WASHINGTON: Karen Hughes, the State Department's new undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, hoped to address what she called "a generational struggle of ideas" during her trip last week to Muslim countries.
The former White House adviser and communications strategist said during her "listening tour" that she viewed the meetings "as the beginning of a new dialogue that is very much people-driven." One of her recent predecessors, former ad executive Charlotte Beers, was criticized for focusing too heavily on mass-media outreach.
But the diplomatic community offered some criticism of Hughes for her decision to meet mostly with politically moderate audiences.
"Talking nice to the Saudi or Egyptian governments, [which] are themselves the target of a huge amount of rage ... is not going to get Hughes very far," said Phyllis Bennis, Institute for Policy Studies fellow and Middle East expert. "If the US changed its policies, then her work of selling US policy [would become] much easier."
Hughes is expected to wield greater clout than her recent predecessors because of her close relationship with President Bush. "I can only assume that her real job is to play on her publicly close ties to George W. Bush in the hope that anybody she wants to meet with will [do so] because she has the President's ear," Bennis said.
Others wondered just how Hughes' stature "will play back in Washington among the turf-conscious bureaucrats, and how the public diplomacy people at the State Department will try to assert their influence" in light of her superstar status, said John Brown, senior fellow at the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy.
"With Hughes having such a high profile now, it will be interesting to watch the future chemistry between her and [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice," he pointed out.
The potential battles in the State Department also could result in confusion in foreign capitals about who has a closer relationship with the President, Brown said. "That is a nightmare, when foreign leaders don't know who's in charge," he added.