Earlier this month, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice guaranteed that America will tell its story to the world in a strong and unapologetic way by appointing high-powered political adviser Karen Hughes as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and feisty career diplomat John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the troubled United Nations.
I welcome both high-level appointments because they signal the president's intention to revitalize this country's public diplomacy - what the Bush administration defines as communicating "American policies and values" to foreign audiences - especially in the strife-torn Middle East and the Muslim world. After spending nearly 30 years in the public diplomacy business with the old U.S. Information Agency, I'm convinced that we can do a much better job of explaining our country and its foreign policy objectives to decision-makers and mass audiences in other countries.
If Karen Hughes can't put our public diplomacy apparatus back together, no one can. As President Bush's alter ego and communications guru, she has long been one of the president's closest advisers. And despite her lack of foreign policy experience, Ms. Hughes is a "quick study" who can use her White House ties to strengthen public diplomacy, which has been on the back burner ever since 1999 when Clinton's Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and ex-Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., teamed up to abolish USIA and transfer its cost-effective informational and cultural programs to the sprawling State Department "fudge factory."
Nowhere is the failure of U.S. public diplomacy more apparent than in the Middle East and the Muslim world, where American prestige and credibility are at all-time lows. Presumably, Ms. Hughes will confront the image problem head-on. "America's public diplomacy should be as much about listening and understanding as it is about speaking," she said following her surprise appointment. "I'm eager to listen and to learn."
That's a promising approach, but in the real world America's overseas PR can only be as good (or bad) as its foreign policies. Effective public relations, or public diplomacy, depend upon defensible and understandable policies. But as long as the Bush administration is unable to clearly explain the reasons for the U.S. invasion of Iraq to domestic and foreign audiences, and continues its unconditional support for Israel, our public diplomacy will be in trouble. That's a major challenge facing Ms. Hughes in her new position, and she should begin by echoing the president and Secretary Rice in their strong support for freedom and democracy throughout the Middle East.
"It's possible that Karen Hughes can succeed where others failed," said Clinton foreign policy adviser David Rothkopf. "Winning the peace in the Middle East and establishing a legacy of accomplishment there now turns to civil discourse as opposed to military interaction." I couldn't agree more about the urgent need for the Pentagon to turn over nation-building duties to State Department diplomats and civil affairs specialists. And the sooner the better.
As for the appointment of outgoing Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton as the new American ambassador to the United Nations, reactions are decidedly mixed. Although a liberal think tank described him as "possibly the least appropriate person in U.S. public life" for the job, others praised the appointment.
Anne Applebaum, a conservative member of the Washington Post editorial board, wrote that Bolton has been "skeptical of U.N. peacekeeping operations, skeptical of the U.S. obligation to pay its U.N. dues, skeptical of just about everything, really, to do with the United Nations ... all of which makes him an ideal candidate to be America's U.N. ambassador." Amen!
Historically, our most effective U.N. ambassadors - Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jeanne Kirkpatrick, for example - have been United Nations critics, insisting on the need for reform and reorganization to overcome corruption and mismanagement. Moynihan was known for his vigorous defense of freedom and human rights at a time when U.N. debates were dominated by Communist dictatorships. My guess is that Bolton will turn out to be a latter-day Moynihan, which is appropriate at a time when top U.N. officials are involved in a $20 billion Iraqi oil-for-food scandal and U.N. peacekeepers in Africa are accused of serial rape and sexual abuse.
In 1994, Bolton declared that if the 39-floor U.N. headquarters building in New York City "lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference," and in 2000 he asserted that if he were remaking the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. would be the lone permanent member of the Council "because that's the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world." Especially since American taxpayers foot the bill for more than 25 percent of the bloated U.N. budget. You go, John!
I think the bold appointments of Karen Hughes and John Bolton will breathe new life into U.S. public diplomacy and give us strong voices for American policies and values in an increasingly dangerous world. I wish them well.
Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.