US lawmakers have urged the State Department's top public diplomacy official to use her new position to counter anti-Americanism in the Muslim world. Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes appeared at a House of Representatives hearing, which also highlighted differences over Bush administration policies in Iraq.
Mrs. Hughes has traveled to a number of Muslim countries carrying the primary message that there is no justification for extremism and terrorism.
Since her appointment, she traveled to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey and most recently to Indonesia and Malaysia, and will soon go to Pakistan to view areas hit by the South Asian earthquake.
A longtime advisor to, and close confidant of President Bush, she has also forcefully delivered another message, that America's war against terrorism is not a conflict with Islam.
In testimony to the House International Relations Committee, she cited the terrorist attacks in Jordan as further proof of the challenges facing her efforts.
"We have been once again reminded of the stakes and what we are up against," she said. "People who are willing to even kill innocent Jordanians attending a wedding, and we will work together with countries and people throughout this world to defeat this threat."
Ms. Hughes faced lawmakers frustrated with what many see as a lack of a cohesive plan to convey American values abroad and counter anti-Americanism in the Muslim world.
"What we need is a permanent campaign aimed at the minds of our estranged audiences," said Mr. Hyde. "A combative, aggressive, fully-engaged political campaign, one that directly counters assertions and distortions by presenting a convincing case for what we are doing, for countering our enemies' assertions and lies, and proving our case," said Congressman Henry Hyde, who chairs the committee.
"Four years after [the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks] I think we all agree that we are struggling. Radical ideologies are proliferating, because they are using the airwaves and if we are going to succeed we need a complete reevaluation of our efforts," said Republican Congressman Ed Royce, a key supporter of U.S. public diplomacy programs and international broadcasting.
Thursday's hearing highlighted differences among lawmakers over the most effective ways to repair the U.S. image abroad, and disagreements over Bush administration policies.
Congressman Gary Ackerman asserts that Bush administration policies on Iraq, as well as controversy over the mistreatment of detainees in Iraq by some U.S. soldiers, and the recent news report about secret CIA prisons housing terrorist suspects, have made the job of changing hearts and minds more difficult. "Don't these things all contribute to the hobbling of the effort and the mission upon which you have embarked?" he asked.
Such issues pose challenges, Mrs. Hughes acknowledged, adding that U.S. officials trying to explain U.S. positions need to provide contrasts.
"Let's contrast the way we treat our detainees," said Mrs. Hughes. "Humanely, those in Guantanamo are given culturally appropriate meals, they're allowed the opportunity to worship, they are given the Koran, they are given medical care and treatment. Let's contrast that with the way our enemies treat their prisoners. They have beheaded them. I'm sorry if that sounds blunt, [but] those are the facts. There is no justice, there is no rule of law, there is no compliance with any international standards."
Mrs. Hughes says one of her main goals is to ensure that the voices of Muslim clerics and others who are willing to condemn acts of terror are highlighted in U.S. information efforts.
"We think that is important, to amplify those voices so that this is not just America saying that acts of terror against innocents are bad, these are also voices within Islam that are saying the acts of terror are bad," she added.
In Thursday's hearing, lawmakers emphasized the importance of honesty and openness in the process of telling America's story to the Muslim world, with one cautioning against making generalizations about how the United States should present itself.