Bush loyalist leaves diplomat post
Karen Hughes, a presidential confidante entrusted with the arduous job of reversing the nation's plummeting image abroad, said Wednesday...
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON — Karen Hughes, a presidential confidante entrusted with the arduous job of reversing the nation's plummeting image abroad, said Wednesday she will resign from the administration and return to Texas.
Hughes, 50, one of the last members of President Bush's Texas inner circle still in government, said she will leave her post as head of the State Department's public-diplomacy programs at the end of the year.
Her departure ends a two-year effort that gave a high profile to the administration's efforts to improve the United States' reputation overseas but did not reverse a continuing decline that was caused in large part by the U.S. invasion of Iraq and other Bush foreign-policy decisions.
Public polls show the image of the United States declined substantially in the Muslim world — and elsewhere overseas — during Bush's presidency. The numbers have not improved during Hughes' stint — and in some cases have gotten worse.
She was the third prominent woman tapped by Bush to arrest the sliding U.S. image since the Sept. 11 attacks, being preceded by ad executive Charlotte Beers and former Ambassador Margaret Tutwiler.
The resignation of Hughes, a former TV reporter whose earliest Middle East mission in 2005 was marred by missteps, leaves the public-diplomacy program in doubt. Once seen by Bush as the way to spread "the universal principle of human liberty," the outreach efforts quickly began to founder in a rising anti-U.S. tide. A key 2007 survey showed a continued decline in U.S. standing among other countries.
At the same time, the administration's push for democracy in Arabic countries also has flagged. But Hughes cited progress in the image effort during an appearance with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Under Hughes' leadership, the U.S. budget for public diplomacy nearly doubled, to $900 million a year. The State Department focused on trying to reverse the hostility toward the United States in the Muslim world, assigning more Arabic speakers to talk to the Arabic news media and setting up "rapid-response units" to try to counter negative commentary on U.S. foreign policy.
But some experts contend that the approach of Hughes, a political media expert, was too focused on defending Bush's foreign policy and not enough on selling U.S. values and culture.
Public diplomacy "can be about selling the policies of the moment or about selling the American brand abroad," said Tamara Cofman Wittes, of the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy.
When Bush named Hughes undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs in 2005, it was seen as a sign that the administration remained serious about the job of salvaging the nation's reputation.
Hughes, who had never been to the Middle East before taking the job, drew criticism for some of her more high-profile initiatives.
Her highly publicized "listening tour" of three Middle East countries in 2005 was widely condemned in the region as clumsy and patronizing, including one appearance in which Hughes was chided by Saudi Arabian women for focusing on Saudi restrictions against women driving cars.
Material from The Washington Post is included in this report.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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