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Tilting at Windmills

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November 2, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THE KAREN HUGHES MYSTERY....Fred Kaplan notes that Karen Hughes is leaving her post as America's top public diplomat with an air of "farce and mystery":

But it is the mysteries that are murkier. Why was Karen Hughes — this hard-headed but provincial Texan with no experience in foreign affairs and only a smattering of irrelevant Spanish — handed the job of repairing America's image in the Muslim world? And, with just over a year to go in his presidency, why is this avid Bush loyalist leaving now?

This latter question is at least intriguing and perhaps ominous.

Nickel summary: she gave up. Full answer at the link.

Kevin Drum 1:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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I don't get what was so mysterious about anything here.

She was hired because she's a Bush toady who was foolish enough to think that loyalty was the only qualification necessary.

She quit because reality finally whacked her upside the head.

Am I missing anything?

Posted by: Ferruge on November 2, 2007 at 2:05 AM | PERMALINK

When there is no way to sell the crass US foreign policy to half the world (I'm including more than just Muslims), the only thing to do is fight a rearguard action and, at least, show that not every US citizen agrees with the idiot-in-chief and has a right to say so. Which is more than many Muslims can say about their governments, and they know it. And they can recognize that difference.

So, in that sense Ms. Hughes was smart enough to define both her shortcomings and a strategy that would protect the US' reputation as much as possible. That's more than most of Bush's hacks have managed. For that she deserves some polite applause.

Posted by: notthere on November 2, 2007 at 2:10 AM | PERMALINK

Of everything Bush, what tickled my funny bone most was sending Karen Hughes to win over Arabs by explaining the Bush policy of killing Arabs for Israel and the neocons.

Posted by: Luther on November 2, 2007 at 2:24 AM | PERMALINK

Are you going to tell us what you decided about the aircraft and the crosswind problem?

(And I do wish you would examine the University of Delaware case and analyze why no liberal bloggers thought it worth either defending or attacking the U Delaware diversity training program. I think we once again ceded way too much to the right wing in the past 24 hours in the name of blind political correctness. We can laugh at Malkin's Defeatocrat cheer, but she, Hannity, and Limbug got the best of us by being able to point to UDel and attach their racist bigotry to us liberals and call it an example of liberal free speech and liberal hate. The only blogger of merit that mentioned it at all was Maha, and that was only because of Jeff Goldstein the asshole linked it to Glenn Greenwald.)

Posted by: jerry on November 2, 2007 at 2:34 AM | PERMALINK

GWB needs to hire a PR flack to convince the Americans that his cohorts are not out to destroy all that America stands for, what with torture and wiretaps as a policy sanctioned by the President who does not have the guts to tell us the truth, to wit, that he thinks that we need to give up core values in order for him to be able to prosecute the war on terror.

Posted by: gregor on November 2, 2007 at 2:34 AM | PERMALINK

Better concern trolls, please.

Well, I'm concerned, anyway...

Posted by: idlemind on November 2, 2007 at 2:39 AM | PERMALINK

The article actually makes Hughes out to be refreshingly un-Bushian in learning from her mistakes and behaving realistically in a situation where actual success was impossible. Her loyalty to Bush in taking a position that she quickly (if the article is to be believed) realized she was unsuited for actually has a twinge of classical tragedy to it (as well as more than a twinge of farce).

Posted by: idlemind on November 2, 2007 at 2:58 AM | PERMALINK

My favorite Karen Hughes moment is the photo of her handing out a US history book to school children in some Muslim land (that disastrous trip referenced in Kaplan's story).

"The American Presidents" (or some such title) with cover illustration: Washington, Lincoln, FDR, Reagan and GW.

Posted by: Tilli (Mojave Desert) on November 2, 2007 at 3:22 AM | PERMALINK

Note that all the reasons in this article are pure opinion and speculation. They may well be right, and they are plausible, but this is essentially an opinion piece, not reporting.

