September 25, 2005

A Big Job For Karen Hughes


As Karen Hughes, longtime presidential adviser and new public diplomacy guru at the State Department, prepares to leave this weekend on a "listening tour" of the Middle East, a congressionally mandated advisory panel to the department warned that "America's image and reputation abroad could hardly be worse."

The panel's report, which has been seen by senior officials but not yet officially released, said a fact-finding mission to the Middle East last year found that "there is deep and abiding anger toward U.S. policies and actions." The Advisory Committee on Cultural Diplomacy cited polling that found that large majorities in Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia "view George W. Bush as a greater threat to the world order than Osama bin Laden."


Edward P. Djerejian, who chaired a 2003 panel that recommended changes in public diplomacy efforts, said his committee determined that 80 percent of the perception of the United States overseas was determined by policy choices and feelings about U.S. values. The other 20 percent, he said, could be affected by public diplomacy efforts, a margin that he noted could be a "critical factor for the struggle for ideas."

Djerejian has been assisting Hughes in drafting a strategy for her job. The plan, he said, draws on recommendations in his committee's report, including the creation of rapid-response teams to counter rumors.

Regular readers know Ed Djerejian is my father (he's a former U.S. Ambassador to Syria and Israel, as well as a former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs). Last night, over dinner in New York, I expressed skepticism to him that Ms. Hughes (assuming there wasn't too much movement on the 80% policy component) could really make a major difference via the 20% public diplomacy component, ie. things like "rapid-response teams" and the like. Rather than me wax on about it in relatively under-informed manner, we agreed that he'd do a guest-blog comment or two on P.D. issues at some point relatively look for that as a coming attraction over here at B.D. Stay tuned in the coming weeks....

Posted by Gregory at September 25, 2005 11:13 PM | TrackBack (18)

I may have more to say on this later this week, but one of the things I'd like to see the elder Djerejian address is why he is not doing Hughes' job.

In general, I think it's a good idea to put people in prominent government jobs who know something about how to do them. The Allbaugh/Brown experience at FEMA is an example of what can happen when this is not done. We have now in the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy's office a woman who (like Allbaugh) has great access to the President, who (like Allbaugh) has abundant experience working on election campaigns and who (like Allbaugh) knows about as much about her subject as about seven of any ten people picked at random out of the Kansas City phone book could learn after a month of briefings.

Beyond this, if there has been one salient failing of American public diplomacy -- in the statements of successive Presidents and in those of various officials in the relevant departments -- it has been its zealous determination to stay "on message" for the domestic audience. Our objectives in Iraq, for example, are always freedom, democracy and peace: guaranteed applause-producers when declared to American audiences, defined only with great difficulty by Iraqis. The choice of a career campaign consultant distinguished by her relentless focus on staying "on message" for the domestic audience is not an obvious one if the administration is interested in fixing this problem.

Finally, the elder Djerejian's career record gives some indication that he might have brought to the public diplomacy assignment a level of commitment we are unlikely to see from Ms. Hughes. It took months after her appointment was announced before her nomination was formally submitted, reportedly because she wanted to make sure her son was safely off to college before taking up her new assignment. Swell. My expectation is that Ms. Hughes will say all the right things to the people advising her, will treat her State Department position increasingly as a part-time assignment as she looks after her family and responds to White House pressure to help with President Bush's political difficulties, and will be gone within a year.

Posted by: JEB at September 26, 2005 03:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Awesome! I have the utmost respect for your father's work and service. Looking forward to it.

Posted by: praktike at September 26, 2005 10:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

thax prak and jeb for the kind words. it will be a nice father-son moment in the blog world! we're looking forward to it...

Posted by: greg at September 27, 2005 05:33 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Your father would at least outstrip Hughes in one capacity: regional knowledge. Although most commentators have been focusing on her remarks in KSA on the women-driving issue, the real humdinger of the trip was her stop in Cairo. When asked whether she would be meeting with the Muslim Brotherhood, she had to ask an aide, and when she was informed that the MB is banned in Egypt, she said that she would respect Egypt's laws. Also didn't meet with Nour from al-Ghad or any of the folks from Kifaya. Basically reinforcing the stereotype concerning the US relationship with Mubarak......oh well, sad.

Posted by: Patrick at September 28, 2005 10:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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