Experts take Hughes' nomination for undersecretary as good sign

WASHINGTON: Expectations are high as longtime Bush loyalist and message maven Karen Hughes steps into the role of undersecretary of state for public affairs and public diplomacy - a job known for its departures and disappointments since 9/11.

WASHINGTON: Expectations are high as longtime Bush loyalist and message maven Karen Hughes steps into the role of undersecretary of state for public affairs and public diplomacy - a job known for its departures and disappointments since 9/11.

If confirmed by the Senate, the former White House communications director will be the third to hold the post, abandoned nearly a year ago by diplomatic veteran Margaret Tutwiler, since the October 2001 swearing in of former Ogilvy & Mather CEO Charlotte Beers.

The undersecretary is charged with presenting the US' image to overseas audiences, a job that has in recent years focused almost exclusively on Muslim countries.

True to her pedigree, Beers centered her efforts on a $15 million ad campaign, though that effort was rejected or banned by many Arab countries. Beers left the job in March 2003 for health reasons.

The choice of Tutwiler was hailed as a return to traditional diplomatic tactics, but the ex-ambassador stayed only six months before taking the EVP, communications, post with the New York Stock Exchange.

Now diplomacy experts are taking the appointment of Bush's closest adviser and PR strategist as a sign that he considers the job a top priority.

"I'm personally delighted at the appointment," said Edward Djerejian, director of Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy and head of a 2003 State Department committee that suggested radical changes for US public diplomacy.

"One of our key recommendations was that the President should have a special counselor advising him," he said. "[In Hughes], you have exactly what we've been talking about."

Although Hughes has offered no clues to her approach, observers note her penchant for appealing directly to the public.

"If you can take any cue from [Hughes'] political communications strategy, one would think [she] would recognize the importance of grassroots communications and a very disciplined message," explained Weber Shandwick Worldwide chairman Jack Leslie. "Previous attempts at public diplomacy have not measured up in those areas."

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