Ms. Hughes' Credibility Gap

Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes has been remarkably quiet, at least in public, on the explosive issue of the Danish cartoons. It is true that the cartoon controversy is not U.S.-centric, so an argument could be fairly made that it would be best for U.S. officials to refrain from getting too wrapped up in the issue. (That has not stopped her boss, Condoleezza Rice, whose main contribution to the debate has been to conveniently blame the governments of Iran and Syria for the violent protests in those countries. Convenient, mind you, if the U.S. is truly on a path to further military engagement in the Middle East. As an interesting aside, see cartoon below, "why the German army has to be in action at the World Cup", of the Iranian football team published in the Berlin paper Tagesspiegel on Friday and apologized for by Tagesspiegel editors on Saturday, which has not resulted in any protests, government-sponsored or otherwise, in Iran.)

But Ms. Hughes, whose job after all is to explain the U.S. to a hostile world and who is traveling to Qatar this week to take part in the U.S.-Islamic World Forum, made a telling remark on the subject (in an article on the influence of American Muslim leaders) to the New York Times. She said, "The voices of Muslim Americans have more credibility in the Muslim world frankly than my voice as a government official, because they can speak the language of their faith and can share their experience of practicing their faith freely in the West, and they can help explain why the cartoons are so offensive."

One has to admire Karen for so candidly admitting her shortcomings as a government official, but if she is sincere one has to wonder why has she not hired any Muslim-Americans for senior positions in her department. (Egyptian-American Copt Dina Powell, her deputy, doesn't count, I'm afraid, for although she is fluent in Arabic, she too lacks any credibility when it comes to speaking with Muslims unconvinced of America's benevolent intentions in their countries and towards their faith.) Given that the Public Diplomacy goals put forward by President Bush and Condoleezza Rice are largely focused in the Muslim world where we seem to have the most troublesome image problem, it might behoove Ms. Hughes to consider appointing a deputy, a Republican even, who, as she puts it, might have "more credibility in the Muslim world."