Foreign Policy In Focus – October 28, 2005
Karen Hughes’ Indonesia visit underscores Bush
administration’s PR problems
By Stephen Zunes
It is doubtful that the Bush administration will be very successful advancing America’s image in the Islamic world as long as its representatives have such trouble telling the truth.
A case in point took place on October 21, when U.S. Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes was talking before a group of university students in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country. As she has found elsewhere in her visits in the Islamic world, there is enormous popular opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the ongoing U.S. counter-insurgency war.
To justify the U.S. takeover of that oil-rich country, recognized in most of the world as a flagrant violation of international law, Ms. Hughes falsely claimed that “The consensus of the world intelligence community was that Saddam was a very dangerous threat.” 1 In reality, however, the vast majority of the world’s intelligence community recognized that the government of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had been severely weakened and successfully contained through the UN-supervised destruction of its weapons of mass destruction and offensive delivery systems during the 1990s and the UN-imposed sanctions which prevented Iraq from rebuilding such an arsenal.
Ms. Hughes also noted that Saddam Hussein “had used weapons of mass destruction against his own people,” 2 neglecting to mention that the Iraqi regime’s use of chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians in northern Iraq took place back in 1988, before the UN disarmament program eliminated these weapons and a full fifteen years prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion.
She continued by claiming Saddam Hussein “murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people using poison gas,” and, when later asked by foreign journalists about that claim, she stated that the figure was “close to 300,000.” 3 While the use of chemical agents to massacre civilians is a serious war crime in any case, this is about sixty times the figure most observers give for the civilian death toll from such attacks by Saddam’s regime.
The total number of violent deaths inflicted on behalf of Saddam Hussein over his quarter century in power may indeed come close to 300,000. 4 Virtually all those killings, however, took place more than a dozen years prior to the U.S. invasion in 2003. 5 Thanks to unprecedented restrictions imposed by the United Nations Security Council which prevented the Baghdad government from deploying its armed forces over most of the country, combined with the UN-supervised disarmament program, Saddam Hussein’s ability to inflict such terror on the Iraqi population subsequent to 1991 was severely limited.
While a strong case could have been made for military intervention in Iraq under the genocide convention during Saddam’s Anfal campaign against the Kurds in the late 1980s, this is no justification for an invasion fifteen years after the fact. Ironically, the United States was actively supporting Saddam Hussein’s government during this period, supplying his regime with military aid and generous loans.
As a result, the Bush administration’s justification of the U.S. invasion of Iraq on humanitarian grounds is as disingenuous as the claims that it was an act of self-defense. Indeed, the number of violent civilian deaths in Iraq in the two and a half years since the U.S. invasion is much greater than in the two and a half years prior to the invasion6 and is a major source of anti-American sentiment in Iraq and throughout the Islamic world.
It is ironic that Ms. Hughes attempted to justify the invasion on the brutality of the Iraqi regime while she was in Indonesia, a country which suffered for more than three decades under an even more brutal dictatorship. General Suharto, who was ousted in a largely nonviolent popular uprising in 1998, was responsible for a far greater number of civilian deaths than was Saddam Hussein.
Soon after seizing power in 1965, Suharto slaughtered over half a million alleged supporters of the Indonesian Communist Party. His invasion of East Timor in 1975 resulted in the deaths of over 200,000 civilians, nearly one-third of that island nation’s population. 7 Many hundreds more died in massacres in Tanjung Priok in Jakarta’s port area in 1984, in Lampung on the southern tip of Sumatra in 1989, and in Dili, East Timor in 1991.
Throughout this period, rather than threatening an invasion or even sanctions, both Republican and Democratic administrations sent billions of dollars worth of U.S. taxpayer-funded armaments to prop up this bloody dictatorship.
Unlike Saddam, who went on trial the same week of Hughes’ visit to Indonesia, Suharto lives comfortably in retirement and remains active behind the scenes. Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has visited the ex-dictator at his Jakarta residence to pay his respects and Suharto continues to appear at major functions. The Bush administration has never expressed any objections to Suharto’s impunity nor have they called for bringing this mass murderer to justice.
As long as the U.S. government continues to display such a lack of integrity, no amount of public relations spin by Karen Hughes or anyone else can improve America’s image in Indonesia or anywhere else in the Islamic world.
- Alan Sipress, “Bush Envoy’s Misstep in Iraq War Defense,” San Jose Mercury News, Oct. 22, 2005, p. 16A.
- Human Rights Watch estimates the total somewhere between 250,000 and 290,000. See Human Rights Watch, “Justice Needed for Iraqi Government Crimes,” Dec. 17, 2002.
