As Karen Hughes, the close confidante of President
George W. Bush, gives up her mission to improve the U.S. image abroad –
amid decidedly mixed reviews of her performance – her replacement is already
facing criticism for his support of the Iraq war and a number of alleged ethical
Hughes, a key adviser to the president since his days as governor of Texas,
resigned her post as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy last week
after just under two years in the post to return to private life in Texas. President
Bush has nominated James Glassman as her replacement.
Glassman is currently chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG),
the organization responsible for conveying Washington's messages through television
and radio to the Middle East, Iran, Cuba, and other areas of the world. Washington-watchers
have speculated that Glassman was nominated because he had already been confirmed
by the Senate for his BBG post.
Critics of Glassman, who is a staunch neoconservative, point to his early and
enthusiastic support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
In an article he wrote in 2003, Glassman said, "the antiwar protesters
remain clueless. They're still planning their marches. Instead, they should
be apologizing. Before the war, they told us that 500,000 Iraqis would be killed
in Dresden-like bombing, that we would precipitate an eco-catastrophe by pushing
Saddam to set fire to his oil wells, that millions of people would flee the
country, that thousands of our own troops would be killed, that the Arab 'street'
would rise up, that terrorist attacks would resume ferociously on our homeland,
that Iraqis would tenaciously resist our colonization of their land, that we
would become bogged down in urban warfare, and on and on."
Glassman continued, "In fact, none of that has happened. It has been a
war unmatched in history, with relatively few civilian and allied casualties
and the prime objectives – control of the capital and the destruction of
Saddam's regime – achieved in only a few weeks. Conscientious opponents
of the war should say they were wrong, wrong, wrong – on all counts."
A year later, after the Abu Ghraib detainee scandal hit the headlines, he wrote,
"Recent events in Iraq, especially in Abu Ghraib prison, emphasize once
more the dire need for serious, strategic, and properly funded public diplomacy
– the promotion of the national interest by informing, engaging, and influencing
people around the world."
Like Hughes, Glassman has little Middle East experience. He was a member of
an advisory group on public diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim World, chaired
by former ambassador Edward Djerejian, who has been one of Hughes' supporters.
Hughes, who played a key role in crafting the pre-Iraq invasion "message"
to U.S. voters, was a Texas television reporter before becoming one of Bush's
most trusted advisers.
Glassman, a former syndicated columnist, is perhaps best known for his prediction
that the Dow Jones Industrial Average would reach 36,000 during the last bull
market. A resident fellow at the right-wing think-tank the American Enterprise
Institute (AEI), he is the founder and longtime"host" of Tech Central
Station (TCS), an Internet opinion site published by the Republican firm the
DCI Group. Sponsors of TCS include fast-food giant McDonald's and the oil company
Glassman has been accused of a number of ethical breaches reportedly committed
on behalf of the DCI Group. In 2006, St. Petersburg Times reporter Bill
Adair revealed that Glassman had used TCS and his syndicated column to champion
the interests of the Web site's corporate sponsors without disclosing these
Adair cited Glassman as one of those who profit from this practice. He noted
that Glassman had denounced Super Size Me, a 2004 movie critical of McDonald's
nutritional policies, but failed to disclose that "McDonald's is a major
sponsor" of Glassman's Web site. The film said McDonald's was partly to
blame for the nation's obesity epidemic.
Glassman takes on his new State Department post at time when most reliable
polls are finding U.S. credibility abroad lower than it has ever been. He faces
an overseas environment increasingly hostile to the U.S. due to such factors
as the "marketing" of post 9/11 fear of Saddam Hussein's weapons of
mass destruction, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, failure to seriously
address the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo scandals,
and revelations of "enhanced" interrogation techniques, CIA renditions,
and "black sites" where detainees become "ghost prisoners."
Samar Jarrah, a Florida-based Palestinian-American who is a radio talk show
host and the author of Arab Voices Speak to American Hearts, summed up
the feelings of many ordinary Middle Easterners.
"If the U.S. asks me to take Karen Hughes' or James Glassman's job tomorrow,
I would fail too. What do I tell people in the Arab and Muslim world when they
ask me, 'why did you go to war in Iraq knowing that there were no weapons of
mass destruction, no connection to 9/11, and did you have any plans for the
day after?' Any attempt on my behalf to answer these questions truthfully will
lead to my firing."
Jarrah added, "Karen and Jim assume that Arabs and Muslims do not read
and do not have a clue. Can you imagine what my answers can be when I am asked
about Israel, Iran, supporting torturous dictators in the Arab world? Anyone
is doomed to fail. I bet you a million dollars that it is Karen who got a lesson
or two from her job and this is why she quit. It is a dead-end job."
Hughes' departure as Washington's chief spokesperson abroad has been greeted
with mixed assessments of her performance. While she successfully pushed for
substantial budget increases, experts say there has been little substantive
change, and few new ideas, in U.S. public diplomacy during her tenure. Her so-called
"listening tours" of contentious areas, including the Middle East,
have brought charges of "cultural insensitivity."
One assessment comes from Patricia H. Kushlis, a former career Foreign Service
officer with the U.S. Information Agency from 1970-1998, and co-author, with
Patricia Lee Sharpe and Cheryl R. Rofer, of WhirledView, a widely respected
foreign affairs and public diplomacy blog.
On the positive side, Kushlis told IPS, "I think that Karen Hughes' basic
accomplishment was remaining in office for more than a year. True, she increased
the budgets for exchanges – particularly for bringing foreigners here – and
restored portions of core public diplomacy functions, like media reaction or
rapid response units, which had been allowed to lay fallow since the demise
of USIA in 1999."
On the negative side, Kushlis told IPS that "Hughes apparently failed
to recognize or act upon the central problem – a bifurcated and under-funded
public diplomacy effort is an anemic approach to solving much more fundamental
public diplomacy issues both in terms of policy and structure. Clearly, if Hughes
did understand the problems she did not use her proximity to President Bush
to initiate the fundamental structural changes that could and should have happened."
She added, "As for James Glassman's appointment to replace her, it seems
to me that he will be a 'place holder' at best. It's far too late in this administration's
day, even if its luster were still there, for Glassman or anyone else to accomplish
much of anything – if indeed he has any interest in doing so."
(Inter Press Service)