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Bush Turns to Hughes to Repair American Image Among Muslims

  • Amy Katz

U.S. President George Bush is turning to one of his most trusted political advisors - Karen Hughes - to lead the administration's efforts to repair America's image overseas - among Muslims. The choice indicates the priority the administration gives to this policy. As the nominee for post of Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, Ms. Hughes now faces confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate.

"I can think of no individual more suited for this task of telling America's story to the world, of nurturing America's dialogue with the world, and advancing universal values for the world, than Karen Hughes," said Dr. Rice.

When she announced Karen Hughes' nomination to become the new Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. needs to do a much better job with public diplomacy. She also said across the globe, there are too many people who are unaware of America's values and its efforts to advance democracy. After the devastation of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States acknowledged that it was very unpopular in many places - especially in the Muslim world. Helle Dale, of the conservative Washington, DC based think tank The Heritage foundation, says part of the problem is that the U.S. has not reached out to much of the Muslim world - including Arab countries, Indonesia, and Pakistan. But, she says, the U.S. is well known in those countries.

"You can bet that people talk about us. In fact, in some places, they seem to be positively obsessed. If we don't have a voice in that discussion about our country, they're going to make up things as they go along, they're going to rely on images from Hollywood, mass media, which I think, fine these are our products but it's not the sum total of the United States as a country," says Helle Dale.

A congressionally-funded advisory group studied the problem. It issued a report in 2003 suggesting new ways for the U.S. to reach out to the Arab and Muslim worlds. Ambassador Diana Lady Dougan was a member of that group. She says the effort needs to be made on the grass roots level - and it needs to be aimed at young people.

"Over 50% of the Muslim world is 16 {years old} or under. So, among other things, we need to engage a generation that wasn't born hating. They weren't born thinking that there's a Muslim world and the other world," explained Diana Lady Dougan.

When Secretary of State Rice announced her nomination, Karen Hughes agreed - saying the only way the future will be peaceful is if the world's children are taught to respect and celebrate each other's differences.

"This job will be difficult. Perceptions do not change quickly, or easily. This is a struggle for ideas. Clearly in the world after September 11, we must do a better job of engaging with the Muslim world. As the 9-11 commission reported, if the United States does not act aggressively to define itself, the extremists will glad do the job for us. Our public diplomacy efforts must also engage the wider world - from Europe to Latin America," says Karen Hughes.

Ambassador Dougan agrees the U.S. should reach out to Muslims especially in Europe. "The recognition that Europe has a large and growing Muslim population makes it logical to have more focus on not just Muslims who are in the the Middle East, or Indonesia, which happens to be the largest Muslim country in the world, but also in Europe, is a very logical extension of reaching out to to an area, and if you will, a constituency where there's been a great deal of distortion," says the ambassador.

Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman for the Council on American--Islamic Relations, sees it quite differently. He says America is not well liked in the Muslim world because of its policies, which he says should change.

"The whole policy towards the Middle East, I think, is the key. We need to have an even-handed approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. We need to be seen as real, honest brokers. We have traditionally, for decades, been seen as tremendously one-sided in this dispute and I think that's the core issue that we need to deal with," says Ibrahim Hooper.

Mr. Hooper also says he is hopeful Karen Hughes' may be able to influence U.S. policy, because of her close relationship with President Bush. And that, he says, puts her in a good position to succeed in promoting a more positive and balanced image of America in the Muslim world.