Memo to Karen Hughes: It ain't just photo ops and pleas

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Karen Hughes, President Bush's alter ego in Texas and then during the early years in the White House, is trying to improve America's image in a State Department post for which she has few credentials except for her close relationship with Bush.

Hughes is articulate and well intentioned on spreading goodwill at a time her country is having trouble with its image. But she seems to think that photo ops overseas and calls for other nations to just understand us and our president more will do the job.

In an interview last week with the ABC-TV affiliate in the capital, Hughes said the United States wanted to provide a "stable, unified, and democratic" Iraq. That is a three-pronged strategy fraught with immense problems.

First, stability in the country is in constant flux even as our civilian and military leaders say Iraqi military and civic leadersare getting better at providing their own security. Second, a unified Iraq is almost impossible in a country where religious hatred and tribal warfare have gone on for years. Last, a democratic Iraq— or a democracy anywhere in the Middle East outside Israel— is a goal that will be difficult to achieve even after Bush leaves office.

Hughes told the interviewer that she recognized this would require a significant period of time to achieve but that the United States wanted to establish a "long-term foundation." The problemthere is that Bush will leave office in January 2009, and the next president of either party may decide differently on our policy there.

For the moment, Hughes said, our immediate strategy is to provide greater security for the Iraqi people, a noble undertaking. However, a recent poll showed that a near majority of the people approve of the strikes by the insurgency. That is a painful thing to hear when the nation has already lost 2,500 men and women and spent countless billions of its treasury.

Hughes said the president, her friend, wanted to make the world a safer place for the next generations. Even with Saddam gone from power, the reasonable question can be asked: Is the world safer since Bush took office in 2001?