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Hughes' mideast tour: More harm than good?

Author says trip damaged U.S. image and may have helped bin Laden
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In her first trip as America's P.R. agent to the Muslim world, Karen Hughes quickly learned that Arabs have a message of their own: "Butt out.  We like our medieval traditions."

Robert Pape professor of political science at the University of Chicago and author of "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism," appeared on Friday's 'Situation with Tucker Carlson ' to discuss Hughes' weeklong trip to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. He believes the trip did more damage than good and even may have even helped Osama bin Laden. 

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

TUCKER CARLSON:  So I understand the critique that Karen Hughes' trip to the Mideast, not very effective, that she's way over her head, which I think was probably true.  But how did she help Osama bin Laden?

ROBERT PAPE, AUTHOR, "DYING TO WIN":  First, let me say that I have great respect for Karen Hughes and I very much want her mission to succeed. 

It's terribly important that we use public diplomacy better to combat terrorism.  But to do that, it's important to directly rebut Osama bin Laden's mobilization rhetoric and not merely to defend the Bush administration. 

In her recent trip Karen Hughes did not rebut Osama bin Laden's rhetoric and instead, actually reinforced many of his key points.  Osama bin Laden's core mobilization appeal relies on the crusader image.  This is what recruits suicide terrorists to kill us better than anything else. 

In speech after speech Osama bin Laden paints the United States as on a religious crusade to use military force to transform Muslim society according to a Christian agenda, either to convert Christians ... to weaken Islam or actually to expand Israel so that Christians and Jews jointly can ensure control over Islam.

CARLSON:  I read where he said that, and I believe that that's he core message.  But I didn't hear Karen Hughes say anything about coming to Jesus or anything like that.

PAPE:  No.  But the last thing she should do, the last thing we need to do under these circumstances was portray and emphasize the religious commitment of the Bush administration and, in fact, or to give the appearance that we would reject dissent of ordinary Muslims to accept our way of life.  And in this trip, I'm afraid Karen Hughes did both of those things. 

CARLSON:  But wait a second.  As far as I know her point was, look, we in the west have a lot to offer.  And the main ting we have to offer, aside from Coke and Wendy's and Applebee's, is freedom and democracy.  And her point that would you like to drive a car or go outside without a sheet on your head and all that stuff?  This is what we have to offer you.

PAPE:  let me just make two points, Tucker. 

First in numerous occasions she painted and portrayed the United States and the Bush administration as, quote, "people of faith."  This directly reinforces bin Laden's portrayal of us as a crusader nation. 

Secondly, in two long sessions with Muslim women, she gave the appearance of rejecting Muslim women, ordinary Muslims, women willingness to go by traditional values, and in fact, she gave the appearance that she would rather they follow our western way of life over their own freedom to choose a different way. 

CARLSON:  Wait.  That's the distinction I think that you're missing.  There is no freedom to choose these traditions in Saudi Arabia.  If you're a woman you're not allowed to drive a car.  This is not a matter of choice.  This is a matter of compulsion.  What's wrong with her saying there is a better way?

PAPE:  There's nothing wrong with saying there's an alternative way, the problem is if she says this is the only way.  And in both sessions, if you read the transcripts closely, which are on the web site, the State Department web site, you will see that what she did is she made the case for the one true way, which is our way, which gave the appearance that it was the only way. 

And this directly reinforces Osama bin Laden's argument that we're imposing our values on others, whether they like it or not. 

CARLSON:  Well, we definitely are very much doing that.  I personally have no problem with it. 

But OK, give me your 30-second pitch.  You're Karen Hughes.  You're walking into a room full of upper middle class educated Saudi women.  Give me your 30 seconds on why they should be pro American?

PAPE:  The new approach should definitely challenge Osama bin Laden's idea that we're a crusader nation.  And we actually have two golden opportunities to do that. 

The first is with tsunami relief.  Tsunami relief, our relief to the tsunami victims, directly contradicts Osama bin Laden's views that the United States is out to harm Islam and harm Muslims, because much of that relief went to Muslims.  And in fact, opinion polls have shown that our American relief for the tsunami victims has been our best way to improve our image in the Muslim world. 

Karen Hughes never mentioned the word tsunami in five days of travel, and this one of an excellent way to show that.  In fact she should have brought Bill Clinton and George Bush in on that trip to engage in long discussions on this. 

The second opportunity that was missed had to do with the Gaza withdrawal.  The American support for the withdrawal of Israel from Gaza ... directly contradicts Osama bin Laden's words that we are out to help Israel expand.