By ANNE GEARAN
The Associated Press
Thursday, September 28, 2006; 5:42 PM
WASHINGTON -- It may take decades to change anti-American feelings around the world that have been aggravated by war in Iraq, U.S. policy toward Israel and America's "sex and violence" culture, the State Department official in charge of dealing with the U.S. image abroad said Thursday.
"The anti-Americanism, the concern around the world ... this ideological struggle, it's not going to change" quickly, Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It's going to be the work of years and maybe decades."
Hughes, a longtime adviser to President Bush, has worked for more than a year to retool the way America sells itself overseas, but she acknowledged that success can be next to impossible to measure.
A June poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that America's image in 15 nations dropped sharply in 2006. For example, less than one-third of the people in Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan and Turkey had a favorable view of the U.S.
According to that poll, America's continued involvement in Iraq was seen as a worse problem than Iran and its nuclear ambitions.
In the bleak National Intelligence Estimate portion declassified this week, the government's top analysts concluded that Iraq has become a "cause celebre" for jihadists, who are growing in number and geographic reach. If the trend continues, the analysts found, the risks to the U.S. interests at home and abroad will grow.
Hughes said the three-year-old Iraq war "is the most recent excuse" for anti-American grievance in the Muslim world.
"Much of the world did not agree with our decision to go into Iraq," just as there is long-standing disagreement with U.S. support for Israel, Hughes said.
Answering those complaints and defending U.S. policy is part of Hughes' job heading the broad category of U.S. outreach known as "public diplomacy." Although her job involves all regions of the world, Bush asked her to concentrate on reframing the U.S. image in the Islamic world.
"All you have to do is sit in a hotel room in the Middle East and watch the media and you see there is a lot, there is a big drumbeat out there going against our interests," Hughes said.
"I'm trying to approach this as putting in place the type of things that over the long run will make a difference for our country, because I don't expect that in the two years and ... three or four months of the president's administration that we'll see a significant shift."
Hughes has sent Arabic speakers to do four times as many interviews with Arabic media as in previous years and set up three rapid public relations response centers overseas to monitor and respond to the news.
Asked whether America's critics have any legitimate gripes, Hughes said yes.
"One of the things that I hear a lot, particularly in deeply conservative societies, is that parents feel kind of assaulted by American culture," Hughes said. "The sex and the violence that they see on television and movies ... some of the lyrics of our music."
The fact that American culture is so pervasive and accessible around the globe is "a double-edged sword," Hughes said. "Obviously, a lot of young people find our pop culture very appealing."
Hughes said the United States must be careful not to cast its fight against extremism and terrorism as a confrontation with Islam as a whole. She would not say whether she and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had advised Bush to stop using the term "Islamic fascism" to describe the ideology behind terrorism.
Bush and his spokesman used the phrase several times in August, but it has apparently disappeared from the White House lexicon since then. A check of transcripts on the State Department Web site indicates Rice, who is Hughes' boss, has apparently not used that phrase.
Hughes said that while she would not reveal private conversations with Bush, "that has been a subject of great debate within the administration."
"It's difficult to know what to call the ideology that we're up against, because it is a perversion of Islam," Hughes said.
"I use 'violent extremist,' because I think they are extremists, they are violent, they are actually mass murderers who pervert their religion."
On the Net:
State Department's public diplomacy operation and Hughes bio: http://www.state.gov/r/