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April 05, 2006

Karen Hughes Visits Airport, Discovers Palestine
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Last week, Karen Hughes gave an interview on National Public Radio's Morning Edition in which she described two "discoveries:" one, that much negative foreign opinion is driven by perceptions of the US role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and two, that Americans and foreigners must stand in separate lines in airport immigration, and that the process as a whole is not very "welcoming."

I guess I should be pleased that she is open-minded enough to learn on the job... not everyone is.

Now, many Americans travel abroad infrequently or never and have no reason to know how off-putting it is to arrive at the older parts of New York's Kennedy Airport, for example, or the giant scrum that Washington Dulles has turned into.  Most Americans who work in international affairs, however, have known it since they were quite young.  Her proposed solution: videos depicting American life that we could all watch while we were standing in the aforementioned lines.

Maybe the sniffing dogs could jump through hoops when off-duty, too.

But if she really didn't understand until now how much perceptions of Palestinian suffering, fair or unfair, drive public opinion in the Islamic world, then she just can't have done any reading in the months before she took the public diplomacy job -- or the months since.

Again, I admire someone who will admit to learning in middle age.  And if she really

"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.

I admire that too.  I don't have the impression that too many people have personally told the President that he's not doing enough on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But is it too much to ask that someone placed in this sort of job would have read in and know these things, or take fewer than six months to learn them?

(She also told NPR's Steve Inskeep that

This is not something that I expect will change probably much in... the less than three years we have left in the Bush administration.

which may indicate that she in fact has understood the job quite well.


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But is it too much to ask that someone placed in this sort of job would have read in and know these things, or take fewer than six months to learn them?

She probably did know them. But emphasizing the Palestine message is no way to get the job, since we have a deep cultural and institutional aversion to hearing that message.

It seems like we have to go through this ritual over and over. We send someone over the the Middle East - Karen Hughes, Anthony Zinni, and many others - to take the pulse of the Middle Eastern masses and report back. When they report, we usually hear something like this:

"You know, I had heard about the whole Israeli-Palestinian thing before, but I always thought the real problem was something else - not enough jobs, an absence of democracy, inability to get laid, nostalgia for the Abassid caliphate, the right-to-left writing script, unreliable plumbing, free-floating shame, religious mania, or whatever. But you know what? Whatever factors in surface or depth psychology explain it, people in the Middle East really and truly are pissed about Palestine. It's all they talk about when I ask them what's wrong."

Will it change anything? No. The people who hate this message will cry "rubbish", and we will be back where we started.

Karen Hughes went to Texas after Round One because Karl Rove fired her for incompetence.

Understanding how American policies, particularly siding so often with Israel in the Israeli-Palestenian conflict, affects the perception of the US in the middle east is exactly what Bush and Company have referred to as "Blaming America First."

Either Karen was as isolated as Bush and no one mentioned this for the aforementioned reasons, or she knew and was afraid to mention it for the aforementioned reasons.

While I'm all for Bush bashing, this is a problem for both parties, as Dan indicates above. If people like Suzanne think that Sharon's unilateral settlement is the "way forward," then we're going to have low approval ratings in the Middle East for generations to come.

Maybe this is the right policy and Arab anger is worth the cost, but let's not pretend that Karen Hughes or anyone else can accomplish much so long as we continue our current course. I mean, yeah, it's kind of funny/scary that the Bush officials are so clueless, but what would the Democrats do differently?

> but what would the Democrats do differently?

Not attack Iraq?

Not refer to any meddling in the M.E. as a "crusade"?

Had 9-11 happened on their watch (I am not convinced it would have as I understand that state threats were made against the Taliban by Bush&Co) President Gore would have finished the job in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, VP Jomomentum would have protected Isreal from much needed spankings, so, no change there.

Smart people would be in place in the State department as well as FEMA.

etc. and so on.

'Videos of American life'? Way to go, Kazza. It just make the Soviet-style treatment at the immigration line even more jarring, since that's your first experience of 'American life' as a visitor, and it's one that you usually carry with you. Of course, if the video showed people being barked at to get behind the yellow line, that would at least spare the surprise.

As for the treatment of Palestinians: well, it helps that there's a virtual embargo on fair treatment in the main media sources that Americans are exposed to; something that's not the case elsewhere, and not just the Islamic or Arab world.

When you stand on the line at Dulles you're treated to Fox news.

I go through the Dulles customs lines about once a month.

The lines generally move quickly and most of the staff are pleasant. I have never seen Fox news on the TV.

Yes, there are separate lines for US citizens and non-citizens. That is true at other airports as well (e.g. Heathrow).

The majority of countries I've visited have separate lines for citizens and non-citizens. And there should be.

Karen Hughes: " 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.

" we could be seen "
improve the image

There's the real honesty. The twin pillars of Bush foreign policy: Brute power and vacuous PR.

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