Posted by: Doug on November 2, 2007 at 3:48 AM | PERMALINK

Like all Bush sycophants Karen Hughes achieved her Peter Principle!

Posted by: Tommy Harper on November 2, 2007 at 4:25 AM | PERMALINK

Josh Bolten made it clear that if anyone wanted to jump ship, they had to do so before October 1st. Why was Hughes given the go-ahead? Doesn't Bolten have any say over matters like this?

Posted by: Joseph on November 2, 2007 at 5:46 AM | PERMALINK

Not that Hughes had a chance in cleaning the Augean stables of the Bush foreign -ahem- policy, which are so full of shit it make take centuries to undo.

But, look, Bush owes Hughes a huge debt, since Karen Hughes helped purge Bush’s Texas National Guard files of incriminating information. Only because Hughes was dishonest enough to commit the crime of destroying government records, was this criminal (Bush) even able to run for public office in the first place. It took further dishonesty and subterfuge by the SCOTUS in 2000, to install him in the White House, against the will of the people.

When you live such an immoral, dishonest and corrupt life like George W. Bush, you invariably surround yourself with dishonest, corrupt and incompetent people like Karen Hughes.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on November 2, 2007 at 6:35 AM | PERMALINK

Look, Bush knew he could bamboozle Americans with smoke, mirrors, and public relations, so he figured the same approach would work on everyone else. It didn't. What's so complicated?

Posted by: Bill Camarda on November 2, 2007 at 7:12 AM | PERMALINK

Another Bush crony goes home, who care why.

Saying she figured out she wasn't qualified for the position seems particularly stupid me. Duh, really! She knew that going in, but she didn't care because with the Bushies, it's all about the nice lofty office and the status quo, so she might as well have been Wolfowitz Girlfriend. The misuse of taxpayer money is what Bushism is all about.

It's like I said, Bushie got into the Whitehouse and started looting taxpayer money for his friends and high paying contributors. Bushism is nothing more than big time criminal behavior with intent to steal, lie and commit fraud by whatever means necessary. And the national media has acted like there nothing wrong with this administration, that criminal behavior is norm, that the American public doesn't care about criminal acts that politicians do.

Posted by: Me_again on November 2, 2007 at 7:38 AM | PERMALINK

al: "U.S. combat deaths in Iraq for the last month have dropped by more than two-thirds compared with October of last year,


fyi...

last weekend usa military deaths in 2007 totaled more than all of 2006...

and it wasn't even halloween...

Posted by: mr. irony on November 2, 2007 at 7:48 AM | PERMALINK

She was afraid that she was going to get one these "Forced Diplomatic Assignments" this current Dictatorship Administration is kindly handing out, its your American obligation as a U.S. citizen, Bushs warped mind says. Even a loyalist to Bush knows when it is time to leave.

Posted by: Al on November 2, 2007 at 8:01 AM | PERMALINK

Kaplan's article seems to illustrate a Bush loyalist who came to grips with his failed foriegn policy and the limitations of her office. In the end, after doing what she could to salvage some manner of respect for the American way of life, she ultimately admitted that too much damage had been done to our international image and her inability to change it as long as her boss was in office. I have more respect for Karen Hughes and her decision to leave after having read Kaplan's article.

Posted by: lamonte on November 2, 2007 at 8:08 AM | PERMALINK

Hughes reminds me of quite a few people from Texas that I have worked with over the years: very smart and well-educated. But the "well-educated" is within the closed world of UT/SMU/TA&M, and their experience of the world outside the Dallas suburbs is so limited that they literally have no comprehension that there are people fundamentally different from them - and thus no insight into how people different from them think and act. It goes beyond naivety to a whole new plane of existence.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on November 2, 2007 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

why is this avid Bush loyalist leaving now?

Rat. Sinking ship. 'Nuff said.

