Reality check for Karen Hughes (and Bush Junior)

Karen Hughes, Bush Junior’s PR flack to the the Muslim world, recently had a rude awakening in Ankara when she was grilled by Turkish women activists on the Iraqi occupation and American militarism in general.

Despite its brevity, the article (Glen Kessler, "Turks Challenge Hughes On Iraq Female Activists Decry U.S. Policy", Washington Post, 29 September, 2004) is quite enlightening and sums up the problem with so much Beltway debate and analysis on the Middle East and the Muslim world.

Hughes, a longtime confidante of President Bush tasked with burnishing the U.S. image overseas, has generally met with polite audiences — many of which consisted of former exchange students or people who have received U.S. funding — during a tour of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey this week.

In this case, the U.S. Embassy asked an umbrella group known as Ka-Der, which supports women running for office, to assemble the guest list. None of the activists currently receives U.S. funds or had any apparent desire to mince words. Six of the eight women who spoke at the session, held in Ankara, Turkey’s capital, focused on the Iraq war.

Far too much of what passes for debate in Washington occurs in front of such "polite audiences", where noone is willing to talk about the consequences on the ground of American foreign policy, realities which are self-evident to people around the world.

It is interesting to see that the minute the White House propaganda tour veers slightly from its carefully gerrymandered audiences (whether in the USA or abroad) it gets burnt and exposed to be out of touch with popular opinion.  It’s a bit cliche to talk about the Emperor being naked, but few metaphors seem so apt.

One of Hughes’ impromtu interogators makes a profound observation about the futility of aspiring to lofty ideals while embracing war and militarism:

"War makes the rights of women completely erased, and poverty comes after war — and women pay the price," said Fatma Nevin Vargun, a Kurdish women’s rights activist. Vargun denounced the arrest of Cindy Sheehan, the mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq, in front of the White House this week.

This is a fundamental lesson of modern times (which any reasonably responsible and independent media would hammer home during times of war) that I wish far more Americans understood.  You cannot solve the world’s problems by embracing war, as war reverses gains and spawns new, far worse challenges.

Ms. Vargun also reminds us how, for all our high fallutin’ talk about liberating  women, our policies continue to devastate them.  And this is just the latest example, as the hundreds of thousands of women and children who died needlessly due to the (un-)American trade embargo against Iraq will someday testify.

Vargun’s mention of Cindy Sheehan’s arrest is another example of how small the world is.   This American activist’s campaign is being watched carefully across the globe.

I also love the role reversal here–an official from the Bush administration (which is known for sanctimonious prattle about freedom in Muslim countries) being put on the defensive about its own dubious record on freedom and dissent.  What’s good for the goose…

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