Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Bush Approach to Diplomacy

I have frequently criticized this administration's approach to what it calls "diplomacy," which in the lead-up to the war on Iraq consisted mostly of attempting to bribe other countries into doing what we wanted, and in the case of North Korea has essentially amounted to stubbornly refusing to meet one-on-one with Kim Jong Il despite repeated invitations.

It's not just that they haven't any idea what compromise is; it's that they have zero understanding of and zero respect for viewpoints other than their own. It seems to never occur to them that some of their assumptions could be...well, just wrong.

Take the case of Karen Hughes, the White House's new undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, who on her recent trip to the Middle East was soundly scolded by a group of well-educated Saudi Arabian women (many of them doctors) for presuming that they want to live like American women.

And it's not just the message, but the messenger as well. Slate's Fred Kaplan nails it:

Put the shoe on the other foot. Let's say some Muslim leader wanted to improve Americans' image of Islam. It's doubtful that he would send as his emissary a woman in a black chador who had spent no time in the United States, possessed no knowledge of our history or movies or pop music, and spoke no English beyond a heavily accented "Good morning." Yet this would be the clueless counterpart to Karen Hughes, with her lame attempts at bonding ("I'm a working mom") and her tin-eared assurances that President Bush is a man of God (you can almost hear the Muslim women thinking, "Yes, we know, that's why he's relaunched the Crusades").


Anonymous said...

These were not average, every-day women. They were specially selected for this event so as to produce a very specific result. I dare say they even met beforehand to carefully orchestrate their response to Hughes.

Some background facts that might influence how you percieve these women and the event:

[1] The event mentioned took place in one of *the richest* enclaves of Saudi Arabia.
[2] The event was very tightly controlled by Saudi Arabia's elite; School officials of Dar alHekma (mostly men) *pre-selected* which women were allowed to attend. Only certain women from certain types of families were allowed to attend.
[3] These women, as a result, represented Saudi Arabia's richest, and most powerful of their elite.

These women, their husbands, their families, and their clans have a huge (HUGE) vested interest in Saudia Ararbia's status quo. These were not exactly the intellgentsia, nor mainstream female society of Saudi. Saudi Arabia's government, in short, made sure this event turned out the way it did.

Sometimes things are not as they appear, especially in the MidEast.

Andy said...

I think this actually underscores my point rather than rebuts it: if what you charge is true, then Hughes got sent to what was potentially her most visible and simultaneously least receptive audience possible. They have no idea what they're doing.

Jess said...

They're arrogant and ignorant, to a degree that you could explain your point to them, face-to-face, and they still wouldn't understand, let alone agree.

Steve said...

President Bush trusts an inner circle. Is that a good thing? Not when that person is not compotent to do the job. Andy, if I understand that is your point.

The world issues are complex. The women that Ms Hughes went to see definitely would it seem a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. But like many administrations, the Bush administration wants to maintain the status quo too. Through out the last 60 years, the United States has made horrid diplomatic decisions in an effort to maintain balance.

What is the goal of diplomacy? Is it to maintain the current situation or reach compromise?

Andy said...

Well, I would say first and foremost the goal of diplomacy is to avoid war. Any President is going to rely on their inner circle; the question, though, is whether they are at all open to consideration of ideas, opinions and suggestions from outside that circle. This President is definitely not. [*coughs* Harriet Miers]

The situation with the Middle East is precarious and of vital importance. The job Karen Hughes is trying to do can best be done by an American with extensive knowledge of the Arab world; a bare minimum needs to be fluency in Arabic. This person needs to be someone who can effectively relate to Arab opinion about the US and help them, from their perspective, better to understand and appreciate what we are trying to do. Likewise, this person should also be educating us here at home. Hughes is just wrong for the job.