The US President’s charm offensive on Europe is led by Karen Hughes, the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Over the past two years she has been overhauling the media strategy at the White house, attempting to show the friendly side of the Bush administration. Ahead of the next EU and US summit, she visited Brussels, meeting workers, officials and Commissioners. EuroNews also caught up with her.
EuroNews: Has the Bush administration’s communication strategy changed over the past two years?
Hughes: Well, I5;m working very hard to change it and I think that5;s one of the reasons that the president and secretary Rice asked me to take on this job, is that we recognised we needed to do a much better job of reaching out. I view my job as a dialogue, America5;s conversation with the world and I say conversation because it5;s as much about listening as it is speaking and showing respect for other countries and cultures. So, when I visit a country I spend a lot of time listening. I5;m here in Brussels, I5;m here in Europe to listen.
EuroNews: Why did the Bush administration’s communication strategy change?
Hughes: Well, I think in hindsight we recognised that as we had a substantial disagreement with our partners in Europe about Iraq and about 7; and with people throughout the world7; we recognised there are voices in our own country who disagree with that decision the president made, and what he felt was in the best interest, not only of our own security, but also of the Iraqi people and the security of the world. Nonetheless we recognise that there were disagreements, and I think sometimes the tendency was to sort of just not talk about them, and in hindsight I think we recognise we have to do a better job of reaching out. For example, I believe the most significant public diplomacy opportunity that has happened in my ten months at the State Department came with America5;s decision on Iran: the decision that we would join with our European partners and join at the negotiating table.
EuroNews: Is this new communication strategy the result of this new relationship with the Europeans on the Iranian nuclear row and also of the stalemate that the Americans are suffering in Iraq?
Hughes: Well, I think it5;s unfair to attribute it to any one set of circumstances. I think that it5;s really a recognition that we face a lot of challenges in the world, and we are far stronger when we face them together.
EuroNews: Does this new communication strategy represent a shift from a “hard-power” action to a “soft-power” one?
Hughes: Well, I think both are important. It5;s a recognition that in some cases you have to take military action, but I would argue that in all cases … and I would argue that President Bush attempted to reach out to the world and to get the world to join with him. I think the president has worked throughout his presidency to reach out to world leaders, but he recognises how important it is and that5;s one of the reasons he asked me to join the State Department, to take on this task because he thinks public diplomacy is very important.
EuroNews: What is the role of education in this war against terror and against fundamentalism?
Hughes: Education is absolutely vital because what the violent extremists that we face 7; they want closed minds, they want their way or no way. They have this rigid ideology and you have to agree7; even for the fellow Muslims. They say if they don5;t practice their faith exactly in the way they want them to, then they should be killed. So they want a very rigid ,intolerant, conformist, narrow mind set. We want open minds. We want people to be educated so they can decide for themselves.
EuroNews: But many of these people, many of these suicide bombers, especially the people from September the 11th 7; (question not finished).
Hughes: … were themselves educated. They have a view, they want to impose their ideology on the rest of the world and they have what is really a political agenda. They want to impose their totalitarian view of a society that lacks all political and religious freedom on the rest of the world. They want to re-establish this totalitarian empire and we saw the kind of society they want in Afghanistan.
EuroNews: What is the role of the Internet in this war between democracy and fundamentalism?
Hughes: Well, there are a couple of sides to it, and I5;ve seen several of those sides, and on the one side the terrorists have effectively – apparently -used the internet to help plan operations, to operate below the radar screen of traditional methods of communication. They use it to … I’ve seen some propaganda videos that they have developed to try to encourage young people to join their cause. On the other hand the Internet can also be a powerful tool when helping educate young people, in helping open the world beyond their neighbourhood to them.