In an administration that prides itself on message control, that keeps potential dissenters out of policy discourse or even political events with its leaders, and punishes or rewards based on whether someone is “with them or against them,” Karen Hughes’ very public encounters with people who are angered by American behavior in the world couldn’t be more important.
The Hughes trip is successful because of her public encounter with America’s sensible opposition — an opposition that wants to be our friend but can’t understand the logic or sense of our actions and foreign policy.
This in today from the New York Times‘ Steven Weisman:
Under Secretary of State Karen P. Hughes, seeking common ground with leading women’s rights advocates in Turkey, was confronted instead on Wednesday with anguished denunciations of the war in Iraq and what the women said were American efforts to export democracy by force.
It was the second day in a row that Ms. Hughes found herself at odds with groups of women on her “public diplomacy” tour, aimed at improving the American image in the Middle East. On Tuesday, she told Saudi Arabian women she would support efforts to raise their status but was taken aback when some of them responded that Americans misunderstand their embrace of traditions.
She met Wednesday with about 20 Turkish feminist leaders in Ankara, the capital. She introduced herself, as she has done on this trip, as “a working mom” and said she was there to emphasize the many things Turkey and the United States had in common. The women welcomed her but had a different emphasis.
“You are very angry with Turkey, I know,” said Hidayet Tuskal, a director of the Capital City Women’s Platform, referring to what she characterized as United States reaction to opposition in Turkey to the Iraq war, which she said was a feminist issue because women and children were dying daily. “I’m feeling myself wounded,” Ms. Tuskal added. “I’m feeling myself insulted here.”
Fatma Nevin Vargun, identifying herself as a Kurdish rights advocate, said she was “ashamed” of the war and added that the United States bore responsibility. Referring to the arrest of a war protester at the White House on Monday, she added, “This was a pity for us as well.”
With her brow furrowed, Ms. Hughes replied: “I can appreciate your concern about war. No one likes war.” She went on to say that “my friend President Bush” did all he could to avoid a war in Iraq, but then asserted about Iraq: “It is impossible to say that the rights of women were better under Saddam Hussein than they are today.” She said that women had been tortured, raped and killed under the leadership ousted by American troops.
I hope Hughes is getting a sense of that effective public diplomacy has to be connected to an effective enlightened foreign and national security policy. It can’t be all smiles and dithering assertions about Bush’s real intentions. We need to resolve many of the key grievances that our global audience has with us now — and perhaps Karen Hughes has just heard a dose of that. . .whether she wants to acknowledge it or not.
— Steve Clemons