Karen Hughes, who has been tasked with re-crafting America's image, sent a cable to all U.S. embassies yesterday urging them to think of ways to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that will demonstrate that terrorism is a challenge faced not just by the United States.
The instructions from the State Department's new undersecretary for public diplomacy are an early sample of Hughes's plans to try to close the chasm between the United States and much of the rest of the world, particularly the bloc of more than 50 Islamic countries.
As one step, she explained in an interview yesterday, the U.S. ambassador to Egypt could go to Sharm el-Sheikh, the Red Sea resort where terrorist bombs killed at least 64 people and injured more than 100 last month. In the cable, she also urged U.S. diplomatic missions to use the occasion to bring together religious leaders for an interfaith dialogue.
"The fourth anniversary gives us an opportunity to really remind the world that it's about more than America, that it's about all of us," she said. "I suggested that they might want to have events particularly in countries that have also been targets of terrorist attacks; that our ambassadors might want to reach out, and in a way that resonates with the population in that country and communicates that we understand that it's not just Americans who have been victims of this, but it's been Egyptians and people all over the world, Muslims as well as Christians and Jewish citizens."
Hughes, who will unveil her plans in a "town hall" staff meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice next Thursday, said she has also initiated discussions with Muslim leaders since taking office less than three weeks ago. She has sought out Muslim clerics, students and scholars, she said, to hear their concerns and ideas.
Tonight she will participate in a closed-door panel discussion in Chicago with the Islamic Society of North America, an association of Muslim groups that sponsors education and social outreach in Muslim communities as well as with other religious groups.
Hughes, a Bush confidante during his 2000 presidential bid who then served as a White House strategist, is set to promote a variety of ideas, including "advocacy platforms" and "rapid response teams." The advocacy platforms would be attempts to "foster great debates" about democracy and its values in ways that are relevant to life in countries living under authoritarian rule, she said.
The rapid response teams would seek to counter misinformation about U.S. policies and actions in the same news cycle so that it is not perpetuated. Hughes plans to set up a rapid response center to monitor what is printed and broadcast by television networks such as al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya. "We're behind the curve in being able to put down rumors and myths," she said.
Another part of what she calls a "4-E" policy -- engagement, exchanges, education and empowerment -- is widening long-standing exchange programs to bring in clerics, journalists and other major figures of influence. "The terrorists and extremists we face want closed minds and rigid control," Hughes said. "We want open minds and to foster exchanges. The best way is to let them see for themselves."
Hughes said her plan has three goals -- to foster a vision of hope and opportunity rooted in President Bush's freedom agenda; to isolate and marginalize extremists; and to foster a sense of common interests and values among diverse cultures and faiths. "We have disagreements. We talk about them. But we have a lot more that unites us," she said.