KAREN Hughes is leaving government, again. The longtime adviser to the President was a key White House aide early in the Bush presidency. Then she left, and went back to Texas, but in a sense was never really gone. Two years ago, she came back, and we suspect now wishes she hadn't. This time, she was given the impossible mission to try to improve the nation's image in the Muslim and Arab world.
Given this administration's track record and policies, she might as well been asked to drain the oceans. It was a job that was doomed from the start. Now for the second time, Ms. Hughes is moving back to Texas, one of the last of President's inner circle - read: cronies - to vacate the administration. Her resignation is effective in December, though she says she will still be a consultant to the State Department.
To her credit, in her most recent job Ms. Hughes did her best with an impossible situation. She put forth a concerted effort to try to improve America's badly tarnished image abroad. She vastly increased the number of interviews Arabic speaking personnel provided to Arabic media. She established three pubic relations centers abroad to respond to the news; doubled the public diplomacy budget to almost $900 million a year, and dispatched sports figures Michelle Kwan and Cal Ripken, as unofficial overseas diplomats.
None of it worked, though, mainly because the Muslim and Arab world can't separate America from the administration's invasion and occupation of Iraq. In fact, a Pew Research Center survey targets the war as the single-most important reason American prestige is declining abroad.
Ms. Hughes is one of the last of the competent Bush loyalists, and her absence will be keenly felt in the White House. But it will hardly be noticed by the world.