Posted by: David Kiley on March 14, 2005
Karen Hughes, a longtime adviser to President George W. Bush has reportedly accepted a key post at the State Department, leading efforts to promote US values and improve America’s image abroad. It’s tough to call this move surprising. And it seems destined to advance the decline of America’s image abroad.
Hughes job, in a nutshell, is to market the image of America abroad, especially in the Arab world. Yikes. Hughes has been George Bush’s ideological “buddy” for years now. One of the reasons America and George Bush’s image is so damaged abroad is that the Administration’s policy and rhetoric is so devoid of truth and historical perspective. Hughes is a Bush cheerleader, not a strategist with an independent mind or opinion about how we might seriously affect the silent majority of Muslims who probably want to live with more freedom than a theocracy would allow, but don’t trust America to deliver it to them.
Why don’t they trust us? When was the last time you heard the Bush Administration, and Donald Rumsfeld specifically, talk about how the Reagan Administration, for example, sided with Saddam Hussein in the mid 1980s, funneled him intelligence and and facilitated arm sales he could use in his war against Iran. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how the West has sought to screw the Middle East over the decades.
The closest I have ever heard this President come to acknowledging the U.S. century-long abuse of the Middle East was this statement in 2003: “Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe — because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty,” said Bush in 2003.
If you care to read some great histories on the topic, such as Stephen Kinzer’s “All The Shah’s Men,” or Christopher Catherwood’s: “Churchill’s Folly: How Winston Churchill Created Modern Iraq,” you can’t help come away with the conclusion that the reason the U.S., and Great Britain, are greeted with such ambivalence and hostility in the Middle East is that the West’s policy can be summed up in one simple idea: “That’s our oil under your sand.” That’s not exactly a policy grounded in Christian, let alone Democratic, values.
The choice of Hughes, while predictable in a long line of Bush appointees chosen more for loyalty than achievement, is an indication that the President is at least elevating this job to a higher level of importance than it had when it was held by Charlotte Beers and Margaret Tutwiler, neither of whom could accomplish anything. If nothing else, Ms. Hughes has a track record for being listened to inside the Administration.
If Ms. Hughes can set out to do her job with a glimmer of the truth, a smattering of historical honesty, a bit of humility and a lot of mea culpas on behalf of a nation, then I’d say she has a chance. But I doubt that will be the case. I also doubt that she has read these books on the subject. The whole effort to reach out to Muslim peoples with an honest and attractive message will more likely resemble an effort to recruit veiled Muslim women to a cheerleading tryout at the The University of Houston.
But I hope I’m wrong.