Posted by: Gregory on November 2, 2007 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

I have to say, the Kaplan story left me with some unexpected sympathy for Hughes. It sounds like she really tried, and even worked with people who disagree with the Bush Administration. We haven't seen much of that. Too bad it was for a hopeless cause.

Posted by: jbd on November 2, 2007 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

Woke up to an NPR interview with Hughes this morning and it was perfectly clear that she is/was just another BUSH loyalist/apologist with no expertise, little education, no awareness beyond TEXAS...an all around typical BUSH APPOINTEE...and still we get treated over and over again with stories of the shrillness, crashness, ambition and other manufactured shortcomings of Hillary from the likes of balloonhead RUSSERT and others. Our media is working overtime to manage and manipulate this campaign...setting up candidates only to find ways to knock them off with these ridiculous "debates"...the public is NOT SERVED...their investors are...it's the AMERICAN WAY!!!

Posted by: Dancer on November 2, 2007 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

No no no.

The real mystery is why she walked away from one of the most powerful positions in the world: that of a close advisor to the US President.

I figured Rove pushed her out. But what really happpened and why did she come back (proving that she didn't leave to spend more time with her family in Texas) to take a insignificant job in the State Department?


Why? Why? Why? Please someone tell me.

Posted by: NeilS on November 2, 2007 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

She was interviewed on 'Morning Edition' by Steve Inskeep this morning. It is something to hear...

She sounds like someone with no clue as to what she's doing, talking about 'kids with no previous exposure to Americans and how they had a positive view after several months of English language instruction and playing sports...

You should really hear it to get a sense of what she's like ... (Foreigners are different from us!)

Here's a link to the interview:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=15876259

Posted by: Brian on November 2, 2007 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK

Al's right, she is one 'mannish looking woman..."

Posted by: Brian on November 2, 2007 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

If anyone is interested in understanding the character of George Bush, and the people around him, watch Jamie Johnson’s (heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune) documentary Born Rich. Luke Weil (heir to the Autotote gaming empire) and George Bush are cut from the same arrogant, stupid and self-destructive cloth. His courtier/fan Karen Hughes was sent to talk pretty in the Middle East because he is stupid and ignorant- Sidney Blumenthal invoked Twain’s Innocents Abroad.

Have no pity on these people. They break things. They are clueless as to how it happens. They are too self absorbed to care except when it shines badly on the self-image. Hughes took her provincial Sunday school presentations to the Middle East only to find what she had to say was irrelevant. They cannot understand how ridiculous the “We are Americans here to Liberate You” gift basket seems to other people. This is part of the same stupid optimism that took the US into the Middle East in the first place and got it stuck in a nasty, endless, fantastically costly and futile war.

Parliamentary government was invent to limit the exploits of aristocratic king-boys like Bush the Younger and cruel ideological authoritarians like Dick Cheney.

Posted by: bellumregio on November 2, 2007 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

> The real mystery is why she walked away from one
> of the most powerful positions in the world: that
> of a close advisor to the US President.
>
> I figured Rove pushed her out. But what really
> happpened and why did she come back (proving that
> she didn't leave to spend more time with her
> family in Texas) to take a insignificant job in
> the State Department?

Excellent questions and I would like to see Kevin bring this comment up to the front page.

Clearly there was some sort of power struggle going on involving Rove during the 2004-2006 period. One has to suspect that Rove actually feared being indicated by Fitzgerald and that this affected his ability to maneuver and backstab. At some point Rove got the signal that there would be no indictment (whether this was after the 4th grand jury appearance or earlier depends on your view of Fitzgerald's real job) and he took vengeance and cleaned house. However, by that point Rove's power in relation to Cheney had taken a hit that it couldn't recover, and when the possibility of an indictment for misuse of Federal resources popped up Rove left town.

But still - at one point Hughes and Rice had Bush's ear (perhaps literally). What happened?

