“The undersecretary’s dangerous trip”

This requires no comment by me.

Pat Lang

"By Sidney Blumenthal

Sept. 29, 2005  | President Bush has no advisor more loyal and less self-serving than Karen Hughes. As governor of Texas he implicitly trusted the former Dallas television reporter turned press secretary with the tending of his image and words. She was mother hen of his persona. In the White House, Hughes devoted heart and soul to Bush as his communications director, until, suddenly, she returned home to Texas in 2002, citing her son’s homesickness. There were reports that Karl Rove, jealous of power, had been sniping at her.

From her exile, Hughes produced a memoir, "Ten Minutes From Normal," which is deeply uninteresting and unrevealing. Amid long stretches of uninformative banality lie unselfconscious expressions of religiosity, accounts of how she inserted Psalms 23 and 27 into Bush’s speeches after Sept. 11, 2001, and an entire page of small type reproducing a sermon she delivered on Palm Sunday aboard Air Force One. She quotes then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice: "I think Karen missed her calling. She can preach."

After two undersecretaries of state for public diplomacy resigned in frustration in the face of the precipitous loss of U.S. prestige around the globe, Bush found a new slot for Hughes this year. She may be the most parochial person ever to hold a senior State Department appointment, but the president has confidence she can rebrand the United States.

This week, Hughes embarked on her first trip as undersecretary. Her initial statement resembled an elementary school presentation: "You might want to know why the countries. Egypt is of course the most populous Arab country … Saudi Arabia is our second stop. It’s obviously an important place in Islam and the keeper of its two holiest sites … Turkey is also a country that encompasses people of many different backgrounds and beliefs, yet has the — is proud of the saying that ‘all are Turks.’"

Hughes appeared to be one of the pilgrims satirized by Mark Twain in his 1869 book, "Innocents Abroad," about his trip on "The Grand Holy Land Pleasure Excursion." "None of us had ever been anywhere before; we all hailed from the interior; travel was a wild novelty to us … We always took care to make it understood that we were Americans — Americans!"

Hughes’ simple, sincere and unadorned language is pellucid in revealing the administration’s inner mind. Her ideas on terrorism and its solution are straightforward. "Terrorists," she said in Egypt at the start of her trip, "their policies force young people, other people’s daughters and sons, to strap on bombs and blow themselves up." Somehow, magically, these evildoers coerce the young to commit suicide. If only they would understand us, the tensions would dissolve. "Many people around the world do not understand the important role that faith plays in Americans’ lives," she said. When an Egyptian opposition leader inquired why President Bush mentions God in his speeches, she asked him "whether he was aware that previous American presidents have also cited God, and that our Constitution cites ‘one nation under God.’ He said, ‘Well, never mind.’"

With these well-meaning arguments, Hughes has provided the exact proof for what Osama bin Laden has claimed about American motives. "It is stunning … the extent [to which] Hughes is helping bin Laden," Robert Pape told me. Pape, a University of Chicago political scientist who has conducted the most extensive research into the backgrounds and motives of suicide terrorists, is the author of "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism," and recently briefed the Pentagon and the National Counterterrorism Center. "If you set out to help bin Laden," he said, "you could not have done it better than Hughes."

Pape’s research debunks the view that suicide terrorism is the natural byproduct of Islamic fundamentalism or some "Islamo-fascist" ideological strain independent of certain highly specific circumstances. "Of the key conditions that lead to suicide terrorism in particular, there must be, first, the presence of foreign combat forces on the territory that the terrorists prize. The second condition is a religious difference between the combat forces and the local community. The religious difference matters in that it enables terrorist leaders to paint foreign forces as being driven by religious goals. If you read Osama’s speeches, they begin with descriptions of the U.S. occupation of the Arabian Peninsula, driven by our religious goals, and that it is our religious purpose that must confronted. That argument is incredibly powerful not only to religious Muslims but secular Muslims. Everything Hughes says makes their case."

The undersecretary’s blundering grand tour of the Middle East may be the latest incarnation of "Innocents Abroad." "The people stared at us everywhere, and we stared at them," Twain wrote. "We generally made them feel rather small, too, before we got done with them, because we bore down on them with America’s greatness until we crushed them."

