Karen Hughes, the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy
and Public Affairs, has been strangely silent this summer. The Bush
confidante sworn in with much hoopla nearly a year ago to fix
America's image overseas has had practically nothing to say recently
about pressing issues of the day. Why? Was it a desire on her part to
take a break from the demands of her job? Or did her lack of
knowledge about the Middle East require her to be unheard if not unseen?
But now, upon the fifth anniversary of 9/11, Hurricane Karen, as she
is known in Bush circles (or at least was until Katrina brought the
President's poll numbers down), has chosen to let her views about the
state of the world be better known, in a September 12 article in the
national daily USA Today.
Unfortunately, Hughes's just published global tour d'horizon,
reminiscent of a sanctimonious small-town sermon, reflects much that
has been wrong with American public diplomacy with her at the helm.
Her 928-word piece, "Where's the Outrage: A United World Must
Resolutely Condemn Terror" shows Hughes - and her notions about
America's place on our small planet - at their worst, for several
First, Hughes blames the inadequate global response to terrorism not
one iota on the missteps of the Bush administration, but on the "lack
of outrage" of ordinary citizens throughout the world. "Where are,"
Hughes asks in a rhetorical flourish that shows a rare capacity for
conflating unrelated topics, "the mothers organizing against
terrorism as Americans mothers did against drunken driving? Where are
the fathers promising to teach their sons to choose to live rather
than choose to die?" (Evidently, according to Hughes, who proudly
proclaimed to Middle East audiences that "I'm a Mom," foreign fathers
are not expected to teach their daughters anything).
Hughes seems to forget that, in the wake of 9/11, the world expressed
sympathy for and solidarity with the United States. It was only after
the Bush administration's unilateral and aggressive military actions
- particularly against Iraq - that global opinion turned against the
Second, Hughes unjustifiably attacks religious leaders worldwide for
tolerating terrorism. Their criticism of violence, she declares,
"seems oddly muted." But it has been widely reported that many
clerics and congregations overseas have condemned terrorism. And to
blame all Muslim religious leaders for crimes of a tiny minority of
their co-religionists is a gross exaggeration.
Hughes's argument, moreover, can easily be turned upside down: Is the
mainstream religious leadership in the United States to be blamed for
the horrors of Abu Ghraib or the "collateral" and intentional
killings of Iraqi civilians at the hand of American troops, which for
many throughout the world are a form of terror? If top
representatives of American creeds are not responsible for these
horrid misdeeds, as Hughes, an elder in the Presbyterian Church,
would doubtless contend, then certainly leading Muslim clerics can't
be accused of condoning terror by a small group of extremists who
claim to share a common faith in Allah.
If, however, Hughes believes that an intolerant minority of Muslim
religious figures is indeed accountable for inciting hatred that
leads to terror, why does she not excoriate evangelist Jerry Falwell
(who stated "Jesus set the example for love, as did Moses," adding
that "I think Muhammad set an opposite example"; evangelist Pat
Robertson (who proposed the assassination of Venezuelan President
Hugo Chavez); or, for that matter, the evangelical Christian Lt. Gen.
William G. "Jerry" Boykin, known for his notorious statement about a
Muslim warlord in Somalia that "I knew my God was bigger than his. I
knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol"?
If Hughes believes in individual responsibility, certainly one of the
"values" that defines the United States (and how the Bush
administration loves to hype our all-American "values," while at the
same time tolerating moral abominations such as the interrogations at
Guantanamo condemned by human rights advocates), she should admit
that ultimately it is not religious leaders, either as a majority or
minority, but the terrorists themselves, who should be held
accountable for their despicable actions.
Indeed, it may be tempting to blame evangelists like Billy Graham for
George W. Bush's actions in the Middle East - which has led to the
deaths of tens of thousands of innocent civilians - but that is
letting the President off the hook. It is he, and his administration,
that deserve the blame, not an aged preacher known for chummying up
to those in power whose latest book, The Journey: How to Live by
Faith in an Uncertain World, Hughes has reportedly had at her bedside. Third, true to the tendency of the President and his aides to
useless and misleading historical analogies, Hughes says that "we
have a model" in how to stop terror: of all things, the worldwide
abolition of slavery. Hughes may see links between the victory over
terrorism (whatever and whenever that may be) and the historic
freeing of slaves, but surely she should make the logical basis of
her sweeping generalization clearer.
Is she suggesting that Americans and others have become the "slaves"
of terrorists? If that is so, she is sorely mistaken, for the public
in the United States has not become subservient to terrorist demands.
We may be threatened, but we have not given up our rights as American
citizens, despite the existence of legislation like the Patriot Act.
