Cross-posted at DailyKos. What an opener for the WaPo story today on Karen Hughes and Dina Powell’s new “mission impossible”:
The Bush administration’s outreach to the Islamic world is in no hurry. And it includes no Muslims.
No Muslims. That’s right. And that’s not the only problem: Hughes and Powell, appointed a month ago to “craft a bold new approach for U.S. public diplomacy” likely won’t take charge until next fall, and must be confirmed by the Senate. Further, their outreach strategies will likely be more “spin,” manipulative PR and propaganda than the deeper understanding of their predecessor Margaret Tutwiler, who left because of a lack of resources and “the administration’s general failure to understand that the basic problems faced by Washington in the Middle East.” More below:
Since you, like most visitors at BoomanTribune, are members of the “reality-based” community, the lack of a Muslim presence — and the delays in getting the program going — are critical because, reports the Washington Post today, “Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the United States and is expected to become the second-largest religious bloc here in the next few years.”
The delay comes as a Government Accountability Office report released this month criticized the administration for failing to develop a strategy to improve the image of the United States as “recent polling data show that anti-Americanism is spreading and deepening around the world.”
“Such anti-American sentiments can increase foreign public support for terrorism directed at Americans, impact the cost and effectiveness of military operations, weaken the United States’ ability to align with other nations in pursuit of common policy objectives, and dampen foreign publics’ enthusiasm for U.S. business services and products,” the report warned.
Despite the administration’s repeated pledges of outreach, the State Department’s main program directed at the Islamic world has no Muslim staff, U.S. officials say. “There’s a dearth of Muslims in the State Department generally,” a senior State Department official said. Like Powell, who is Egyptian American, most Arabs in the administration are Christians, sources said. [Susan’s Note: Dina Powell is a Coptic Christian.]
“It’s very important for American Muslims to be involved, as they’re an important conduit to the wider Islamic world and they should be speaking out,” the second U.S. official added. “But American Muslims generally feel they’re not included like other communities. We should be talking to them, as they have a lot of knowledge of the region.”
The failure to include American Muslims has sparked criticism from Middle East and democracy experts. “You can do Muslim outreach without Muslims and it doesn’t mean Dina Powell can’t be effective, but the administration has not made much effort to integrate Muslim Americans in this effort,” said Thomas Carothers, director of the democracy project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The administration has appointed only two American Muslims to top jobs — only one in foreign policy. Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan American, is the former ambassador to Afghanistan and the nominee to be the new ambassador to Iraq. Elias A. Zerhouni, an Algerian American, is director of the National Institutes of Health.
The most successful program, U.S. officials say, is the State Department’s media outreach, which organizes interviews with journalists in Muslim countries of senior U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and new democracy czar Elizabeth Cheney. It has organized more interviews this year than in all of 2004.
But analysts say media exposure is not enough. “There’s deep confusion within the administration about what public diplomacy means. For some, it’s simply selling America’s image in the world,” Carothers said. “For others, it’s something deeper that has to do with creating a partnership between America and Muslim countries to replace the current antagonism.” …
Reports IPS (Inter Press Service News Agency), Hughes’ and Powell’s two predecessors gave up after a short time, and failed at their assigned tasks even though they had a deeper understanding of the mission — beyond public relations and advertising.
Hughes’ mandate will include implementing a major reform of Washington’s public-diplomacy work in addition to reaching out to the public of other nations, particularly in the Arab world, where Washington’s image, according to public-opinion surveys since Bush launched his ”war on terror,” has fallen to all-time lows. ….
Hughes follows in the failed footsteps of two other very prominent women who were posted to the same job. After 9/11, former Secretary of State Colin Powell appointed Charlotte Beers, a legend on Madison Ave. who pioneered the advertising technique of ”branding.” Beers, however, made a series of televised ads to promote Washington’s image in the Arab world that were deemed ineffective at best and finally left after two years for ”personal reasons”.
Margaret Tutwiler, a top aide and spokesperson for former Secretary of State James Baker and a former ambassador to Morocco, succeeded Beers but quit after only one year, reportedly out of frustration with the lack of resources and the administration’s general failure to understand that the basic problems faced by Washington in the Middle East. This had much to do with U.S. policies as with general anti-Americanism.
”Tutwiler (and her interim successor, Pat Harrison) really did understand that Washington’s image problems in the Arab world were being driven by its policies and could not be addressed simply by sophisticated advertising and message-spinning,” said James Zogby, director of the Arab-American Institute. ”But that was something the White House didn’t really want to hear”.
“A second report released last fall by the Defense Science Board (DSB) … made up of private-sector and academic experts appointed by Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld,” reports IPS, “called on U.S. policymakers to spend more time ”listening” to their intended audience and use messages that ‘should seek to reduce, not increase perceptions of arrogance, opportunism and double standards (by the U.S.).'”
”Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies,” the DSB wrote in a direct challenge to the administration’s own propaganda. ”The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favour of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf states.”
My two cents: Listening is not something that Bush is known for. This Hughes/Powell venture will surely just be a dog and pony show without substantive outreach that favorably influences perception in the U.S. or worldwide Muslim communities.
P.S. WaPo has an interesting profile of 32-year-old Dina Powell from January 2005: “Dina Powell, the West Wing’s Hire Power.” She does speak fluent Arabic. And PropaG – GOPUSA in Texas Investigated provides more background on Powell’s husband, Richard Powell.