Sunday, November 04, 2007

The verdict on the Hughes era in American public diplomacy

As a veteran of cultural exchange, I was happy to hear of Karen Hughes' decision to step down from her post as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy. I was always at a loss as to what she could contribute to improving America's image abroad, since she knew virtually nothing of the languages and cultures of the world--she had been a local TV reporter in Texas and recently a spinmeister for George W. Bush. But that doesn't begin to convey the revulsion she inspired in people whom she was trying to convince that they were all wrong about the Bush White House and Bush foreign policy. Rami Khouri of the Lebanon Daily Star does this much better than I could, as follows( excerpted from his Nov. 4 column):

"I could not help but notice that Karen Hughes announced her resignation as US public diplomacy chief Wednesday on Halloween day here in the United States. This was an apt moment for her to hit the airwaves - when monsters, ghosts, goblins and witches roam the land for the night, then disappear for another year, all in a make-believe fantasy land that enchants us briefly, and frightens us occasionally, but that we never take seriously...

Her office had no appreciable impact on improving global perceptions of the United States, and in some situations made things worse, especially when she and some of her colleagues spoke to audiences in the Middle East with a combination of political condescension, cultural arrogance, and aggressive moralizing. I had the chance to see her perform in person a few times, and it was always a painful experience. Those left behind in her wake should analyze the last two years honestly, and come up with policies and strategies that shed the sort of racism, fantasy communication and self-delusional political and moral evasion of responsibility that the hapless Hughes and her colleagues practiced with a gusto that was matched by their obvious irrelevance and failure.

I am harsh on her and her work because it reflects the absolute worst in American political culture and America’s engagement with the world. What she has done in her two years as public diplomacy chief is not only ineffective and probably counter-productive; it is also very un-American. 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...

She never understood that her brand of moralizing and arrogant cultural cheerleading - “Go, Muslims, go! Reach for the sky! You can be modern and democratic, if you really try!” - was part of the problem, not part of the solution. She failed to grasp that she was handicapped from the start by trying to make us love a country whose pro-Israeli, pro-Arab autocrats foreign policy - and now the Iraq fiasco - has devastated our lands and cultures for nearly half a century.

By any standards, she failed miserably and totally - but to be fair to her, she never really had a chance, given the enormous handicap of her country’s foreign policy in the Middle East. We should criticize her personally only for accepting to be part of this charade, and playing the fool on a global stage that increasingly came to see her as a strange combination of a comedy and horror show rolled into one.

We should instead remind Americans that this is a moment for them to reconsider this whole silly episode, stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on vacuous public diplomacy programs, and stop insulting several billion people around the world who do not need any prompting to enjoy American values, education, business, technology, sports, and other offerings - including Halloween night, with its bags of Tootsie-Rolls, and the fantasy of defeated wicked witches who get on their brooms and disappear into the night sky, to reappear only in our future nightmares."

What he said! The fact is that Karen Hughes spent two years trying to put lipstick on a pig, and fooled absolutely no one. The US will be in the toilet bowl of worldwide public opinion until the current administration leaves office.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Never forget that among the train wreck left to us by Hughes is the Bush presidency itself, for which she worked so hard and long.

I am glad she has left the administration, but the move is several years too late, and the damage she left in her wake uncountable.

7:33 PM  
Blogger TomCat said...

Hughes is just another goose-stepper, but had she been a real diplomat, what would it matter? Pardon my French, but a diplomat is about as fitting in the Bush/GOP Reich as boobs on a bull!

3:26 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

Maybe she heard that diplomats were about to be sent to Iraq and she wanted to get out before they sent her too.

6:18 PM  

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