The stakes, however, are rather different than they were on "The Grand Holy Land Pleasure Excursion." Hughes’ trip "would be a folly," Pape says, "were it not so dangerous."

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12 Responses to “The undersecretary’s dangerous trip”

  1. alex says:

    I would appreciate any links for the Karen Hughes quotes. The Constitution does not use the word God anywhere

  2. Nathan says:

    uh, the “one nation under god” quote comes from the Pledge of Allegiance
    tell me she isn’t this daft

  3. BostonGemini says:

    Ugh. Alex & Nathan beat me to it.

  4. nanook says:

    What is disconcerting to me is that this Administration treats every thing as a PR exercise. They are obviously not doing such a great job at it either.
    Maybe I am naive, but shouldn’t there be some serious debate among the policymakers about the consequences of our actions in Iraq and how best to extricate ourselves without further inflaming the Middle East.
    With bombings, counter-insurgency operations, assasinations daily I can’t imagine what life is like for innocent civilians caught in the middle. Add to that the machinations of Iran and other countries and what we have is increasing instability not some altruistic democracy and libery for all venture.

  5. Jim S says:

    Another Quiet American goes overseas with innocence and enthusiasm. In their bumbling wake, death and destruction follows.

  6. hk says:

    The problem, I think, is that Karen Hughes’ job is not to sell America to the Muslim world, but to sell the story that the administration is trying to sell America to the Muslim world to the administration’s supporters. Or, put differently, it’s all just a PR job for consumption by the ignorant middle America, regardless of how badly it damages U.S. interests abroad.
    I mean, gee, foreigners need to understand how important faith is to Americans? So, what are we? Bunch of modern day crusaders out to slaughter the infidels–i.e. the very people to whom Ms. Hughes is supposed to convince of our good intent?

  7. The Wanderer says:

    Karen Hughes isn’t the Quiet American – she’s the quintessential Ugly American, bouncing along through the world, loudly wondering why Those Unwashed Foreigners can’t be more like Americans.
    She is definitely NOT the person we need to send out to burnish our image.

  8. Curious says:

    With these mental giants in charge, we are utterly screwed aren’t we ?

  9. Mrs. K8 says:

    nanook in a previous comment wonders aloud why there isn’t more substantive policy debate.
    Sadly, early on in the first monstrous Dubya administration, there was a fellow (whose correct name escapes me — something like Ianucci or Ianelli??) who was assigned the task of working with the White House on “Faith-Based Initiatives.” He was quite a serious person, and even though I disagreed with the whole premise of such unholy mixing of holy matters and government, he at least had a grasp of the issues and the need for a delicate balance within the framework of church/state separation concerns.
    This chap was eager to engage the White House staff in serious policy discussions on the matter. To his horror, he discovered that there was no attention to ANY POLICY DISCUSSIONS on ANY topic taking place in the WH. Absolutely everything was being discussed as a matter of public relations, propaganda, the spin war, etc. As though every single matter were pure politics.
    He was horrified, and resigned the position post-haste, and wrote an excellent (and hair-raising) article about it. If I weren’t in such a hurry today I’d try to track down the article — I think it was in Esquire — and would make it a point to get his name nailed down.
    Maybe someone else here remembers? The article made quite a splash, at least among folks concerned about what’s really been going on.
    It’s always been a great puzzle to me whether this admin is more incompetent than evil, or more evil than incompetent. This article came down heavily on the incompetence side of the ledger.

  10. Dan says:

    John Dilulio. He apparently recanted later. Here’s a rundown: http://www.dailykos.net/archives/000639.html

  11. Rev Zafod says:

    I agree that Hughes is Osama’s best ally in her clueless wanderings, but I’d like to clear up a factual point re Jim S and The Wanderer. Jim has it right; the Quiet American is the one most people mean when they refer to the “ugly American”. The actual “Ugly American” was a good guy in the 1958 book by Lederer & Burdick. He was a physically ‘ugly’ construction expert hired to look for places to build roads and dams, who got his hands dirty when he went out into the countryside and devised a way for local people to use their bycicles to power irrigation pumps. Of course, the irony in the book was that the real ugly Americans were the ones at the embassy who sent him home when he wouldn’t tell them where to build their money-spinning projects. The Ugly American is still pertinent reading today.

  12. RJJ says:

    Drat. I forgot to explain 42.
    the moment is past.

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