Interview on "Hello On Two"Karen P. Hughes, Under Secretary for Public Affairs
Hosts Sherry Ibrahim and Zamil Idris
October 23, 2005
SHERRY: Good morning Ambassador. Good to have you with us.
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Good morning, it’s so nice to be here. Please call me Karen.
SHERRY: It’s easier that way.
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: My family would call me Mom, so... I’m a working mom. In fact my son would probably say I’m not near hip enough to be on this show. I have an 18-year-old, who’s a college freshman, but I’m very glad to be here.
ZAMIL: I hope you got to spend some quality time with him before he went off to college?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: I was able to. In fact, I left the White House and went back home to Texas for the last couple years of his high school because I thought it was important that he lived in Texas and have those roots before he went off to school, and so that was a wonderful couple years there.
SHERRY: My very first question to you is, first of all, how does it feel to be one of the few important female staff in the Bush Administration, and not get much recognition for it?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, it’s actually one of the President’s great strengths is that he does hire and promote very capable women – I work for our Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, who is of course a woman. He has just nominated a woman to the Supreme Court of the United States of America. In fact, at one point, when I worked in the White House, we had a senior staff meeting in the morning where our most senior people were gathered around a conference table – there were 18 of us and 8 of us were women. And so I think it’s to the President’s credit that he’s always hired and promoted qualified women.
SHERRY: It’s girl power.
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: You all talked about visiting the White House, it’s a thrill to be able to work at the White House. Growing up, my father was in the Army, my mother stayed home and worked at home as a Mom. And so I never dreamed that I would one day grow up and work at the White House.
ZAMIL: Well, you started off as a news reporter first.
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: I did. I started off as a television journalist.
ZAMIL: Could you tell us how being a news reporter led up to working in the White House?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, as a reporter, I covered the political process and I started to recognize how important the decisions that were made, how much they effected people’s lives, everything from your children’s education to the taxes you pay to how the streets are, how the trash gets picked up. And so, the decisions made such an impact in people’s lives, and I think that’s what first drew me to the political process. So I left reporting and went to work for a presidential campaign – I was in Texas – I never even met the candidate, it was Ronald Reagan at the time – I was a peon, I was on the low rungs, then I worked in politics for a number of years and finally I went to work for the President back when he was still George. It’s hard to imagine that any of us ever called him that, but that was before he even won an election as Governor of Texas, and then I’ve worked for him pretty much ever since.
SHERRY: That’s great. You started your work earlier this September. What has the response been so far?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: First of all, it’s really a thrill to be able to represent the United States of America.
ZAMIL: Maybe you can tell us what is your role as the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, my real role is to try to foster a sense of common interest and common values between Americans and people across the world, people like the people here in Malaysia – I came to Malaysia – I had a wonderful Buka Puasa last night at the Ambassador’s house. I was able to meet a lot of different Malaysians, professors, business leaders, elected officials and students. I was able to meet – when I come to a country I’m able to meet with a wide cross section of people and I really want to listen and learn from them what they think about America. I’m always reminded how much we all have in common as people, no matter the differences of our countries or our politics, how much we have in common. We all want to have a good life, to have security, to have a better world for our children. That’s what my travels remind me of is how much we do have in common as members of the human race.
SHERRY: How many countries have you visited and how have they reacted and responded to your positive efforts?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: My first trip was to the Middle East. I went to Egypt and Saudi Arabia and then on to Turkey. This trip, I visited Indonesia and Malaysia and I plan to continue traveling. I also have work to do at home. One of the things I’ve recognized on my travels is the vital importance of people-to-people exchanges. There’s nothing like sitting down with a person and talking with them to realize how much two countries or two cultures really do have in common. And so one of the things that my office administers is our exchange programs – we, for example, want more Malaysians to come to the United States. American universities want Malaysian students to come to the United States. Last night at dinner several guests made the point that Malaysians know a great deal about America, they would like the Americans to know more about Malaysia. And so, one of my jobs is to go back and talk about my experience in Malaysia – so my fellow Americans can learn more about Malaysia and so they can be interested in coming here themselves to study or visit or to work.
ZAMIL: Due to the visa restrictions following September 11 of course, a lot of Malaysians – the number has decreased.
