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 Post subject: After Condeleeza, Meet Karen
PostPosted: Wed Mar 23, 2005 11:09 am 
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After Condoleezza, meet Karen

NORMALLY, the nomination of somebody to a third-tier departmental job is worth a footnote in the government lists, no more. But this post—under-secretary of state for public diplomacy—is no longer that of a mid-level apparatchik. Its occupant has the chief responsibility for making the world think better of America, especially the Muslim part of the world. And this nominee is no mid-level apparatchik.

She is Karen Hughes, one of George Bush's closest advisers. Her nomination reveals two important things about the Bush administration's second term.

Ms Rice announced the appointment of Karen Hughes. The University of Maryland helped conduct a poll on foreign opinions of the Bush administration. See also the State Department.

First, Mr Bush is serious in his effort to use American “soft power” to change the Arab world. As he said, the choice of Mrs Hughes “signifies my personal commitment to the international diplomacy that is needed”. He does not want to be remembered only as a warrior president. (You think?) :shock:

Second, the State Department has become the centre of his second-term ambition. Miss Rice's deputy is a former trade representative, Robert Zoellick, an unusually high-powered number two. Mrs Hughes's deputy will be Dina Powell, Egyptian-born and a fluent Arabic-speaker, who was director of personnel at the White House in the first term. You arguably have to go back to George Shultz's State Department under Ronald Reagan to find such a well-connected bunch.

The diplomats need their new clout. Recent surveys by the University of Maryland and the Pew Research Centre show that far too many foreigners think America is a Bad Thing. (I wonder why!) Large majorities in most countries reckon Mr Bush's re-election was bad for international peace (82% in Turkey, for instance, in the Maryland survey).

America's “public diplomacy”—the bit designed to appeal to ordinary people abroad, as opposed to the formal diplomacy aimed at governments—is “crippled”, “misfunctioning” or plain “missing”. These are not criticisms by outsiders. They come from the department's own advisory commission, or from former directors of the United States Information Agency (USIA), the arm of the White House once in charge of public diplomacy.

Over the past decade, the cold war's panoply of public diplomacy has been dismantled. America has closed libraries abroad. The USIA has been absorbed into the State Department. The last two occupants of Mrs Hughes's job were hardly shining successes. One, a Madison Avenue executive, stayed only long enough to discover that selling America's reputation abroad is not the same as selling Coca-Cola. The second, a career bureaucrat, lasted just a few months.

Will Mrs Hughes do better? She is the shaper of Mr Bush's way of dealing with the press. She has imposed relentless “message-control”, and in one sense it has worked. But it has had its price. In dealing so sternly with journalists, she has driven a group of people inclined to be sceptical of politicians into, in many cases, outright hostility to the Bush team. That does not help to produce Arab converts. On the other hand, her personal connections with the president are a huge plus; she is a long-time adviser from Texas. She has the contacts needed for the job—and she can hardly be worse than her predecessors.

She's sure as hell not an improvement, either. To try to rationalize Hughes' appointment this way is utter nonsense. Bush doesn't exactly try to appoint anyone who might disagree with him, does he?

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