Karen Hughes’s tenure as undersecretary of State for public diplomacy has come to a close, and not a moment too soon. She was named to the job in 2005 with the mission of enhancing America’s stature in the Middle East but the U.S. government’s reputation in the region has further tanked since then.
Hughes, a close friend of President Bush, is surely not a major reason why, but she didn’t help matters much either. Remember her “listening tours” to the Arab world? An account by Philip Giraldi said of one:
[In] Egypt, Hughes stressed to a skeptical audience the religiosity of the president and added that the U.S. Constitution includes the phrase “one nation under God,” which it does not. In Saudi Arabia, Hughes, repeatedly describing herself inappropriately and condescendingly as a “working mom,” and urged a mostly silent group of fully veiled women to obtain the right to drive because the inability to operate a vehicle “negatively shaped the image of Saudi society” in the U.S. She also equated driving with “freedom.” In Turkey, Hughes lamely attempted to connect with her audience by saying, “I love kids,” before being confronted by women troubled about the deaths brought about by the invasion of Iraq. She also heard concerns about America’s apparent intention to introduce democracy by force and explained . . . that “to preserve the peace, sometimes my country believes that war is necessary.” It is not clear how that translated into Turkish.
I called Zogby International today and got their most recent data (from research conducted in late-2006) on Middle Eastern opinion towards the United States. In Jordan, favorable opinion of the U.S. plunged from 33 percent in 2005, when Hughes took over, to 5 percent; in Morocco from 34 percent to six percent; and in Lebanon from 32 percent to 27 percent. Favorable opinion on Hughes’s watch barely changed in Egypt and Saudi Arabia–standing at an abysmal 13 percent in the former and 11 percent in the latter–and climbed notably only in the United Arab Emirates (from 28 percent to 35 percent). (It should be noted that these numbers represent views of the American government. Middle Easterners are generally not as negative about the American people.)
“Arab and Muslim attitudes towards the United States have been driven by American policy in the Middle East,” John Zogby, the firm’s president, told me. “Hughes was put in a situation where the policy was continually working against her.”