More Thoughts On Enjoying Minority Party Status

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"More Thoughts On Enjoying Minority Party Status"

A few additional thoughts about the lack of attention and respect given to the Karen Hughes hearing yesterday

A number of Democratic members on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had previously indicated their interest in pursuing the leak investigation and holding the leakers accountable. But while the Democratic Policy Committee held a public relations hearing to publicize the importance of the matter, members of the Foreign Relations committee missed a huge opportunity to get a senior Bush adviser who was intimately involved in the events surrounding the leak to speak on-the-record, under oath.

Even if senators were not interested in probing the leak or examining Hughes’ involvement in the manipulation of pre-war Iraq intelligence, they at least had an obligation to show up and question the next Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy about an issue extremely vital to our long-term national security: building friends and allies around the world, particularly the Muslim world.

There is a real concern that the Bush administration’s approach to solving our diplomacy problems is simply to craft a better catch-phrase, rather than make substantive adjustments in policy. Hughes’ two predecessors, Margaret Tutwiler (a former press secretary to James Baker) and Charlotte Beers (a former ad executive), signaled the administration’s approach: it’s all about marketing a message. Hughes’ nomination appears to be another step in that direction. But as a Rand Corporation paper on public diplomacy stated, “Misunderstanding of American values is not the principal source of anti-Americanism.” The study concludes that “some U.S. policies have been, are, and will continue to be major sources of anti-Americanism.” Does Hughes agree? We don’t know.

Since Tutwiler’s departure from the Public Diplomacy post in June 2004, the position has remained vacant. In those 13 months, country after country has pulled out of the coalition in Iraq and world opinion of America has plummeted. Thus, it was even more important to get Hughes on-the-record about her specific ideas for changing course. The AP reported about the hearing, “The session barely delved into what Hughes will do about turning around anti-American sentiment in the world.”

Democrats on the committee have spoken forcefully in the past about the need to readjust our strategy on global diplomacy:

Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE): “It will require a sustained public diplomacy strategy to explain our policies to the world and to debunk the myths and lies our enemies spin about America’s intentions.” [Speech at National Press Club, 9/9/03]

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA): “I will launch a new era of public diplomacy to explain our policies to the world and to combat lies and distortions about America.” [2nd Presidential Debate, 10/20/04]

Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT): “The term ‘Cowboy Diplomacy’ could never be applied to any past foreign crises with the same meaning that the Iraq War brings. The World rallied to our side following the 9/11 attacks in 2001. In two short years public opinion around the world has turned against the US. Our unilateralism has squandered the opportunity to take the world’s support and mold it into effective multilateral action against international terrorism or any number of other difficult issues.” [Speech at policy conference, 10/21/03]

These and other senators missed an opportunity to make their case about an alternative approach for building friends and maintaining allies to create a safer world with fewer enemies.

The only committee members who cared to show up were Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) (who as chairman is required to attend) and Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), who after having made a courageous stand against John Bolton’s nomination has shown that he is sincerely interested and concerned about America’s opinion in the eyes of the international community.

The last thing to note is that the media had fully expected senators to grasp the opportunity to “grill” Hughes.

“Hughes today heads to Capitol Hill, where the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will grill her on how she plans to manage the challenge.” [Atlanta Journal Constitution, 7/22/05]

“Democrats plan to grill Bush confidant Karen Hughes about leak-case in her confirmation hearing for State Department public diplomacy post…” [WSJ, 7/22/05]

In the coming days, we’re likely to hear senators explain their absences by highlighting previous engagements or conflicting schedules. It was a Friday afternoon with no votes expected in the Senate; clearly, it was a good time to leave town. But senators shouldn’t forget their foremost duty to represent their constituents and work towards implementing good policy — and challenging bad policy. So even if senators were not interested in examining the leaking of classified information, on an issue so important as repairing America’s image through global diplomacy, it was depressing to learn that too many senators were missing in action.

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