by Mrs. Hughes that we made up a word to describe her gaffes: “Misunderspinning.” She just couldn’t get the hang of the spin game and often looked over her head.
And what have former Secretaries of State said?
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said: “Are Iran and Syria regimes that I look down upon? I certainly do. But at the same time I’ve looked down on many people over the years in the course of my military and diplomatic career and I still had to talk to them.”
Powell made the observation on “Face the Nation,” the CBS Sunday morning talk show with Bob Schieffer last December.
Secretary Powell has no illusions that a dialogue with Iran, for example, would change their direction in the pursuit of nuclear weapons, but most former Secretaries of State adopt the position that “Talking and engagement with all nations can have some merit.”
But the official policy of the White House and the State Department was not to dialogue with Iran, North Korea and Syria.
At about the same time that former Secretary Powell made his criticisms, the Iraq Study Group headed by another former Secretary of State, James Baker, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton — a noted expert in international thinking — were saying that America should engage all nations and not ignore places like Iran.
Secretary Powell’s position and that of Mr. Baker and Hamilton rests in sharp contrast to that of President Bush and the current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who branded Syria, Iran and North Korea members of the “Axis of Evil” and broke all relationships and dialogue with these nations at the start of the war against terror in 2001.
Still, the commission said, “Given the ability of Iran and Syria to influence events within Iraq and their interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq, the United States should try to engage them constructively.”
Another former Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger, has also made remarks disparaging to the “no-discussion diplomacy” of Secretary Rice and Mrs. Hughes.
When asked by the BBC’s Andrew Marr on November 19, 2006, about Kissinger’s plan to remove U.S. troops from Iraq, Dr. Kissinger responded, “At some point I think an international conference – at some early point an international conference should be called that involves neighbors, perhaps the permanent members of the Security Council and countries that have a major interest in the outcome, like India and Pakistan.”
So the spin coming from the State department today is that Karen Hughes made a wonderful contribution and many “achievements.”
Frankly, we view her collective time at State as a gigantic mistake that should have resulted in an even earlier termination.