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: It has decreased, and that’s troubling to us because we want Malaysian young people to know that we want them to come and study in America. We’ve worked very hard, there were problems with the visas right after Sept. 11, we’ve worked very hard to improve that. Unfortunately, the perception still lingers that it’s hard, and actually, on average now, within a day of applying you can get an appointment, and within a day you can get a visa. We’ve worked hard – our embassy here wants to help students come to the United States. About 10 years ago, in 1998, I think we had about 12,000 Malaysian students come to America. Now the numbers about half that and we want to build it back up, because we think it’s really important that Malaysian young people come to the United States and study and vice versa, that our young people – we’ll be encouraging our young people – to come to Malaysia as well.
SHERRY: My question may be a little bit sensitive – a few of my friends who were studying in the United States were traveling back and forth, and the reason they came back was because of the hostile treatment they get whenever they get into the airport – has that changed?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, I hope so. We’re working on that. I’m concerned about that, I heard that last night at the dinner as well. The United States of America – after all we have the Statue of Liberty that faces out and welcomes people to our country – we’re the Land of Opportunity. Unfortunately, because of the security, I think sometimes visitors to our country now do feel somewhat that they’re looked on with suspicion, and we’re working on that because again – in fact, I’m trying to come up with some volunteer program where we can get volunteers to go out to the airports and greet people because the American people are very welcoming, they’re very open. I think if you talk to people beyond the airport experience once they get to a university, once they study and live in America they feel very welcomed and they realize the American people are very open and gracious and very accommodating of people of different cultures and different faiths. But I do agree that people have had some trouble in our airports and we’re working on that, because we don’t want that to be the message we send.
ZAMIL: That’s also another issue for when you want to apply for a visa, you have to go through some sort of an interview and the feedback that we got was that those Muslim nationals tend to have more lengthy interviews as compared to non-Muslim nationals so what is your view on that?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: I don’t know that, I had not heard that before, that’s an interesting point and I will discuss that with our Ambassador here. I know that I talked with members of our Embassy here on the way over here this morning in fact, and they told me, “Please make the point that we want to help as an embassy, we want to make it easier for young people to come in and get a student visa and come to America,” and so, I will certainly discuss that with them, that should not be the case, I think most interviews are pretty standard interviews, but I will certainly bring it up with them.
SHERRY: Well, all Muslims have been labeled as terrorists, and the Americans in the states, has that changed?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, unfortunately that’s, that’s something I heard on my trip to Egypt too, a lady sat next to me and said “Why do you Americans think that we’re all terrorists?” and I said that we don’t think that, I don’t think that, I have a number of Muslim friends. As a government official I represent almost seven million Americans who are Muslims, who feel very free to practice their faith. A lot of people are shocked to know that we have more than a thousand mosques in the United States of America, and so, many of our Muslim-American citizens feel very free to practice their faith, and do practice their faith very freely in the United States of America, and so I’m sorry that that’s the impression, unfortunately we have a situation where we have some terrorists who basically are committing murder and acts of violence in the name of religion, and I think it is very important that all of us work together as the civilized world and that people of different faiths, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, we all come together and say that this is not representative of religion, and these are terrorists and extremists and that they don’t represent the true nature of any of our faiths.
ZAMIL: Well, you have traveled to a lot of Muslim countries, especially Turkey and recently just came back, recently came from Indonesia, so how has the response been from your visit?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well…people are very warm and very welcoming and almost all of them say that they would like to visit the United States and I encourage them to do so, again, because I believe that people-to-people exchanges are one way to overcome the stereotypes. So people have been very warm and very welcoming, I’ve realized that people have a lot in common around the world, we may live in different places and an ocean may separate us but we all, as I said, tend to want the same things for each other. I saw that, I was in Aceh yesterday, and saw the wonderful humanitarian work that not only the United States but also the world community was doing - and I know Malaysia was also affected in a smaller way by the tsunami - and so I think that as we come together as a world in response to Pakistan earthquake, in response to these human tragedies, we recognize that we do have a lot in common as members of the human race.
ZAMIL: So you are more focused on finding out the feelings of people, especially Muslims, in Muslim countries?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, I’m trying to foster a sense of understanding and common interests, and as you said, because of the War on Terrorism, I think there have been some misperceptions and some concerns that somehow there has been a divide between America and the West and the Muslim world, and that should not be the case. The Muslim world is a very important part, and a rapidly growing part of the world, and it has so much to offer. Here in Malaysia, the United States of America and Malaysia are friends. Our cooperation together means jobs for people in both Malaysia and in the United States. You are our tenth largest trading partner, America is Malaysia’s largest customer, so there is a lot of mutual benefit to our countries working together in the spirit of friendship, and that’s what I’m trying to foster.
