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What’s WHIG all About? An Open Letter to Karen Hughes
Published on Wednesday, October 19, 2005 by
What’s WHIG all About? An Open Letter to Karen Hughes
by John Brown
Dear Ms. Hughes:

Congratulations, from a former diplomat, on your appointment as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. It’s an important job, defined by the State Department as helping “ensure that public diplomacy (engaging, informing, and influencing key international audiences) is practiced in harmony with public affairs (outreach to Americans) and traditional diplomacy to advance U.S. interests and security …

At their best, public diplomacy programs provide careful arguments explaining to the world America’s foreign policy and help to expand international understanding. But at their worst, they can all too easily turn into base propaganda, as was the case with the administration’s justifications for the war in Iraq, a campaign in which you evidently took an active part as a member of WHIG (White House Iraq Group)

Because of your close ties to the President, you have bureaucratic clout. This seemed as though it might be a good omen for public diplomacy, according to commentators concerned about America’s role in the world today. Anti-Americanism abroad has hurt U.S. national interests, and much needs to be done for the United States to regain the respect of the opinions of mankind. Some would say: What better person than you -- a confidante of George W. Bush  -- to make the world stop hating us?

But your appointment is already raising some serious questions about your qualifications for a key position in the US government. Your recent Middle East trip was widely perceived as close to a disaster. Your outreach efforts in the region were preachy and parochial, according to observers.
Speaking to local audiences, you made elementary errors regarding American foreign policy, declaring, for example, that George W. Bush was the first American president to advocate a Palestinian state. And, in Egypt, you stated that the Constitution contains the phrase “one nation under God.”,,1581335,00.html These are very troubling oversights on your part.

But there are other, even more disquieting aspects about your appointment, regrettably not raised at your Senate confirmation hearings, when “not a single Democrat showed up to grill [you] on administration policy.”

Most disconcerting, apart from your participation in Republican political campaigns marked by smear tactics and fear-evoking sound bites, is your role in shaping the administration’s message regarding the war in Iraq. You were a member of the little-known, secretive WHIG, which, according to The Wall Street Journal (October 12), “worked on setting strategy for selling the war in Iraq to the public in the months leading up to the March 2003 invasion.”

The methods used by the White House to convince the American people to support a foreign policy fiasco have now been exposed as crude propaganda. Practically no one, on the left or the right, today believes the administration’s hysterical warnings about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction or an Iraqi-Al Quaeda connection.

The White House you serve trumpeted its aggressive, unilateral military actions against Iraq in ways favored by authoritarian or totalitarian regimes: gross simplification of the issues; repetition of logically unconnected slogans; demonization of the outsider; omission of key facts; violence to history; and a near-total disregard for truth. In 1915, Henry James said the war in Europe had “used up words.” That is also what the White House did in pushing the conflict against Iraq.

In your new job, you do not mention the crass propaganda you and your colleagues employed to trick America into war. Now, you are speaking about a three-pronged public diplomacy strategy based on: a “positive vision of hope that is rooted in the President's freedom agenda”; work to “isolate and marginalize the extremists and undermine their appropriation of religion”; and fostering “a sense of common interests and common values between Americans and people from different countries.” To carry out this strategy, you advocate the use of the “4-E's”: engage, exchange, educate and empower.

But your high-sounding public diplomacy proclamations don’t jibe with the virulent, atavistic White House propaganda you helped inflict on America and the world to justify a bloody and ruinous war.

So tell us: What do you really favor -- the best of public diplomacy or the worst of deceptive propaganda?  One way to start answering this crucial question is to disclose in detail what the goals and methods of WHIG were all about, and to tell us if you think what WHIG did was wrong.


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