President Bush joined in swearing-in ceremonies Friday for the State Department's new Public Diplomacy chief, former senior White House aide Karen Hughes. Mr. Bush urged an aggressive effort to counter anti-American propaganda around the world.
Ms. Hughes assumes the key State Department post with public attitudes about the United States abroad, especially in the Islamic world, remaining at a low ebb.
In comments at the swearing-in event here, President Bush said he could think of no one better than his former key adviser and campaign aide to lead the effort to improve America's overseas image, which he said should include a faster and more aggressive response to false charges and reporting about the United States.
"I've asked the State Department to improve our government's capabilities to confront terrorist propaganda, quickly before myths have time to take root in the hearts and minds of people across the world," the president said. "Listen, our enemies use lies, they use lies to recruit and train and indoctrinate. So Karen and her team have a vital task. They must ensure that the terrorist lies are challenged aggressively."
Mr. Bush said the United States is still in a war against terrorism and that to prevail in the conflict, the U.S. government must effectively explain its policies and fundamental values to people around the world.
Mr. Bush likened the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States to the challenge now posed by recovery efforts from Hurricane Katrina and said he is gratified, as he was after the 9/11 events, by the outpouring of international support for hurricane victims.
"Towns and communities have been flattened," he said. "One of our great cities has been submerged. In this time of struggle e the American people need to know we're not struggling alone. I want to thank the members of the diplomatic corps who are with us today. I want to thank the world community for its prayers, and for the offers of assistance that have come from all around the world. The outpouring of compassion and support has been substantial."
Ms. Hughes, who took her ceremonial oath of office from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, also compared the hurricane disaster with the 9/11 events and said that inspiration can be drawn from the international response to both events.
"Yes, we saw terrorists who horrifically targeted innocents, and criminals who preyed on the vulnerable," she said. "But we saw far, far more people who opened their homes and their hearts to total strangers, both here and across our world and reached out to help others in need. In our response to terror and tragedy both at home and across the world, we've been reminded that what unites us as human beings is so much greater than even the important matters on which we sometimes disagree."
Ms. Hughes, as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, will run the department's media relations and public outreach efforts, and oversee international cultural and exchange programs budgeted at more than $300 million a year.