SHERRY: Ok, in one of the statements made during the discussion with the group of women activists in Turkey, you mentioned that, I quote, “to preserve the peace sometimes my country believes that war is necessary.” Do you feel you could just, perhaps, elaborate on that, with the attack on Iraq.
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: That is in response to a question about the war in Iraq, and I understand that many people across the world, including people here in Malaysia, people in my own country – some people disagree with the President’s decision to go into Iraq. He made that decision though, and I know him well, and he made that decision after careful thought and evaluation, and after deciding that he felt that it was in the best interest of America’s security and also in the security of the people of Iraq and hope for peace in the broader Middle East. And I think it’s important for people to focus, going forward on what’s happening in Iraq today. And countries such as Malaysia I think can have a very vital role to play, because you’re such an example of a country that has people of different faiths who’ve learned, who have a rich diversity here, and yet you’ve learned to live together in peace and I think you have some important lessons you can share with the people of Iraq as they seek to build a unified and stable Iraq.
SHERRY: Does President Bush feel that he has achieved the objective...of the war?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Not yet…
ZAMIL: But on the way…
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well not yet, but we feel like we’re on the way, that – and that’s a good way to put it – that we’re on the way, that as the people of Iraq have turned out to vote in the election. And who can forget the power of that picture with the ink-stained fingers that that woman held up as they went to vote for their own government in Iraq, and now that they’ve voted on the Constitution. And so they’re making steps as they have the Constitutional election more Iraqi security forces were joining the Coalition forces in keeping security in Iraq so the people were able to go out and vote, and there were fewer incidents of violence in the Constitutional referendum than there were in January, more Sunnis participated in the Constitutional referendum as you know they had decided to, some of them, to boycott the process in January, so gradually I think the people of Iraq are building a democratic country and I hope that countries like Malaysia who are, you are such a leader in groups like, you have the leadership now of ASEAN, and of OIC, and the Non-Aligned Movement, and so with your leadership role I hope that you can continue to play, we’re grateful that the Malaysian government has indicated a willingness to help the Iraqi government as they try to build a stable democracy, and once they do, I think that will be such a powerful inspiration for other countries of that region.
ZAMIL: Well, like America, Malaysia is also on the way to achieve all that as well.
*** Break in the interview while the “Hot” Team went out to do three on- the-street interviews about Malaysian views toward America. ***
ZAMIL: Ambassador, I’m curious to know which country has the highest number of Muslim nationals in America, either through work visa or tourist visa or studying visa.
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: You know, that’s a good question. Indonesia is obviously the most populous Muslim nation, but I don’t know which country has the highest number, it tends to change quite a bit from year to year based upon how many people come on student exchange programs, we also have Fulbright scholarship programs, we have YES programs. I would imagine that the Middle East, we’ve made a real effort to focus on the Middle East through our Middle East Partnership Initiative to try to bring, particularly high school students who might otherwise not have an opportunity to come and we’ve looked for low-income high school students, and try to bring them over to our country to experience America for the first time, but I don’t know which one country, I can find out for you, I don’t know which one country at this moment has the most visitors in the United States, but I’d be glad to find out. I know Malaysia has had a history of having a large number of exchange students, and like hundreds of thousands of Malaysians attended school in the United States of America in the past.
SHERRY: Right. Ok, in another statement you made and, I quote, “The decision to invade Iraq was a difficult and wrenching one for Bush, but necessary to protect the United States.” end quote. How is the United States protected after the war?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, the biggest threat facing our country we felt in the aftermath of September 11th was the prospect that the terrorists would be able to access weapons of mass destruction, which at the time, all the intelligence showed we thought Saddam had. And so that was the biggest threat, we felt, facing not only the United States, but also the world. We knew from what we had found in Afghanistan that the terrorists were trying to access weapons of mass destruction, and so that was the big concern. And it was a difficult decision. I understand that no one likes war. The people of the United States don’t want our sons and daughters to have to be involved in war but sometimes, unfortunately, war is required in order to protect the broader peace, in order to confront threats in the world. It’s interesting the woman who you brought up, in Turkey, to me, who was concerned about the war, was also at the same time, and I thought it was a little ironic, she was asking for the United States military to do more in addressing a terrorist threat from the PKK, that is affecting Turkey. And so, as people realize when you’re threatened by these kind of random acts of terror, that sometimes there are things that you have to do to ensure a broader peace.
