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WASHINGTON - In another attempt to reach out to the Islamic world and burnish America's image abroad, President Bush is nominating a third high-powered woman, his loyal fellow Texan and former senior adviser Karen Hughes, to be undersecretary of state for public diplomacy.
In its report on why the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, occurred, the bipartisan 9/11 commission last year said the United States had done a poor job of selling America to the Muslim world and listening to its views. Zogby International polls of Arabs living in 10 countries have shown most think U.S. policy toward the Middle East is biased against Palestinians. The polls also have shown an increasing disillusionment with America's war on terrorism.
Ms. Hughes, 48, conceded that changing America's image abroad "will be difficult. Perceptions do not change quickly or easily. This is a struggle for ideas. Clearly in the world after Sept. 11, we must do a better job of engaging with the Muslim world."
In a statement Mr. Bush said spreading liberty while respecting other cultures is the best way to tamp down terrorism. Ms. Hughes as "one of my most trusted and closest advisers," he said, has the "experience, expertise, and judgment to lead this critical effort. Her return to public service in this important position signifies my personal commitment to the international diplomacy that is needed in these historic times."
Ms. Hughes was a Texas TV reporter from 1977 to 1984 with a bachelor's degree in fine art from Southern Methodist University. She became one of Mr. Bush's closest confidantes and is widely credited with helping him launch his successful bid for the presidency. She served in the White House as a top aide before returning to Texas three years ago to be with her son Robert, who will be a college freshman this autumn, and husband, Jerry. She wrote a book about her experiences and then returned to the campaign trail last August to travel with Mr. Bush.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by al-Qaeda operatives on the United States, two other women, former New York advertising executive Charlotte Beers and Margaret Tutwiler, a former White House and State Department aide to three Republican presidents, have held the post.
Upon leaving the post, both voiced frustration to friends, but publicly denied any serious tensions, although the budget for public diplomacy has not increased for three years. It is about $700 million.
Ms. Beers, who said her job was to "rebrand America," left citing health reasons. She had pushed a series of TV ads showcasing average American Muslims, including some from Toledo, but some countries quashed the ad campaign as patronizing, and the effort was largely deemed a failure.
Ms. Tutwiler, who had been ambassador to Morocco before the public diplomacy job, did not stay in the job long and left to take a position at the New York Stock Exchange.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced Ms. Hughes' nomination at a brief ceremony at the State Department yesterday. Ms. Rice and Ms. Hughes were the two most powerful female staffers in the White House during Mr. Bush's first term. Even after Ms. Hughes went back to Texas, she kept in touch with the President, advising him by phone.
Yesterday Ms. Rice said, "When it comes to our public diplomacy. We simply must do better sadly too few in the world today know about the goodness and compassion and generosity of the American people."
She also referred to the bipartisan 9/11 commission's warning that the United States must make a full-fledged effort to improve relations with Islamic nations. Ms. Rice said that part of Ms. Hughes' job will be to listen to the rest of the world, "confront hateful propaganda," and restructure America's public diplomacy efforts.
Ms. Rice said she can think of no one more suited for the job of telling America's story to the world, noting that Ms. Hughes has traveled to Afghanistan three times to help the women readjust after the repressive rule of the Taliban.
Ms. Hughes' deputy will be Dina Powell, who is now White House personnel director and who also must be confirmed. The White House said she speaks Arabic fluently, which she learned abroad as a child.
Several State Department aides, while skeptical that changing America's image can be done with public relations tools, said that Ms. Hughes' best credentials are her acumen in helping sell Mr. Bush's messages and her immediate access to the President.
In her public comments she is known for keeping her cards close to the vest and for her strong support for Mr. Bush.
Ms. Hughes said she grew up in an Army family, was born in Paris, and lived in Canada and in Panama. "I learned to respect people of different countries and different cultures," she said, adding U.S. officials need to listen to foreigners more.
"When I first went to work at the White House, I promised the President that I would always give him my unvarnished opinion," she said.
"If confirmed here in the world of diplomacy at the State Department, I may occasionally have to add a little diplomatic varnish, but I will always speak from the heart and I will always do my best to stand for what President Bush has called the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice, and religious tolerance."
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