"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored"
Karen Hughes, George Bush’s old image-polisher from Texas had hardly so much as warmed the seat at her desk as Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, before being asked to jump into another responsibility. She’s equally unqualified for this one.
Hughes, who took her appointment so seriously that she left the office unoccupied for three months until her son graduated, was supposed to polish up the Arab world’s image of the United States. In other words, PhotoShop our nation’s little secrets and miscalculations. The Arab world thinks, mistakenly in her view, that our treatment of prisoners and general behavior in the Middle East hasn’t been all that stellar. And they keep killing us to prove it.
In any event, she wasted no time setting the world straight on the New Orleans aftermath of hurricane Katrina. “We’ve marshaled the resources of our federal government to help fellow Americans,” she said. “If people think otherwise, we need to aggressively challenge that idea around the world.”
Aggressively. There’s that word again. A one-word summation of an administration’s focus.
What we’ve actually done, on a broad and unforgivable scale, is to fail to marshal anything at all. Our chief-marshaler, a guy named Brown who is said to run FEMA, didn’t even know New Orleans had a disaster of major proportion on its hands until the Thursday following Katrina’s landfall.
The problem, according to Hughes, was not a failed relief effort, but a foreign press that did not appreciate the federal government’s good work.
Well gosh, Karen, I just don’t know how we all failed to see that. I can see how it would annoy you that the foreign press, much like our own, wondered just how long we planned on leaving those marooned souls at the SuperDome. There was something about the dead sitting in wheelchairs on the expressway medians or lying, crumpled and forgotten, on park benches until someone covered their putrefying corpses that just made us all ask why and for how long?
Under orders from FEMA, reporters are now forbidden to show the bodies of New Orleans’ victims, just as they have been forbidden to photograph coffins arriving from Iraq. There is no outcry from a subjugated press, no complaint from quashed TV news departments. There are no bodies if they are not seen, no coffins if they are not photographed. It’s 1984.
“There are a lot of things being said about us around the world that aren’t true,” says Karen. There are also a lot of things said about us around the world to which this administration attaches little importance and they are often the same things. The world-wide perception of a country is not to be argued with, because its mere existence proves it to be so. The Bush administration is perceived to be inept, not because of some international cabal that wishes it harm, but because it continually shows itself to be inept and then goes on to prove it in detail.
It’s a dangerous folly to employ image in the place of substance as national policy.
It might be gotten away with once, perhaps twice, in the best of times. But these are not the best of times. The American public, the national and international press, as well as the majority of opinion in the scattered and varied countries of the world will not sustain credibility of American power and American virtue under a continuing veil of unaccountability. Yet that is Karen Hughes’ strategy and she pursues it without complaint within the State Department.
Which may say more about Condoleeza Rice than Karen Hughes.