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on November 2, 2007 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

Fred Kaplan has it about right. Really, Karen Hughes resembles Michael Brown in a way. The ill-starred former head of FEMA was appointed to a job for which he had no qualifications, and got next to no support from the administration he worked for. Accounts of his tenure at FEMA that appeared in the press months after Katrina suggested that he tried to make up in effort what he lacked in expertise and experience, and to some extent Karen Hughes did the same with public diplomacy at State.

That doesn't make her a success at the job any more than Brown was a success at FEMA. But we ought to be honest enough to recognize that public diplomacy had been an afterthought in American foreign policy long before Hughes showed up. Kaplan makes the claim that USIA was "destroyed by Jesse Helms" as if Helms was President in the 1990s -- but the truth is that the guy who was President then didn't care about public diplomacy, and neither did most other people in Washington. I give Hughes some credit for trying to rebuild the institutional base for public diplomacy in the State Department, even if in her position she was only able to do this in a small way. I'd give her more credit if she were honest enough to recognize publicly the reasons "selling America" is especially difficult today. But those reasons begin with the man she did so much to elect President, and to expect that kind of public recognition is not to recognize the nature of Hughes' limitations.

Posted by: Zathras on November 2, 2007 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

"Rat. Sinking ship. 'Nuff said."

Exactly. Do the math. Has anyone ever heard of a rat swimming TOWARDS a sinking ship?

Posted by: Joshua Norton on November 2, 2007 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

Bushies are like the Underpants Elves from South Park. They have a half-assed idea and an imagined glorious result but no clue how to "connect the dots".

Step 1. Steal Underpants
Step 2. ???????
Step 3. Profit

Posted by: Joshua Norton on November 2, 2007 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

I thought people had to either resign around Labor Day or stay through the rest of the term.

Posted by: croatoan on November 2, 2007 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Kaplan's right -- the key to Hughes' failure and departure is misunderstanding the job.

America has a huge advantage over pretty much any other nation on earth, in that there is no need to whitewash our history, nor our current mess, to be patriotic.

That was the original idea of the USIA, that the US government would officially sponsor not only UNofficial, but unorthodox and maybe even subversive messengers of the muddled "American" message to the world. Natch, this was always problematic, if only cuz ya never know when some knucklehead was gonna send Piss Christ's creator Serrano to the Vatican or Maplethorpe's bullwhip guy to the Iran.

Still, this OUGHT to be the kewlest job in the government.

Hughes wasn't the first, but Lord! wouldn't it be useful if she was the last person in this job who didn't understand that she can be the Designated Contrarian?

It shouldn't be about opposing PARTICULAR, contemporary American policies. It oughta be about how showing, not telling, how freedom works.

We should have somebody on this gig who would go to Cairo and Bagdhad with the story of Jamil Diab, the guy who taught the real Koran to the Nation of Islam, leading directly to their formal dissolution in 1975. The kicker? The way he told the FBI to pound sand when they tried to intimidate him: "If I don't teach them, who will?"

We should have somebody go to China with the story of Norman Asing, who was not allowed to vote in the 1850s even though he told a newspaper that betrayed America's own history: "I believe in the principles of the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights...", but the judge said, sorry -- only "free white persons" can become citizens. And the punchline of THAT story? America CHANGES. Hell, tell the story of chop suey, invented by Chinese cooks in America to please American tastes when they couldn't own property, become citizens or vote -- but they figured out how to sell Chinese food here.

There ought to be a Devil's Dictionary entry: "Multiculturalism, n. Something understood by commerce but not by politics."

Why not put on a forum in Moscow (or better yet, Volgograd), with AMERICAN dissidents bitching to high heaven about whoever our current President is? Have Kasparov pick the panelists and moderate.

The next person to have this job ought to have FUN.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 2, 2007 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

You do realize that this article is a tribute to Hughes.

While we learn nothing about why she's leaving, we learn that Hughes, from trial and error, has retreated from propaganda to selling American culture.

The unasked question would be why did she leave if she was doing so well, and we're back to where we started.

