Have you been worrying about the image of the United States overseas? Have no fear, Karen Hughes is here. George W. Bush is nominating Hughes to be under secretary of state in charge of public diplomacy. That’s the administration official who oversees the government’s efforts to sell the United States abroad. No one has been in this position since the summer–which indicates just how much of a priority Bush has assigned to this task. With the United States’ standing abroad at a frightening low level–even though Bush’s belated response to the tsunami disaster did boost the United States’ image in Indonesia–the White House has done little to enhance public diplomacy. That is, if you don’t count Condi Rice strutting across Europe in high-heel, black leather boots. And the nomination of uber-hawk and UN-basher John Bolton to be UN ambassador hardly sent a signal that Bush is serious about working with other nations (and respecting their desires).
What are her Hughes’ qualifications for this post? Well, she has been Bush’s chief spin doctor since he entered politics. Once a local television reporter, she turned to the dark side. During the 2000 campaign, she actively misled the press about key aspects of Bush’s past–most notably, his military service and his drunk-driving conviction. As a White House aide, she used PR tactics, not the truth, to push Bush’s reckless policies. Now she’ll do the same concerning the United States’ image abroad. (If she could sell Bush to the American voters, maybe she can sell dirt as food.)
Of course, the problem is US policies, not the administration’s PR efforts. As a report produced by the Defense Science Board last year notes, “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather they hate our policies [in the Middle East].” The Bushies talk about public diplomacy–when the bother to do so–as a marketing issue. (“Gee, I just don’t understand why they don’t want to buy our new chalk-tasting cola? We must not be pitching it right.”) No, this is about product. True, you can successfully market crap and all sorts of stuff that harm consumers. But it sure helps to be peddling something that people want and that they consider high-quality.
Don’t forget about DAVID CORN’s BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Dan Rather’s noble attempt to hold a Bush accountable; God and blogs; attacks on progressive writers from indy publishers: and The New York Times‘s shoddy coverage of a massacre’s history.