2005/10/01

Karen Hughes tours the Mideast

Karen Hughes, under secretary for public diplomacy and a close friend of President George W. Bush, spent several months between announcing that she would fill her position and actually assumng that position. What is apparent is that she did not spend the tme studyig up.

For example, in an interview with al-Jazeera, the Arabic television network that has been criticised by the administration for its perceived anti-American bias, Mrs Hughes said: “President Bush is the first president in the history of America to say we believe the Palestinians should have a state, living side by side in peace with Israel.” Yet, on January 7 2001, in a policy speech in New York then President Bill Clinton laid out what were known as the “Clinton parameters” and declared: “First, I think there can be no genuine resolution to the conflict without a sovereign, viable Palestinian state that accommodates Israel's security requirements and the demographic realities.”

Mr Clinton's speech, which summed up several months of ultimately fruitless negotiations with both parties, is widely available on official US websites.

A spokesman for Mrs Hughes, asked to verify her assertions, looked surprised and said he would come back later with comment.

So much for studying even widely-available American history!

Defending the 2003 invasion of Iraq, part of Mrs Hughes' argument is that Saddam Hussein's forces fired on US aircraft that she said were enforcing sanctions.

This was entirely true, but as was pointed out at the time, the imposition of the no-fly zone was an entirely unilateral action taken by the US and Britain that lacked the force of international law by means of a UN sanction. Iraq was entirely within it's rights to fire upon aircraft overflying it's territory. In fact:

Kofi Annan, UN secretary general, at the time also joined Russia, China and others in challenging US assertions that Iraq had violated Resolution 1441 by firing on US and British aircraft enforcing the no-fly zones.

Then:

[Hughes] meets with a group of Turkish women—hand-picked by an outfit that supports women running for political office—who brusquely tell her she has no credibility as long as U.S. troops occupy Iraq.

Many in this region say they resent the American assumption that, given the chance, everyone would live like Americans.

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The main task of this posting is to improve America's image in the Muslim world. Let us stipulate for a moment that Hughes is ideally suited for the job—that she can figure out how to spin sheiks, imams, and "the Arab street" as agilely as she spun the White House press corps in her days as Bush's communications director.

Even if that were so, why would anybody assume that she is the one to do the face-to-face spinning? Wouldn't it be better to find someone who—oh, I don't know—speaks the language, knows the culture, lived there for a while, was maybe born there?

Put the shoe on the other foot. Let's say some Muslim leader wanted to improve Americans' image of Islam. It's doubtful that he would send as his emissary a woman in a black chador who had spent no time in the United States, possessed no knowledge of our history or movies or pop music, and spoke no English beyond a heavily accented "Good morning." Yet this would be the clueless counterpart to Karen Hughes, with her lame attempts at bonding ("I'm a working mom") and her tin-eared assurances that President Bush is a man of God (you can almost hear the Muslim women thinking, "Yes, we know, that's why he's relaunched the Crusades").

And on a tour of Turkey:

War makes the rights of women completely erased, and poverty comes after war -- and women pay the price," said Fatma Nevin Vargun, a Kurdish women's rights activist. Vargun denounced the arrest of Cindy Sheehan, the mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq, in front of the White House this week.

Hughes, who became increasingly subdued during the session, defended the decision to invade Iraq as a difficult and wrenching moment for Bush, but necessary to protect the United States.

And, finally, the Guardian opines:

With these well-meaning arguments, Hughes has provided the exact proofs for Bin Laden's claims about American motives. "It is stunning to the extent Hughes is helping bin Laden," says Robert Pape, a University of Chicago political scientist who has conducted extensive research into the motives of suicide terrorists and is the author of Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. "If you set out to help bin Laden," he says, "you could not have done it better than Hughes."

Lookin' an awful lot like Hughes' tour of the Mideat is a bust. Reports indicate that she's willing to listen, but it's clear that she doesn't know anything to start with.

UPDATE: The reviews are now in:

"Preachy, culturally insensitive, superficial PR blitz." -- USA Today.

"Faux Pas Trifecta; saying too much, saying the wrong thing, saying anything at all." -- the Washington Times op-ed page.

"Non-answers, canned message, macabre." -- the Los Angeles Times.

"Fiasco, lame attempt at bonding." -- Slate.com

"Painfully clueless . . . pedestrian . . . vapid . . . gushy." -- Arab News ("The Middle East's Leading English Language Daily")

"The marquee clown [in] America's circus diplomacy . . . total ineptitude . . . total disconnect." Al-Jazeerah.

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