Posted by: Horatio Parker on November 2, 2007 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

Don't know why she left and don't know that it matters. Seems her biggest coup was hiring Disney to shoot a tourism video. (I know of this only because they screwed that up, too.) Now if only it wasn't so hard to get a damn visa.

But reading about the Foreign Service revolt over involuntary assignments to Baghdad yesterday, I was struck by this passage:

"Thomas told the diplomats that in the future, 'everyone in the Foreign Service is going to have to do one out of three tours in a hardship post.' Those who have not served in hardship assignments in the past will not be punished, but they all have to realize that there are 'different conditions' now than in the past, he said. "

So it sounds to me like State does not really expect Ms. Hughes' "public diplomacy" efforts to bear much fruit anytime soon.

Posted by: greg on November 2, 2007 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Hughes came in a political hack and that's how she's leaving. The notion that she "learned" anything is ridiculous.

Posted by: Econobuzz on November 2, 2007 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

JOSHUA HORTON: Has anyone ever heard of a rat swimming TOWARDS a sinking ship?


ed gillespie....dana perino...to name two..

Posted by: mr. irony on November 2, 2007 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

"I think we once again ceded way too much to the right wing...."

We???

As for Hughes, frankly, I don't give a damn. She was woefully unqualified for the job, as she conclusively demonstrated within a matter of weeks after assuming it. Anything else is just idle speculation.

Posted by: PaulB on November 2, 2007 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

"Thomas told the diplomats that in the future, 'everyone in the Foreign Service is going to have to do one out of three tours in a hardship post.' Those who have not served in hardship assignments in the past will not be punished, but they all have to realize that there are 'different conditions' now than in the past, he said. " Posted by: greg

This is nothing new. At State you go where you are told to go. For example, the dearth of Arabic speakers in Iraq reflects two things. The first is the Bush administration's need to have political appointees there because they never wanted to be told how and why they were failing because someone who spoke Arabic might actually understand what was going on.

The second factor is that if you are too steeped in the culture of the country where you are serving, you might actually take that country's point of view on issues. You are there not so much to foster bi-lateral relations as to do your country's business.

Posted by: JeffII on November 2, 2007 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

Why? Why? Why? Please someone tell me.
Posted by: NeilS on November 2, 2007 at 9:17 AM

Can't. Classified. Like Bush's torture program.
(don't want to alert The Terrorists)

Posted by: That's Classified on November 2, 2007 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

A person who calls himself/herself Element 5 wrote a very thought-provoking post at Digby's blog recently. I'm not sure I agree with what Element 5 said, but I am intrigued by it.

Element 5 set forth a hypothesis that can be summarized as follows: 1) The Cheney administration's true main goal is to gain control of a significant percentage of the Middle East's oil; 2) the more chaotic, violent, and hateful things are in the Middle East, the easier it is for the Cheney administration to justify (to the American people, and to the peoples of the world at large) the actions it needs to take to achieve its true main goal; 3) therefore, the Cheney administration actually wants the situation in the Middle East to get worse, not better; it actually wants a "long war" (what Bush would call WWIII and what Norman Podhoretz would call WWIV); 4) because improved communication, improved understanding, and improved relations between the U.S. and our Middle Eastern adversaries would make a "long war" less likely, rather than more likely, the Cheney administration really does not want any of this; rather, it wants relations between the U.S. and its Middle Eastern adversaries to get worse.

According to Element 5, this hypothesis explains, among other things, why the U.S. is now quite open about its practice of torturing its enemies, the idea being that if our Middle Eastern adversaries know we have been torturing them, that will only make them hate us all the more, and that hate will help create "a non-stop feedback loop of hate between the citizens of [the U.S.] and the rest of the world").

If Element 5's hypothesis is correct, then it explains quite nicely why an unqualified hack like Karen Hughes was given the job of "improving" relations between the U.S. and various Middle East entities. It might also explain why she apparently did such a poor job. Perhaps she was told to do a poor job.