Americans are not slaves, least of all to terrorists (or the Bush
administration), and so the example of opposition to slavery as a way
to liberate us from terrorism is misguided.
Fourth, Hughes's proposal on how to fight terrorists is vague and ill-
defined. "Our challenge," she says, "is to launch a new grassroots
movement across all faiths and continents, a movement that clearly
states that no grievance, no complaint, no matter how legitimate, can
ever justify the targeting and killing of innocent civilians. A
movement that commits to teach our children that life is precious,
diversity should be celebrated, and hope can conquer hate."
It would be most enlightening to know specifically how Hughes
proposes to spend taxpayers' money to organize such a "movement," and
exactly what would be its programs. As it stands now, her planned
crusade - to use a word that so easily slips from her President's
tongue - seems so wishy-washy as to be without discernible direction.
In fact, for many poorly educated people in the world today,
especially those without exposure to societies outside of their own,
such a mass action would be appealing as a means to oppose what they
perceive to be an American desire for world domination through
sinister geopolitical machinations and destructive technology. Finally, Hughes condemns the "chilling" "propaganda" of terrorists.
But even a first reading of her article suggests that it is itself a
piece of crude propaganda based on the time-tested "us" vs. "them"
Bush distortion of reality. What Hughes is really saying - beneath
her blah-blah language for a "new grassroots movement across all
faiths and continents" - is that the main blame for terror squarely
falls on a non-Christian religion - Islam - and its leaders.
In all fairness to her, she does not use the absurd neocon verbal
atrocity "Islamofascism" to describe a religion with a long and
revered tradition. And she does briefly acknowledge that "many
voices, Western and Eastern, Islamic and Christian, have spoken out
against the violence." But the thrust of her message is that, because
of the Muslim faith and what she considers its irresponsible clerics,
"children are being taught the language of hate. Thousands of people
have been trained in terror training camps, convinced that the only
way to defend their faith is to kill all others who have a different
point of view."
Sadly, from Hughes's uninspiring remarks we can draw one disturbing
but not surprising conclusion: that she, partisan political operator
that she is, has again exposed us, and perhaps this time as a farce,
to the Bush formula for winning elections in the United States. This
Rove-flavored brainwashing, so reminiscent of propaganda in
totalitarian states, is based on instilling fear, all the while
depicting the world in stark black-and-white terms, with America the
holy and beautiful always on the side of the angels in an apocalyptic
struggle to rid our planet of Evil once and for all.
True to her calling as a skilled practitioner of improperganda (she
played an active role in the White House Iraq Group that "sold" the
war to the American public) the Under Secretary (who prefers to be
known as a "communicator") has not failed to choose a target audience
for her Islam-the-enemy remarks. And that target, one easily
concludes even without reading between the lines of her article, is
in fact not people "across all faiths and continents" that share
similar ideals. Indeed, her words are directed to a much narrower
group: the political base that is so important to the Republican
Party in the upcoming November elections - Christian fundamentalists
for whom there is one truth, the one revealed in the Bible (and, for
the most misguided among them, in the garbled utterances of the
Decider, George W. Bush, who claims to be in communication with the
Hughes also is trying to reach the so-called "security Moms," persons
understandably concerned about the safety of their family in this
uncertain age; that she has this group in mind is suggested by her
parochial if not vulgar insinuation that American "moms" concerned
about drunken driving are far superior to foreign mothers who do not
share this (admittedly worthwhile) concern.
It does not take much imagination to realize that the Under
Secretary's tactless proclamation about the unique sanctity of
American motherhood - so typical of the America-centered tone of her
USA Today sermonette, which looks at the rest of the world with such
condescension - will do little to improve America's "image" in Muslim
lands, and particularly among their female inhabitants.
What Hughes's narrow-minded politicking article - far being from a
noble call for a United World - really reflects is what at heart has
been the main problem of the Bush administration's public diplomacy
from the very day George W. Bush assumed the presidential office:
that he and his provincial cohorts have no real interest in the
outside world except as a extension of domestic politics. For the
White House, other countries "exist" only as nightmare places of its
own invention where foreign variations of Willie Horton - the
convicted felon whose non-Caucasian visage was used to terrify
"ordinary" Americans into supporting Bush Sr. in the 1988
presidential election - can be exposed as cruel, threatening villains
(who deserve all the shock-and-awe bombing and torture they can get)
so that gullible voters, once again, can be scared into voting
Republican for as long as possible.
John Brown, a former Foreign Service officer who practiced public
diplomacy for more than 20 years, now compiles the "Public Diplomacy
Press and Blog Review," which can be obtained free by requesting it
by an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or at http://