ZAMIL: Last year, the U.S. government has implemented the US Visit program where fingerprinting and photographing program to all tourists coming to the US except certain countries, they don’t have to go through all that, so this has brought some sort of anger, or should I say protest, especially by the Brazilian government so they had implemented the same way, but specifically towards the American tourists. What is your view on that?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, unfortunately because of today’s world, and because of the President’s responsibility to – he takes an oath, and swears that he will protect and defend the United States of America, and the people of the United States of America – so, I think it is important for people to realize what a horrible shock it was for our country to experience September 11th. I was in Washington at the time, and I remember how my children were frightened, and people everywhere, it was just almost unimaginable, it’s only the second time in the history of our country that we had ever been attacked, and, of course the first time was in Pearl Harbor, but to have people get on airplanes, and to fly those airplanes into buildings full of innocent people, and by the way, not just Americans, there were a lot of people in the World Trade Center who were, a lot of different nationalities, people from different faiths, including Muslims in those buildings that day, and so it was a horrible, horrible time for all of us, and the President and our country have had to take security measures to try to best protect the people of our country, to try to best address the threats that face our country. None of us like it. I don’t like having to go to the airport and take off my shoes, and have to go through them – I have to do it too, they special screen me all the time, I don’t know why they think I’m a threat, but they do, apparently, because I travel a lot for business, and so I do one-way flights, and airlines all select people who are on one-way flights because some of the hijackers were on one-way flights, and so I have to go through the process a lot too so I know it sometimes seems like it’s a hassle and that its being focused at some group but I think its pretty widespread, and I met the Ambassador last night and he told me that he had been special searched when someone brought this up, members of our Congress have been special searched, and so I just, unfortunately, its one of the things that we have to go through in today’s world, and I hope that as we make progress, as we cooperate with nations of the world, and Malaysia has been very cooperative with the United States in counter-terrorism measures, but as we are able to do that cooperation, then we are able to reduce the number of terrorist incidents and make it easier for all of us to travel in and out of each other’s countries.
ZAMIL: But a lot of people think that, why is it that you have only certain countries exempted, especially if those countries that are exempted are not Muslim countries, so they sort of feel that it’s a bit degrading and unfair somewhat.
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Yeah, again, I assume that its done by the experts as part of their evaluation of where the risk is and where they know that known terrorist groups are operating or where there are cells or training camps, and that’s the basis, but that’s kind of a little bit outside of my department, so.
SHERRY: The only consistent thing that can be said about America is that its inconsistent foreign policy, specifically the Middle East. Why does the US government fail to be consistent there?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: And how do you mean by failing to be consistent? What are you referring to specifically?
SHERRY: The procrastination of…yeah.
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: The view that somehow we’re not as concerned about the Palestinians?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: That’s one of my frustrations as a communicator because I feel that there is a misperception around the world about that issue. I was in the Oval Office two weeks ago with a group of seven Palestinians who the President – I had mentioned to the President that I was meeting with them that morning, and he said “Well, where are they?” and I said that they’re over at the State Department, and he said “Well, bring them over, I’d like to meet with them.” And so he sat down in the Oval Office and met with President Abbas’ Chief of Staff and a group of young Palestinians who are helping to put together the institutions in Gaza that we hope can be the first step toward the creation of a Palestinian state, and President Bush met again this week for the second time with President Abbas in Washington at the White House, and we’re working very hard, and I’ve seen them working very hard, he wants – its very interesting that when the young Palestinians met with him they said later how passionate he was, he passionately wants for the Palestinian people to have a state of their own and to live side by side in peace with the state of Israel. And that’s what he’s working towards, and I don’t think somehow that the world always gets that sense. But I know that he’s working very hard, as is Secretary of State Rice, to have that happen.
