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Communications and Cultural Ineptness: Where is Karen Hughes?

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By John E. Carey
August 31, 2006

"We are great with TV but we are getting crushed on the P.R. [Public Relations] front." ---President George W. Bush when asked by NBC News reporter Brian Williams on August 29, 2006 why there is so much anti-American sentiment and out-right hatred for America in many parts of the world.

In view of President Bush's statement, we feel compelled to ask again a question we raised about 10 days ago: "Where is Karen Hughes?"

More precisely, "Where is the United States' campaign of truth and honesty in the Middle East?"

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The September 4, 2006 issue of TIME Magazine features an article entitled, "The War For Hearts and Minds," authors Nicholas Blanford and Scott Macleod discuss the importance of caring for poor people and articulating a vision for the future to prevent the continuation and spread of the war on terror.

"The new war in the Middle East is not being fought with bombs or bullets. Instead, it is being waged amid the rubble and wreckage of Lebanon's streets, and the prize is the support and gratitude of the hundreds of thousands of citizens attempting to piece together their shattered lives," Blanford and Macleod wrote.

And who in the United States is responsible for out "Hearts and Minds" effort?

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To remind those that don't even recall Karen Hughes, in 2005 CBS News reported on Hughes' role this way: "President Bush's adviser Karen Hughes was named to a State Department post designed to change Islamic perceptions about America."

There was always one major problem with this. Since Arab men, and in particular the Islamic extremists, keep their women uneducated, subservient, and shrouded in black gown and veils, why did the president and his advisors think a wealthy, college educated, Texas woman could convince them that they were all wrong about America?

Secondly, since Karen Hughes had demonstrated no cultural ear and limited communication skills beyond Texas and the West Wing of the White House, how could this person be expected to create and manage a communications plan that would influence much less change perceptions in the Middle East?

As the president introduced Karen Hughes to her new assignment in September 2005, he said, "We're in a war on terror. We are still at war. And to succeed in this war, we must effectively explain our policies and fundamental values to people around the world. This is an incredibly important mission. And so I've asked one of America's most talented communicators to take it on."

Yet on August 29, 2006, the president said, "we are getting crushed on the P.R. front."

The fact is, if the United States has any form of articulated communications plan aimed at convincing the Muslim extremists they are wrong about America, it is an utter failure.

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Case in point: not long ago, a thug named Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, emerged from the shadows to become, in just over a month, one of the more important political figures of Lebanon and one of the leaders of the Arab world's radical wing.

Before the war, Hassan Nasrallah was the one who made sure the garbage went out, the aged were cared for, and the children had schools.

During the war Hassan Nasrallah, as seen by Arabs, was the man who faced down Israel and the Great Satan.

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John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.

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