Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes hands out books to Turkish students in Istanbul during a regional tour aimed at improving America's image abroad, Sept. 28, 2005.
Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes hands out books to Turkish students in Istanbul during a regional tour aimed at improving America's image abroad, Sept. 28, 2005. AFP/Getty Images
The person in charge of improving the U.S. image abroad is not expecting it to get much better soon. Karen Hughes, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, says her efforts are part of a "long-term program."
"This is not something that I expect will change probably much in... the less than three years we have left in the Bush administration," the longtime adviser to President Bush says. "What I'm trying to do is put in place a foundation."
Hughes recently established a center at the State Department to rapidly respond to damaging stories in the world media. And she said she's been encouraging people in the State Department to do lots of talking. Since starting her job, they've given hundreds of interviews to Arab television, many of them in Arabic.
But just as importantly, she says, her department has been doing a lot of listening, including meeting with exchange students. She recalls a group of Fulbright scholars who were "very concerned about their treatment when they arrive in our country. And I've been very worried about that. I think it's very important that America remain a welcoming country."
But searches and other strict security measures at airports can be very unwelcoming.
"One of the things I'm working on is to better explain to people what to expect in today's security environment," Hughes says. She says she is working with the Department of Homeland Security on the issue.
The Middle East conflict is another key issue.
"One of the things that I heard as I traveled throughout the Middle East is concern about the Israeli-Palestinian policy. I came back from my first trip and relayed to both the secretary (of State) and the president that, to the extent that we could be seen as visibly working to improve life for the Palestinian people," which would improve the U.S. image across the world.
Reports about the treatment of detainees in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay have also been "very difficult" for Hughes' efforts, she says.
"Those pictures from Abu Ghraib were horrible," she says. "I would hope that people should look at them for what they are, which is crimes."
Hughes says she's trying to convince foreigners about the positive aspects of U.S. policy.
"One of my frustrations as a communicator is that a lot of times people don't even know what we've done."
In one example, Hughes says, "We've doubled development assistance to Latin America during President Bush's administration and not one leader I met with during a trip to the region knew that."