Karen Hughes defends Middle East trip at SMPA

Amid rising public opposition to the war in Iraq, Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes asserted that “freedom is a universal desire” in a speech at GW on Friday.

Hughes, who had just returned to America from a trip to the Middle East, reiterated that Iraq’s constitution vote this past weekend offered evidence that “on an even playing field, freedom will triumph over tyranny.”

Hughes addressed a crowd of more than 300 in the School of Media Affairs building’s Jack Morton Auditorium as part of the GW-based Public Diplomacy Institute’s forum “America’s Dialogue with the World.” The event featured panel discussions involving former journalists, ambassadors and academics. Hughes discussed America’s image abroad and how to combat terrorism using diplomacy.

During her speech Hughes said “a positive vision of hope rooted in the freedom agenda, the isolation and marginalization of extremists, and the need to foster common interest and values” is the foundation of American public diplomacy.

Hughes deflected criticism of her recent “listening tour” of the Middle East, in which a group of Turkish women voiced their opposition to the Unites States’ policy in Iraq.

“I was expecting feedback, and I was not surprised that a group of activist Turkish women raised objections to our policy,” Hughes said.

Much of the discussion Friday centered on improving America’s image in the midst of rising anti-American sentiment worldwide.

Turkish embassy official Fatih Yildiz said in an interview with The Hatchet that “waning support for American foreign policy does not reflect a lack of support for the American people.” He also expressed great confidence in the ability of Hughes to help the people of Turkey and the Middle East understand Americans’ aims.

Despite Hughes’ optimism about her trip to the Middle East, the Bush administration’s approach to public diplomacy has been heavily criticized, and many experts question Hughes’ ability to effectively improve America’s image abroad.

Anthony C.E. Quainton, a representative of the Public Diplomacy Institute, said during the forum that America’s interaction with the Middle East is “not a dialogue, but a lecture,” citing the importance of understanding what freedom means to others, rather than forcing American-styled democracy on the people of the Middle East.

Hughes began working for President Bush during his 1994 gubernatorial campaign in Texas and has since become one of the president’s closest advisers.

After serving as communications director for Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign, Hughes followed him to Washington to serve as counselor to the president. In 2002, Hughes returned to her home in Austin, Texas, but still managed to serve as an adviser to the White House and as a communications consultant for Bush’s re-election in 2004. Hughes returned to Washington in 2005 when Bush charged her with the duty of reviving the administration’s public diplomacy efforts in an effort to combat terrorism and increasing hostility toward the United States.

As part of the growing interest in public diplomacy, the Public Diplomacy Council joined forces with the School of Media and Public Affairs and the Elliott School of International Affairs in 2000 to form the Public Diplomacy Institute, which promotes the academic study, professional practice and responsible advocacy of public diplomacy.

Hughes said that despite foreign views of America’s public diplomacy policies, the United States still keeps an open-door policy, welcoming foreigners into the country. During her speech, Hughes recounted a conversation with an Egyptian man who asked, “Does the Statue of Liberty still face out?” To that Hughes answered with pride, “Yes it does.”

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