- Human Rights Watch Backgrounder, “Justice for Iraq,” December 2002.
- See, for example, British Broadcasting Company, “Iraq Death Toll ‘Soared’ Post-War,” October 29, 2004.
- Benedict Anderson, 1998, The Spectre of Comparisons: Nationalism, Southeast Asia and the World, New York: Verso, p. 287.
Stephen Zunes is Middle East editor for Foreign Policy In Focus, a professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco, and the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Common Courage Press, 2003).
Boston Globe - October 23, 2005
US image a tough sell in Mideast
effort fraught with setbacks
By Farah Stockman
WASHINGTON -- A major State Department charm offensive in the Muslim world has been fraught with missteps and mixed messages, according to experts on the Middle East and even some US government officials.
Arabs complained bitterly when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a Senate panel Wednesday that terrorism ''has its roots in this very malignant water that is the Middle East."
Karen Hughes, President Bush's new public diplomacy czar, faced tough crowds on her first trip to the Middle East last month. While she defended US policies during stops in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, she was met with angry questions about the Iraq war.
On Friday, Hughes drew fire in Indonesia when she said that the Iraq war liberated the country from a dictator who ''gassed hundreds of thousands of his own people." She issued a correction hours later. Saddam Hussein is accused of gassing 5,000 Iraqi Kurds, although he is blamed for the deaths of about 300,000 victims, a State Department official later clarified.
The mission to improve the US image in the Muslim world sustained another blow last week when an Australian television network aired video that showed US soldiers in Afghanistan apparently burning the remains of Taliban fighters. It was the latest in a string of abuse allegations against the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Opinion polls across the Muslim world suggest that favorability ratings of the United States have dropped into the single digits after the Iraq war, even in friendly countries like Egypt and Jordan, where the United States spends millions in aid.
The Bush administration has devoted $670 million this year and unprecedented political heft to the public relations effort by appointing Hughes, one of Bush's closest advisers, as undersecretary for public diplomacy. Dina Powell, an Egyptian-American and former White House aide, is her deputy.
But the effort is tripping on some of the Bush administration's own hawkish rhetoric designed for an American audience, according to critics of the campaign.
''We're stepping on ourselves every day," said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, a Washington-base nonpartisan political research group. ''The domestic message ends up trumping the public diplomacy message every time."
Part of the problem may extend from messages the administration has sent about the Iraq war. After the conflict began in March 2003, State Department talking points intended for the foreign and domestic press highlighted different rationales for the invasion, according to a US official who closely monitors the US image abroad.
''For an American audience, you would say, 'We're fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here,"' he said. ''The second point would be that we are trying to make the world the better place," he said, adding that the emphasis would be reversed for the foreign audience.
But Internet and satellite television have made separate messages impossible.
For instance, the State Department had to steer President Bush away from reiterating the phrase ''we fight them overseas so we don't have to fight them at home" after the US Embassy in Baghdad warned that it deeply angered Iraqis, who felt that it showed that Americans were insensitive to the violence that has overtaken Iraq, according to the US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
A search of a news-media database suggests that the ''fight them over there" argument emerged in print on March 2003 in a quote from conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh. But a year later, Bush, Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney used it frequently in speeches to domestic audiences.
Rice has often used the word ''malignant" to describe the political situation in the Middle East, including in a hard-hitting speech in Cairo that said the United States mistakenly ignored authoritarianism in the region for decades, contributing to an environment that allowed terrorism to thrive.
But her phrasing Wednesday raised eyebrows among opinion-makers for the Middle East.
''It's a very bad choice of words," said George Hishmeh, a Washington-based columnist for Gulf News in Dubai and the Jordan Times in Amman, who said the negative description threatened to undermine the positive message that the Bush administration was trying to spread about the need for change in the region.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack did not back away from Rice's use of the phrase ''malignant water" to refer to the Middle East. ''I think it speaks to a truth," McCormack said. ''We're not trying to paint a broad brush here. But the fact of the matter is that the origins of this -- you know -- ideology of violent extremism . . . comes from a certain region."…..
Hughes Tour "Dialogue of the Absurd": US Analyst
Washington, September 30, 2005– The first foreign trip of US Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes, that took her to the Middle East, was dubbed "absurd" by a US analyst, casting heavy doubts on possibilities of success in her job to improve a badly tarnished US image abroad.
Anthony Cordesman, a senior analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, sharply criticized the US public diplomacy campaign, saying it had amounted to "a dialogue of the absurd" run by inexperienced officials, according to Reuters.
"Quite frankly, when I look at what we've done in the field we've turned democracy into a four-letter word," he told a congressional panel Wednesday September 28, as Hughes was on the final leg of her trip, that took her first to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, then Turkey.
