Karen Hughes, returning to Washington to take charge of State Department efforts to improve the nation's tarnished image abroad, said at her confirmation hearing yesterday that she wants to enlist the private sector -- including the music, film and travel industries -- in a reinvigorated effort to help the Muslim world understand America.
Hughes, who will hold the rank of ambassador and the title of undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the long-term "way to prevail in this struggle is through the power of our ideas."
"We need to engage more vigorously," she said. "We cannot expect people to give a fair hearing to our ideas if we don't forcefully advocate them. . . . America must also improve our rapid response and do much more to confront hateful propaganda, dispel myths and get out the truth."
Hughes, a longtime senior adviser to President Bush, plans to travel abroad extensively, starting with a trip to the Middle East, administration officials said.
Bush nominated Hughes in March to be undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. But with the additional portfolio of public affairs, she will run a bureaucratic empire that includes three State Department bureaus with 860 employees and 140 contractors.
Hughes, who held the title of counselor to the president during Bush's first 19 months in Washington, returned to Texas in deference to her teenage son, Robert, who will enter Stanford University this fall.
Hughes, who was part of Bush's inner circle of advisers, was guardian of his image through both his Texas and national campaigns. During Bush's reelection campaign, Hughes became a consultant to the Republican National Committee and flew on Air Force One throughout the fall.
Democrats have accused Bush of harming the country's international image with his handling of the prelude to the Iraq war and the bloody aftermath of deposing Saddam Hussein. To the surprise of administration officials, none of the eight committee Democrats attended the hearing. The chairman, Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), and Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) were the only lawmakers who attended and asked questions.
The committee's top Democrat, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) met with Hughes privately Thursday and said in a statement -- read by Lugar at the hearing -- that he could not attend because of previous commitments but is "particularly interested in and supportive of the nomination," and that Hughes will bring "new energy and creativity to our public diplomacy efforts."
Lugar said he hopes for a committee vote on Hughes next week, before Congress leaves on its August break.
Hughes, accompanied by her husband, Jerry, said she wants to hear ideas from and "develop effective ways to marshal the great creativity of our private sector. . . . Our music and film industries, artists and entertainers create powerful impressions, sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always powerful."
"I recognize the job ahead will be difficult; perceptions do not change quickly or easily," she added. "We don't expect instant results."
Appearing with Hughes was Josette Sheeran Shiner, the nominee for undersecretary of state for economic, business and agricultural affairs. In a second session, the committee heard from Kristen Silverberg, nominee for assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs; and Jendayi E. Frazer, nominee for assistant secretary of state for African affairs.
Silverberg, whose Bush pedigree dates to the Austin policy shop of the 2000 campaign and is a favorite of top White House officials, will have a portfolio that includes the administration's campaign for United Nations reform.
"When we talk about U.N. reform, we always need to do it in a balanced way to remind people of all the good things the U.N. does and can do, and then to talk about the ways that we want the organization to be more effective and stronger," Silverberg said. "It's important to remind people what a good organization it can be."