And also, by the way, Element 5's hypothesis could explain all the apparently boneheaded moves that Paul Bremer made in Iraq. Perhaps Bremer was instructed to screw up Iraq, rather than make it better. Perhaps he received a Medal of Honor because he had done such a wonderful job of screwing up Iraq.

Posted by: geometric logic on November 2, 2007 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

I heard this Texas Bush scum on NPR this AM. When asked about the equally low opinion of al Queda and the W. Bush regime worldwide she stammered and then resorted to the al Queda is a death cult theme. The W. Bush presidency has killed, maimed and displaced millions of people in Iraq and Afghanistan, which even Americans know now. There is nothing a propagandist can say to change people's attitudes about that.

Posted by: Brojo on November 2, 2007 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Ms. Hughes is not competitive in this weight class.

Posted by: shortstop on November 2, 2007 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

Hughes reminds me of quite a few people from Texas that I have worked with over the years: very smart and well-educated. But the "well-educated" is within the closed world of UT/SMU/TA&M...

Now, see, this is interesting because withinthe circles I move aroundin, such provincialism is regarded as the opposite of smart and well-educated. More evidence that Texans operate with a completely different value system than the rest of us Americans. Even their smart people are stupid.

Posted by: Tyro on November 2, 2007 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

The "Failed State Hypothesis" has been advanced from many quarters, not least by Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah. If divide, conquer, and create chaos had really been the goal than Allawi would never have been needed, the military would not need to be trained, nor would there need to be an alliance with some Sunni factions and the Iraq Oil Law, which is aimed at national contract rights, would have not been so proposed by the Americans.

The Cheney administration really wanted to set up a puppet state under Allawi that would be overseen by an American shadow colonial administration hidden away in the embassy-fortress in Baghdad. Iraq would be a laissez-faire utopia in the heart of the Middle East. It all failed and they are now trying to keep the project rolling.

Posted by: bellumregio on November 2, 2007 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

I think we see the problem,All state dept.people where going to have to serve time in a hardship post.Karen Hughes was not going to spend anytime in Iraq ,not one stinking moment,Thus she quit.

Posted by: john john on November 2, 2007 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

She most certainly did not give up. Oh, foolish mortal, she did wonderful work spreading the American message of hope, unity, and democracy abroad. And she will use it as one more feather in her cap or arrow in her quiver of CV-focused accomplishment. I see corporate governance in her future and profits from highly-paid sinecures for the rest of her life. Congratulations, dear lady. Your beautiful spirit wins out wherever you go.

When will you people stop spreading your librul lies, lies, lies!!??

Posted by: Anon on November 2, 2007 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Now, see, this is interesting because withinthe circles I move aroundin, such provincialism is regarded as the opposite of smart and well-educated. More evidence that Texans operate with a completely different value system than the rest of us Americans. Even their smart people are stupid.
Posted by: Tyro

I think that's essentially what the other poster was implying - Texas smart doesn't necessarily mean well-educated and certainly not cosmopolitan.

Posted by: JeffII on November 2, 2007 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

> Texas smart doesn't necessarily mean
> well-educated and certainly not cosmopolitan.

That's perhaps a bit unfair - I am sure people who graduate from SMU with a BA in World History or International Politics know more-or-less as much about those subjects as most other (US) new college graduates. "Knowing" as measured by tests is one thing though. Understanding is another, as is the willingness to doubt one's own perceptions and test one's beliefs (small b). When I graduated from engineering school and went into heavy industry I started in a program where new engineers had to crawl around inside the machinery with measuring tools and clipboards for a few years (literally and metaphorically) so that they would start to understand what they knew. When it comes to international relations people from Texas never seem to go through this process (gross generalization; probably unfair to many Texans).

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on November 2, 2007 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

To be fair it looks like she learned from her mistakes and really tried to do some good stuff.

Posted by: Daryl on November 3, 2007 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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