"I think we have done in many cases more harm than good, and if nothing else, if we simply stopped that, it would be a step forward."
On a five-day trip to the three Arab and Muslim heavyweights, Hughes learned that a lot more than “Engage, Exchange, Educate and Empower” have been lost in translation between Americans and Muslims, according to Reuters.
The US envoy was in the Mideast for explaining her "four E" strategy to an audience in Cairo, Jeddah and Ankara.
"They probably don't translate very well into Arabic," she was quoted as saying with a laugh.
Hughes is a close confidante and image-shaper of President George W. Bush with no previous experience in foreign diplomacy other than accompanying him abroad during trips in the first years of his presidency, according to Reuters.
During her visit to Cairo, Hughes tried to convey a message to Muslims that the Americans share religious grounds with them as two divine religion followers.
Hughes held meetings with religious leaders to show Muslims that Americans too were guided by strong convictions.
But in Ankara, a woman complained about US preachers telling their congregations that Bush launched the Iraq war to "facilitate Christ coming back into the world," a flagrant contradiction with Muslim beliefs that such claims were promoted by astray Jews and Christian neo-conservatives.
It was a point of attack against her during her Ankara visit.
Some of the criticism Hughes encountered clearly went beyond perceptions, resting in the heart of US policy.
The Iraq invasion-turned-occupation and Bush's strategy to bring democracy to the wider Middle East dogged her every stop.
"I am not anti-American, but I am anti-war and anti-violence," Serpil Sancar of the Women's Studies Center at Ankara University, told Hughes.
Many were forthright and passionate in expressing their opposition to the invasion of Iraq and the US push for democracy in the region.
"War is not necessary for peace," said Feray Salman, a human rights activist. She said that Washington "can never ever export democracy and freedom from one country to another." ( News Agencies)
Buffalo News - October 22, 2005
Hughes grilled by students on Iraq War rationale
By CHRIS BRUMMITT
JAKARTA, Indonesia - Karen Hughes, who has faced a rocky road since being named Washington's public relations chief, answered tough questions Friday about the invasion of Iraq, and wrongly stated that Saddam Hussein gassed to death "hundreds of thousands" of his people.
Although the U.S. undersecretary for public diplomacy twice repeated the claim after being challenged by journalists, Gordon Johndroe, a State Department official traveling with Hughes, later called the Associated Press to say she misspoke.
Hughes, a longtime confidante of President Bush, was in the world's most populous Muslim nation to improve America's battered image after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
At a public debate with university students in Jakarta, she was repeatedly criticized over Washington's original stated rationale for the war in Iraq - Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction. No such arms were discovered.
"The consensus of the world intelligence community was that Saddam was a very dangerous threat," Hughes said. "After all, he had used weapons of mass destruction against his own people," she told about 100 students. "He had murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people using poison gas." At least 300,000 Iraqis were reportedly killed during Saddam's decades-long rule, but about 5,000 are believed to have been gassed in a 1988 attack in the Kurdish north.
Hughes' three-day trip to Indonesia came as the United States tried to limit damage from TV footage that purportedly shows U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan burning the corpses of two Taliban fighters earlier this month.
The students did not ask her about the footage, but she later told reporters it was "abhorrent." "The important thing that the world needs to know is that it is a violation of our policy," she said.
Most of the 16 students selected to debate on stage with Hughes were women. They peppered her with questions on U.S. foreign policy, in particular the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Washington's support for Israel.
One student said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States should be taken as a warning to America for interfering in the affairs of other countries. Another compared Bush to Hitler.
Hughes, who has also faced tough questions in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey since taking up her post two months ago, said she was not surprised by the hostility toward the United States.
New York Times - October 22, 2005
Indonesian students skeptical about U.S. policy,
but not America
By RAYMOND BONNER
JAKARTA, Indonesia, Oct. 21 - President Bush's designated hitter for America's image in the Muslim world, Karen P. Hughes, and 16 students from Indonesia's largest Islamic university shared a stage here on Friday morning. But that was about all they shared.
Ms. Hughes, the under secretary of state for public diplomacy, began by inviting the students to tell her what they were studying and what their hopes were.
The students wanted no such small talk. They wanted to talk about Iraq and America's role in the world, offering comments, opinions and questions marked by charges that the United States was "two-faced" and "unfair."
"Why does America always act as if they are the policeman of the world?" asked 20-year-old Barikatul Hikmah, wearing a black-and-white-striped head scarf, bright yellow pumps and blue jeans.
The question was met with applause from the 100 or so students in the audience.
