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A makeover for Uncle Sam
An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service


March 16, 2005

President Bush's appointment of Karen Hughes, whom he accurately described as "one of my most trusted and closest advisers," to a top State Department post is encouraging in that it underscores the importance he places in public diplomacy.

And the appointment of another trusted aide, former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, as secretary of state indicates that he does not plan to let the State Department be displaced from the top of the foreign-policy food chain by either the Pentagon or the White House National Security Council.

Hughes will become undersecretary of state for public diplomacy with the task of launching, as the president put it, "an aggressive effort to share and communicate America's fundamental values while respecting the cultures and traditions of other nations."

Not to put too fine a point on it, 9/11 and its aftermath showed that the United States' reputation in Muslim, and especially Arab Muslim, countries generally stinks.

Hughes will be the third appointee charged with changing that. Ad executive Charlotte Beers and former Reagan and Bush senior official Margaret Tutwiler preceded her with no great results to show for their efforts.

The development that would most favorably boost Muslims' perception of America is unfortunately out of Hughes' hands. That would be a U.S.-brokered final Mideast settlement that the world recognizes as fair to Palestinians.

She does have favorable momentum going for her in the successful elections in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories and the spontaneous Lebanese demonstrations to end Syrian occupation of their country.

However, she will have to resolve a particular conundrum: While the Bush administration's avowed goal in that part of the world is to spread democracy and end tyranny, many blame the United States for supporting various autocrats - the Saudi royal family, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf - because, cynically, it's in our interest to do so.

If anything, the Bush administration is often too wedded to public relations to effect policy changes, and its approach to the Arab world has been that if it could only find the right mix of campaign-tested propaganda techniques the Muslims would start seeing things our way.

Hughes could greatly speed her learning curve by skipping that step.



Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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