Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes says that if the United States wants to win the war on terrorism, it must continue to reach out globally with public diplomacy programs. From VOA's New York Bureau, Mona Ghuneim reports that Hughes also says the United States has to respect other nations and listen to what they are saying about America.
Hughes travels the world, championing the causes of women, opening schools and clinics, establishing English-language classes, and communicating with international media. It's her job as a U.S. government official, but she also calls it waging peace. And she says the need to reach out to the rest of the world is more important now than ever before for the United States.
According to polls like the Pew Global Attitudes Project, formerly positive views of America have dropped significantly, especially in the Middle East. The U.S. government's actions overseas continue to be a key factor in anti-American sentiment abroad. Hughes says she hopes her new initiatives will prove to the international community that America does want to be friendly with every country.
One project Hughes created this past summer is the Counter Terrorism Communications Center. She says the group of State Department experts work in this program has an understanding of and is culturally sensitive to Muslim and Middle Eastern audiences. She says the center provides the intellectual framework for how the United States responds to terrorism.
"It's a small group of people who come to work everyday with the mindset of, how can I advance the ideological struggle against extremism and terrorism across the world today," Hughes said.
Hughes says communications, cultural exchange programs, and improving the lives of others through health, education and economic incentives can help to counter terrorism. She says reaching out to young audiences in other countries is the main target of this project.
Hughes recently launched another program aimed at young people, ages eight to 14, in 13, mostly Islamic, countries.
Speaking to members of the foreign press in New York Friday, Hughes said that the Youth Enrichment Programs, or YEP, offer sports, music, art and English classes to over six thousand youngsters, including in the West Bank and Gaza.
"We try to focus these programs in areas of disadvantaged youth that are both vulnerable to radical recruitment but also where they don't typically have these kind of opportunities," she said.
Hughes recalled a boy she met during a recent visit to an English class in Morocco. The youth told her that he had found work, thanks to his ability to speak English. She said this boy came from the same neighborhood as the Casablanca suicide bombers, but that perhaps now, the youth had a reason to live rather than a reason to die.
Hughes says she hopes these kinds of programs will provide stability and opportunity for young people all over the world. She says the budget for these initiatives has gone up in her two years as Under Secretary of State but she would like to have even more funding for more work.
"These kind of programs ought to be a national security priority because I really believe that winning over populations and winning over the ideological struggle is as important as the military side," she said.
Hughes, a close friend of the president has once served as President Bush's White House counselor during his presidency from 2001 to 2002. The president asked her to come back in 2005, after he reelected for second term, to serve in her current position.
Hughes says she is trying to change the minds of those who dislike the United States, one person at a time if need be.