"America feels an obligation to stand up for our founding values," Ms. Hughes answered. She quickly added that the United States was not trying to impose its system on any country, and that the values of human rights and freedom were not only American, but universal.
This is the second major foray into Islamic territory for Ms. Hughes. Last month, she met with groups in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey.
Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, and by and large, Islam here is moderate and tolerant. Indonesians bristle at the oft-held view from abroad that it is a country of Islamic extremists. To be sure, there is a fundamentalist element that would like to impose Islamic law, but it is small and, Indonesians argue, not unlike evangelical Christians in the United States.
The students who shared the stage with Ms. Hughes were told they could ask any questions, "even tough questions," said 20-year old Supenih, who like many Indonesians uses only one name. She was carrying a translated copy of "Power and Terror" by Noam Chomsky, the fierce critic of American foreign policy, which she politely tucked away before taking a seat near Ms. Hughes.
"Stop the war in Iraq," Ms. Supenih said when she got a chance to speak on the stage. "Who are the terrorists?" she asked, suggesting Mr. Bush was, because of the war. There was applause in the audience.
But Ms. Hughes said there was a difference between terrorists who have vowed to kill all Americans, Jews and even moderate Muslims, and the democratically elected leader of a country who goes to war to protect his country's Constitution.
"I want you all to come to America," Ms. Hughes said, ending the dialogue to applause that was almost too brief even to be called polite…….
American Muslims call for review of foreign policy
WASHINGTON, October 21, 2005– American Muslims have called for a "top-to-bottom" review of policies and training of military personnel deployed in Muslim countries, following reports of burning bodies of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan that caused a worldwide furor.
“Given the growing number of such incidents involving American military personnel worldwide, it is imperative that the Pentagon launch a top-to-bottom review of policies and training to help prevent the war on terror from being perceived as a war on Islam,” Nihad Awad, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in a statement on its Web site Thursday, October 20.
Australia's SBS television aired Wednesday a video footage showing US forces burning two Taliban fighters in the hills above the village of Gondaz north of Kandahar.
The burning of the corpses, a practice offensive to Muslims who bury their dead within 24 hours, was later used by a US military unit to threaten locals to cooperate with US forces.
“Military authorities should address the issue of Islamophobic attitudes in the ranks before the problem gets out of hand,” Awad said, warning against the "coarsening" of soldiers' attitude towards ordinary Muslims, both home and overseas.
Worried the incident could fuel anti-American feelings around the world, US State Department instructed US embassies around the world to explain that the reported abuse did not reflect "American values".
The airing of the latest videotape coincided with a trip this week to the predominantly Muslim states of Indonesia and Malaysia by US Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes, tasked with improving the badly battered US image in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
During a meeting with a group of female Muslim students in Indonesia Friday, Hughes faced strong criticism, accusing Washington's foreign policies of creating hostilities among the Muslims worldwide, Reuters said.
"Your country's foreign policy has created hostilities among Muslims," an Indonesian student told Hughes.
Another student added: "It's Bush in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and maybe it's going to be in Indonesia, I don't know. Who's the terrorist? Bush or us?"
Her fellow student echoed a similar stance.
"Why does America always act as if they were the police of the world?," Barikatul Hikmah, a 20-year-old student asked the US envoy.
The US invasion-turned-occupation of Iraq dominated discussion between the US envoy and the Muslim students.
Hughes, who was largely composed during the session, defended the invasion of Iraq as necessary to protect the United States in the wake of the 9/11 attacks because the administration saw Saddam Hussein as a security threat.
On a five-day visit to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey last month -- her first trip in the new job – Hughes was harshly criticized over the US Middle East policies.
The US image abroad has been badly battered by a series of human rights scandals, from the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq to detention without trial of foreign terror suspects at a US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The abuse of Iraqi prisoners exploded onto the world stage April 29, 2004, after the CBS news network published several graphic photos of Iraqi detainees tortured and sexually abused by American soldiers at the Baghdad-based prison.
Several photographs taken in late 2003 at the prison showed detainees wearing women's underwear on their heads, detainees shackled to their cell doors or beds in awkward positions, and naked detainees standing before female soldiers.
Detainees at Abu Ghraib were also posed in mock homosexual positions and photographed.
In another scandal of US forces in Iraq, reports showed that US military personnel used photographs of Iraqi corpses as "currency" to gain access to porn Web sites.
Worse still, the US military last June detailed five incidents in which US jailers at Guantanamo Bay "mishandled" the Noble Qur'an.
It said that in one case a US guard's urine splashed through a vent onto the Muslims' holy book and in others the Qur'an was kicked, stepped on and soaked by water. ( News Agencies)