*by John Brown*
/“When I was young and irresponsible, I sometimes acted young and
/--Karen Hughes, Ten Minutes from Normal, p. 61
*1. *Your appointment as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy
and Public Affairs in July 2005 was met with high expectations, given
your confidante status with President George W. Bush, in whose political
campaigns you played a key communications role.
The position you hold today, according to the State Department homepage,
“helps ensure that public diplomacy (engaging, informing, and
influencing key international audiences) is practiced in harmony with
public affairs (outreach to Americans) and traditional diplomacy to
advance U.S. interests and security and to provide the moral basis for
U.S. leadership in the world.”
Now, more than one year after your appointment, there are indications in
Washington coming from a local think tank that you are under pressure to
leave your job. Before you depart government service -- if in fact you
will be leaving -- allow me ask you a few questions regarding American
public diplomacy with you at the helm.
*2. *According to a recent article in the Dallas Morning News (August
2), you believe that “polishing the badly tarnished U.S. image abroad
starts with reshaping the State Department's public diplomacy efforts to
fit the rapidly changing communications demands of the 21st century.”
But what have you actually done, from a programmatic or bureaucratic
standpoint, to reshape this effort during your (granted) brief tenure?
“New” ideas you mention to the public -- such as English-teaching camps
-- have been part of U.S. government public diplomacy since the Cold War
(they were then called English teaching “seminars” for local teachers of
the language). One project you extensively publicized, “rapid response”
to false or inaccurate foreign media reports, were high on the list of
priorities of the United States Information Agency, which handled public
diplomacy from 1953 to 1999 (when it was consolidated into the State
Given a considerable skepticism among persons familiar with public
diplomacy that your “new” initiatives are not all that new, can you
honestly argue that you and your staff have been able to rethink -- and
change in any significant way -- the role of public diplomacy in the
transformed world of the 21st century so that it can better serve
American national interests?
*3. *In an address to the Council on Foreign Relations in March of this
year, you said that "policy must match public diplomacy." But recent
events in the Middle East suggest that public diplomacy has had little
impact on policy during your tenure. To what extent, for example, was
Middle Eastern public opinion taken into consideration by the U.S.
government when it decided to approve the Israeli military intervention
Despite your recent Middle-East related interviews -- on CNN, July 26,
which is not posted on the State Department homepage -- and on the
Malaysian media (“almost incomprehensible” is how a foreign affairs
professional, Patricia Kushlis, characterized your statements on that
occasion in her respected blog, Whirled View, August 1), recent media
coverage of your policy positions and programs has been minimal. Indeed,
all a major publication like the Wall Street Journal online (July 15)
could say about you during the past critical weeks was that, on your way
to the Middle East with a State Department delegation, irate
Lebanese-Americans complained to you at Ireland’s Shannon airport --
while you were sipping wine at the airport bar, the paper doesn’t fail
to note -- about their treatment by the State Department during their
And you have been severely criticized by one of the most knowledgeable
commentators on the Middle East and its media, Professor Marc Lynch, in
his blog, Abu Aardvark, July 26): “If a good, well-prepared, and active
Under-Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy had been sitting at the
policy-making table, he or she might have … suggested American policies
and rhetoric which would have resonated better with Arab publics without
compromising the Bush administration's policy goals (whatever those are).
That none of these things happened … makes me once again repeat what I
said a few days ago: Karen Hughes should quit immediately. Get somebody
in as an acting public diplomacy director who is at least going to try.
*4. *Is your public taciturnity in recent weeks about substantive issues
of war and peace in the Middle East a reflection of your approval -- or
acceptance -- of Israel-style public diplomacy, which has been
criticized by Israelis themselves as ineffectual by its failure to
The commentator Caroline Glick, for example, writes in the Jerusalem
Post (August 14) that Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is
“incapable of conducting public diplomacy.” In plainer language, Daniel
Ben Simon notes in Haaretz.com (“Talking Only to Ourselves,” August 16):
“Is it possible that the miserable war in Lebanon and the endless
slaughter in Gaza are an outcome of the lack of willingness to talk with
Does the unwavering U.S. support for the Israeli government (while much
of the world condemned it for aggression or overreaction during its
recent military campaign) mean that its policies have become the U.S.
public-diplomacy model for the Middle East?
