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Bush aide named to key diplomacy post

Hughes will seek to boost flagging US image overseas

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday named Karen P. Hughes, one of President Bush's closest and most powerful advisers, as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy in a move that officials said is meant to aggressively tackle the plummeting image of the United States abroad, particularly in the Arab world.

The appointment of Hughes, a confidante since Bush was governor of Texas, is part of a major effort to revamp the apparatus of US public diplomacy, which studies say has languished over the past decade under poor leadership and inadequate funding.

In speeches yesterday at the State Department, both Rice and Hughes made reference to the failure of the US government to effectively counter negative perceptions of the United States and to the importance of winning hearts and minds abroad to prevent terrorism against Americans.

''Sadly, too few in the world today know about the goodness and compassion and generosity of the American people," Rice said. ''Too few know, too, that American lives have been lost so that others, including Muslims, might live in freedom and that others might have a future of their own making."

If confirmed, Hughes would be the third woman to serve in one of six powerful undersecretary posts under Rice. Yesterday, Rice also named Dina Powell, an Egyptian-born former White House assistant to the president, as the next assistant secretary for educational and cultural affairs, working under Hughes.

Public diplomacy has suffered a series of setbacks over the past 10 years. The US Information Agency, created at the height of the Cold War to spread America's message through broadcasting and educational exchanges, was dismantled in 1999.

''What has happened in America is that at the end of the Cold War, we unilaterally disarmed our public diplomacy apparatus. We thought the ideological struggles were over," said Edward P. Djerejian, a former ambassador who chaired a 2003 commission that found the current structure of US public diplomacy in the Arab world ''inadequate."

Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell brought on Charlotte Beers, an advertising executive, to market American values abroad by distributing television testimonials of Muslims who were happy living in the United States. But Beers's $15 million appeal to the Arab world ended disastrously, with critics calling it propaganda divorced from its intended audiences. Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon refused to run the ads.

Beers resigned her post in 2003 and was replaced by State Department veteran Margaret Tutwiler. But Tutwiler, too, left six months later to take a job with the New York Stock Exchange, and the post has been vacant ever since.

Djerejian, who is now director of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, said the Hughes appointment was part of a larger push to bolster diplomacy and to ''reinvent USIA within the foreign policy apparatus."

He also said that Hughes was so close to Bush that she was almost the equivalent of a Cabinet-level special counselor to the president on public diplomacy.

Hughes pledged to respect other cultures and religions while furthering Bush's vision of a democratic Middle East.

''Freedom is the universal hope of the human heart, instilled not by any country or government, but by the Creator, who cares for each of us and wants us to learn to care for one another," she said.

Farah Stockman can be reached at fstockman@globe.com.

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