When results don't matter

The White House says it's "inappropriate" to judge Karen Hughes' performance by world opinion.

Published October 31, 2007 6:50PM (EDT)

George W. Bush likes to talk about the importance of results.

"We must tie funding to higher standards and accountability for results," he says. "See, the people expect, when they send their money ... to achieve certain results." "It's important to measure results so that we know we're doing our job." "If you're a taxpayer and you're spending your money, you want to make sure that money gets good results. And the best way to determine whether you get good results is to measure."

So, isn't it fair to consider poll results showing America's abysmal standing in public opinion when judging the effectiveness of Karen Hughes' tenure as the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy?

Apparently not.

From today's White House press briefing:

Reporter: Since [Hughes] assumed the position of undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, according to a Pew survey, the U.S. image remains abysmal in most Muslim countries. Favorable views of the U.S. in Turkey are at 9 percent. In Egypt, they're 21 percent. In Pakistan, they're 15 percent. In the Palestinian territories, they're 13 percent. In Morocco, they're 15 percent.

Dana Perino: I think I get your point.

Reporter: In Germany, in just the past two years, the favorable [rating] of the U.S. has dropped from 42 percent to 30 percent. Do you discount those numbers? I just want you to address what has happened since she has taken on that role. It sounds like she didn't do much.

Perino: I'm not going to comment on that. I think it's preposterous to think that you could question Karen Hughes' achievements in terms of being responsible for the numbers in a particular poll. That's ridiculous.

Reporter: You discount ...

Perino: I'm not -- I'm not discounting the numbers. Certainly, the reason that the president wanted Karen Hughes to go to the State Department to help transform public diplomacy with Secretary Rice is because we realized that we need to do more about winning hearts and minds all around the world. And that's exactly what she has started there. And she has said in her statement today this is not something we're going to change overnight. This is a long-term project, much like -- if you think about how long the Cold War took, she sees this as something that over the next couple of decades, we really need to focus on.

Reporter: So in your mind, she has succeeded in her goal of outreach to the Arab world, based on those numbers that I just cited.

Perino: I'm not going to comment or respond to a poll that you just read out. I don't know about those numbers. I don't know the questions that were asked. I think it's inappropriate. What I can tell you is that she has done amazing work.

In discussing Hughes' accomplishments, Perino noted that Hughes and her deputy "really put a focus on ... bringing foreign exchange students back to the United States."

"After September 11," Perino explained, "there was a downturn in the number of foreign exchange students we had coming to America. The president strongly believes the best way to expand America's values is for more people to come to America and find out what it's all about, and then to be able to take that home to their country."

Just one follow-up question: If the president really thinks that bringing over more foreign exchange students is the "best way to expand America's values," can we bail out on that whole "spreading democracy at the point of a gun" thing and just start hiring more au pairs?

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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