Over Here, an Earful

By Al Kamen
Friday, October 7, 2005

Undersecretary of State Karen P. Hughes just finished her "listening" tour of the Middle East, and the reviews are coming in.

"Preachy, culturally insensitive, superficial PR blitz." -- USA Today.

"Faux Pas Trifecta; saying too much, saying the wrong thing, saying anything at all." -- the Washington Times op-ed page.

"Non-answers, canned message, macabre." -- the Los Angeles Times.

"Fiasco, lame attempt at bonding." -- Slate.com

"Painfully clueless . . . pedestrian . . . vapid . . . gushy." -- Arab News ("The Middle East's Leading English Language Daily")

"The marquee clown [in] America's circus diplomacy . . . total ineptitude . . . total disconnect." Al-Jazeerah.

This is harsh. The trip was, after all, styled a "listening tour," a chance to chat with people over there and gain some insight into their views.

And that's what she did. En route home, Hughes singled out to reporters "a really interesting meeting" with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul , who urged her to try to look at the Iraq war from the perspective of "a common man in Turkey."

"And he said: 'You know, for you all, when you're talking about Iraq, war in Iraq, and Iran and Syria, you're talking about countries over there. We're talking about our next-door neighbors,' " Hughes recalled, according to a transcript on the State Department Web site.

"And it's an interesting perspective and an important perspective that I will now try to bring to our policy debate," she said. "Not that it hasn't been present, but I consider it my job to make sure that it's really highlighted and considered."

Carrying a map of the region also might come in handy.

Hughes also defended President Bush . "I had one person at one lunch raise the issue of the president mentioning God in his speeches," she told reporters. "And I asked whether he was aware that previous American presidents have also cited God, and that our Constitution cites 'one nation under God.' "

Carrying a copy of the Constitution -- maybe also the Pledge of Allegiance -- might come in handy.

Hughes's $450,000 Send-Off

Speaking of Hughes, there was much chatter this spring when it was discovered that Hughes, named on March 14, wasn't going to take over her important portfolio for about five months or so. She said she needed to stay home in Texas and then see her son off to Stanford.

Turns out she wasn't just shopping for college. From that date until her swearing in, Hughes collected $450,000 in speaking fees -- charging around $50,000 a pop, according to Time.com's review of her financial disclosure forms. From January 2004 to March 2005, Hughes made $1.8 million, which includes her $750,000 book advance, according to the disclosures.

Ethics sticklers are said to be somewhat put out because she spoke to groups such as Parker Drilling Co., a Houston oil drilling operation, even after she was named to the new job. She went on the government payroll for her $149,000-a-year job on Aug. 15, five days after her last paid speech. A State Department spokesman says this is well within ethical guidelines.

Special Forces Couldn't Kill This Ad

Turns out that the ad for the CV-22 Osprey attack helicopter -- the one in Monday's column showing soldiers rappelling from the hovering chopper to attack a mosque, didn't just appear in the National Journal. It also showed up in the October issue of Air Force Magazine, a Loop Fan tells us, adding that it could well appear in other defense and industry-related publications.

Critics promptly blasted the ad for its obvious insensitivity and for being offensive to Muslims. Boeing and Bell Helicopter agreed and had tried to pull the ad. National Journal took the hit, saying there had been a "clerical error."

But some folks say the ad is pretty dumb for another reason. "It suggests that this aircraft . . . can simply arrive in the middle of a city and do whatever it wants, no matter who's around," said Robert F. Dorr , a freelance columnist for the Air Force Times. "In fact, if it performed as shown in the ads," he said, forget worrying about Stinger missiles -- a grenade launcher or even small-arms fire could do the trick.

Looking for Volunteers

Best Lead of the Week -- to the Knight Ridder Newspapers wire.

"Army Secretary Noel Harvey and vice chief of staff Gen. Richard Cody said Monday that the Army was using looser Defense Department rules that permitted it to sign up more high school dropouts and people who score lower on mental-qualification tests, but they denied that this meant it was lowering standards."

New Homes of the Rangers

Two more embassies have fallen to Bush Rangers this week. Nicholas F. Taubman , the auto parts mogul and mega-contributor from Roanoke, is the pick to be ambassador to Romania. Investment banker Susan McCaw , of Kirkland, Wash., is to be the top diplomat in Austria.

Also on the foreign affairs front, Jeffrey Bergner , a fellow with the German Marshall Fund, former chief of staff to Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), now chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and former chief of staff for the committee, has been tapped to be assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company