As Karen Hughes, longtime presidential adviser and new public diplomacy guru at the State Department, prepares to leave this weekend on a "listening tour" of the Middle East, a congressionally mandated advisory panel to the department warned that "America's image and reputation abroad could hardly be worse."
I'm not sure why we needed a congressionally mandated advisory panel to tell Hughes our image is down the tubes. Maybe that's the only way she'd "listen."
The Advisory Committee on Cultural Diplomacy cited polling that found that large majorities in Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia "view George W. Bush as a greater threat to the world order than Osama bin Laden."
In my view it's a toss up who's a greater threat to world order. But between the two of them, bin Laden is the one who seems to know what he's doing.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said yesterday that Hughes is "going to be starting a conversation with the rest of the world." He said that she will be "listening" on the trip, "and in listening, she will also be trying to explain our policies and laying the foundation for the coming years, in terms of our public diplomacy efforts."
So she's going to listen and talk at the same time. It's been my experience that people who do that don't hear anything, and the people they're talking to don't want to listen.
Rami G. Khouri of the Daily Star in Beirut wrote in a commentary last week that Hughes's efforts have promise "but I fear if some early distortions, gaps and misguided operating principles are not quickly amended, she and her efforts could turn out to be another howling waste of time and money."
I suspect she'd do more good by standing on the White House lawn and howling at the moon. But we'll see. She may surprise us and actually accomplish something, but her track record isn't promising. She's a longtime Bush adviser, remember. And the Bush team has never been strong on substance.
"Straight talking will work, but sweet talking won't," said James J. Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute. "This is not about feigning sincerity; it's about responding to concerns. We are in a hole too deep."
Feigning sincerity is precisely how the Bush administration got itself--and our country--in the hole it's in now. Will they overnight learn to stop digging? I'm skeptical.
They've built an oligarchy on the premise that they can spin reality into whatever they want it to be, and so far, they've gotten away with it. But the truth is catching up with them.
Perception is not reality. The map is not the territory. Or, as I like to put it, calling bull crap chocolate ice cream doesn't make it cold.
America's poor image is a direct result of the Bush administrations policies and actions. If the policies and actions remain the same, so will the image.