- The Washington Times - Monday, March 28, 2005

Selection of Karen Hughes as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy means President Bush believes two very strong-minded women who seldom wear hats can develop policies to discard the burkas of the Muslim world’s women.

Theirs is the daunting task of rebuilding the American reputation and building democracy in the Middle East. If anyone can accomplish this, these two women can.

Mrs. Hughes and her popular new boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, are likely to change many of this nation’s policy procedures as they try to build a more favorable understanding of the U.S. at a critical but opportune time.

The forming of a Rice-Hughes team could not come at a more important time. The opportunity to build democracy and peace in the Middle East never has been greater, but the thread that binds this chance is thin.

Miss Rice as strategist and Mrs. Hughes as communicator will push assertively to improve America’s reputation in hostile Muslim nations. They are powerful women who understand the president’s mind better than anyone except his wife and possibly Karl Rove. Their weapons will be involve communication, not troops.

In years past, it would have been unthinkable to pick two women for the gigantic challenge of dealing with Muslin nations. But it would be difficult to find persons of either sex more capable than these two charming but tough-minded women.

Each has a proven record. Miss Rice capably directed the president’s National Security Council during his crisis-laden first term. Mrs. Hughes, noted for her guidance in both campaigns and at the White House, has quietly taken an interest in Afghan women and children and is credited with helping get out the Afghan women’s vote in democratic Afghanistan. Of the 8 million Afghan voters, an astounding 40 percent were women.

Despite all the election-year taunts about Middle East policy, there are amazing events. First, Afghanis by the millions exercised their first opportunity to vote. Libya saw the changing tide and gave up its weapons of mass destruction.

Democrats and some foreign leaders demanded the Iraq elections be postponed but the president held his course. Despite threats to life, millions turned out for democracy.

Yasser Arafat’s death led to peaceful Palestinian elections, and real progress seems under way in negotiations with Israel.

Leaders in Egypt and Saudi Arabia have promised democratic elections. Lebanon’s gigantic crowds adopted the slogan “Kifaya” which means “enough,” and their demands for Syrian withdrawal seem to have had an effect.

Miss Rice has handled the Syrian problem skillfully. Taking advantage of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, Miss Rice quickly withdrew the U.S. ambassador to Syria. She gained U.N. and multinational support for economic sanctions of Syrian troops are not withdrawn.

The speech that led to the Hughes appointment was delivered by President Bush at the time of his second term Inaugural when he said: “All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know the United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppression. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.” The speech was inspiring, but it also sparked questions about how, without troops, we could help the oppressed who seek liberty.

This has been a stumbling block for the United States before. When the Soviet Union moved across Eastern Europe, President Eisenhower encouraged resistance. He secretly sent Vice President Richard Nixon with Rep. Bob Wilson to the Austrian border as Soviet tanks roared across Hungary. Confronted with the Nixon report, the president did not believe we had the military strength to halt the Russians, and Hungary fell.

When the North Vietnamese broke their cease-fire agreement and devoured the South, President Ford was handicapped by postwar congressional limits on presidential power and had to watch helplessly. After the magnificent performance of the United States and allied nations during the Gulf war, President George H.W. Bush urged greater independence for the Shi’ites and Kurds. But when Saddam Hussein murdered thousands, it was too late for the United States to re-enter the war.

It seems unlikely the United States will send troops to support the democratic moves in Islam today. Nations such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been our allies.

From the time we first went into Afghanistan and Iraq, the president has said he believed freedom would spread after the door was opened. At the moment, his theory is working.

Protocol prohibits Mrs. Hughes from giving interviews until her Senate confirmation, but her excitement indicates she is eager to tackle what may be the biggest challenge ever for an American government communicator.

In her recent book, “Ten Minutes from Normal,” she describes a 24-hour White House response center she set up in the White House to counteract the early Hitler-like propaganda of the Taliban and the Iraqis. It seems likely she will build on the structure. She made it clear during her first visit to Afghanistan that she felt it was her personal mission to help educate the country’s women and children.

“The world looks at our murder rate, divorce rate, teenage pregnancy rate and abortion rate and sometimes concludes we don’t value life and family,” she writes. “These all are significant problems, and we must do a better job of addressing them. But the America I know is a far different place … the America I want the world to see: America full of decent, loving people who care about their families and who care about each other.”

It seems likely that philosophy will guide Mrs. Hughes. Basically, she believes education and a taste of freedom will create democracy, and democracy will make peace likelier.

To accomplish her task, she must deal in a totally new way with powerful Arab television and newspapers. And time runs short.

Josef Stalin once asked, “How many troops does the pope have?” In this case, troop numbers don’t count.

The battle is for the minds of millions in the Muslim world. Very creative communications are needed to win.

Herbert Klein is a national fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, retired editor-in-chief of Copley Newspapers and former Nixon White House director of communications.

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