With Karen Hughes leaving her post as Public Diplomacy czar at the State Department, we have a good opportunity to consider what direction we should take in this important area. The conventional wisdom is that the President ought to name a strong, credible individual to replace Hughes in order to ensure that our effort to win the "hearts and minds" of people around the world does not stagnate.
Personally, I think we should just consider shutting the heck up. Our credibility is shot. We are despised in much of the world. Everyone we interact with internationally becomes poison in their own communities. People assume the worst of the United States. Conspiracy theories run rampant. It is an unmitigated disaster. It is largely George Bush’s disaster, and to her discredit Karen Hughes was unable to turn any of these trends around in a measurable way.
Faced with this litany of woe, the conventional wisdom suggests we must redouble our effort to get our "message" out. I think we should do the opposite. Instead of getting even more in everyone’s faces, American policy ought to be to try to make us recede from the public eye. We need to let the current virulent anti-Americanism burn itself out to a degree, and the best way to do is to be restrained. Not every problem in the world is our problem. We don’t need to take sides in every conflict. We don’t need to be involved everywhere at all times. We need to let tempers cool.
There is also a practical issue. Anything we do between now and when Bush attacks Iran will be completely for naught. There is no initiative, no international relationship, no institutional connection that will survive another unilateral American military adventure.
The time is right for what might be called a strategic pause.