*5.* While your closeness to George W. Bush was met with approval in
Republican media when you were appointed, in the recent past you have
been criticized by the right-wing for seemingly failing “to embrace
President Bush’s … ideas of good and evil” (Joel Mowbray, Town Hall,
July 11, 2006) and for addressing a meeting of the Islamic Society of
North America (ISNA), which according to Frank Gaffney
(FrontPageMagazine.com, August 30, 2005) “has for years sought to
marginalize leaders of the Muslim faith who do not support the
Wahhabists’ strain of Islamofascism, and, through sponsorship of
propaganda and mosques, is pursuing a strategic goal of eventually
dominating Islam in America.”
So could in fact your silence on the Middle East, instead of expressing
your tacit approval of neoconservative support for Israel or in fact of
Israeli policies, have been forced upon you by members of the
administration so as not to make publicly known your possible sympathy
for views that are not in tune with a core constituency up to now
supportive of George W. Bush’s unilateral, militaristic foreign policy?
(You mention in your memoir, “Ten Minutes from Normal,’ that “I cast my
first vote for president for Jimmy Carter,” quickly adding however that
this was “the only time that I have ever voted for anyone other than the
Republican nominee for president” and that “when I was young and
irresponsible, I sometimes acted young and irresponsible.”)
But, despite your devotion to the GOP, could your “listening tours” of
the Muslim world (during which the U.S. media derided you for your lack
of familiarity with the area and for proclaiming to local audiences that
“I’m a mom”) have made you doubt some of the wisdom of ideas reducing
ferment in many parts of the world to a struggle between “us” vs. “them?”
If that is indeed the case, do you not think that you have a duty to
speak out, or at least (if you intend to stay at the State Department)
use more of your influence with the President to provide greater nuance
to his vision of the world -- and to carry out a public diplomacy that
has more subtlety and intelligence than it has displayed up to now?
*6. *Even those who felt that you were insufficiently qualified for your
current position due to your lack of experience in foreign affairs and
limited knowledge of the Middle East could not but feel some sympathy
for you having taken on an assignment that, given the extent of
anti-Americanism in the world today, faced enormous challenges (your two
predecessors under George W. Bush, Charlotte Beers and Margaret D.
Tutwiler, both resigned).
Indeed, it could be said that you assumed an impossible task, given the
global antipathy toward President Bush’s policies and character.
Do you regret having served in the thankless post of Under Secretary of
State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs?
Do you believe that your talents in “communications” could be better
If your answer is yes, you have my full understanding.
John H. Brown
University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy
Institute for the Study of Diplomacy
*BBC World Service 16 August 2006 Broadcasting: A Bill Clinton Quote: *
Q. How fundamental is the clash of values in war on terror & how long
will it continue?
A. Well, I think the clash of values is more important than the
religious differences. What will they have if they win a war only
because they can force both sides into the killing of civilians? That is
basically what happened in Lebanon . Hezbollah fired all those rockets
and then hid among civilian populations. What kind of world will they be
leaving for their children and grandchildren? Do they really believe
they have the absolute truth and that they cannot accommodate differences?
The central question for our time is not how you worship God, or even
whether you worship God. It's whether you believe in this life you can
be in possession of the absolute truth and you have the right to impose
it on others. We need to remember that too, those of us who are the
targets of terror. Because we are rich, we are strong, we have sometimes
been insensitive to the weak and to the claims of people who couldn't
get high enough on our agenda. So if we want to exhort people and
persuade them as well as prevent them from engaging in terror we have to
act like we believe our common humanity is more important.