ZAMIL: So where does America stand on the ASEAN free trade area?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: On the free trade with Malaysia? I know we’re working, and right now we’re exploring with the government of Malaysia whether it makes sense to negotiate a free trade agreement with Malaysia, and that we’re having some precursor discussions to determine whether the timing of this makes sense right now. I know that our U.S. trade representative, Rob Courtland, has said that Malaysia is a country that he thinks would be a very interesting possibility and prospect for a free trade… We’ve also negotiated free trade agreements with Thailand and Singapore. We’re in the process of negotiating one with Thailand, I should say.
SHERRY: Well, in the Bush administration, how important is the ASEAN, is ASEAN as a common bloc?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: ASEAN is extremely important, and Secretary Rice wanted to make sure that I reminded you that, I know that there was some question last year, and unfortunately she was not able to come to the ASEAN meeting but she will be attending, and will be looking forward to attending the ASEAN meeting this year. ASEAN is very important, it’s very important for a number of reasons, for maritime security, for security in the region, for trade and commerce, obviously Malaysia is a vital part of that to us as our tenth largest trading partner so its very important, the free flow of goods and commerce and investment, American investment in Malaysia, we’re your number one foreign investor in this country, and so that’s really important, and I think it’s important for people to remember, because that means jobs, that means, that as Americans invest in Malaysia that creates jobs for young people in Malaysia, as one of the people who you interviewed talked about America’s technology, that helps bring technology here, although, I have to say having watched you using text messaging I think that Malaysia is a little more advanced than America is. My son uses text messaging, but we don’t use it as much for business in America as you all do here, so I think you’ve got us beat on text messaging.
ZAMIL: Well, our hand phones, our cell-phones actually, are a very, very important part of our lives.
SHERRY: Especially the SMS part.
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, that’s becoming the case in America. My son, I think the younger generation - I tend to use my email and my Blackberry - but the younger generation uses their cell phones, my son I see him texting with his friends all the time.
ZAMIL: A lot of Asian countries they like to do that. And China is seen as an important player as well, and has been dubbed as the next superpower of the economy, and what is your view on that, on China as a global player as well as, you know, well, if you look nowadays a lot of the things that we buy are made from China.
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Right. Exactly, it’s very important, particularly in this region, and we seek to, the United States seeks to have a constructive relationship with China, which is a rising China, and we seek, we know that Malaysia and Indonesia and a number of countries in this region are, very important relations with China, you seek constructive relationship and one that contributes to world security. As you know our Secretary of Defense was in China recently to talk with them about some concerns about whether there is a military buildup going on in China and what the situation is there, but we seek a constructive relationship. For years our policy has been to help China integrate more fully into the world economy and that is happening. As you said, a lot of, you’re seeing a lot of things made in China, and a lot of growth in China, economic growth and that can be healthy and good so long as it is constructive.
SHERRY: One of the critics of this campaign for public diplomacy said that the Bush administration should pick a person who is not white, a Muslim having a background in Middle Eastern culture and politics. How do you feel about that?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well I don’t figure, I don’t think that they need to pick people for jobs based on stereotypes or racial or religious characteristics. I will say that my deputy, the person I picked to be my deputy for this job is an Egyptian-American, named Dina Habib Powell - she speaks fluent Arabic - and it was wonderful to take her with me to the Middle East and to have them realize that she was from Egypt, that she is of Arab descent, who had come to America as a four-year old, not even speaking a word, I don’t think a word of English when she came, spoke Egyptian, and come to our country and achieved a level of success where she was able to work in the White House for the President of the United States and then work for the State Department and represent our country overseas. And I do think it’s important that we involve people of Arab descent, that we involve Muslims in this effort. I reached out my very first week in my job. I said I wanted to meet with Muslim-Americans, because I think they are an important part, because they are American but they’re also Muslim, they are an important part in helping us communicate with the wider Muslim world, and so I have hired several people in my office, a young woman who is a Muslim-American to work in my office. And so I do think it is important that we represent the diversity of our country, and I’m working hard to do that.
ZAMIL: What is your view on – the public’s opinion – certain public’s opinion… where you tried to, how shall I say this? …Encourage family values and as well as, at the same time there’s a lot of things that are going on in the world, but it feels that your efforts can go futile after, you know, President Bush – he has gone through two other leaders and two other officers before you?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, there’ve been a couple of people who’ve had this job, and President Clinton had someone who had this job as well. And so it’s a, obviously, I like to say that public diplomacy – which is our government’s communication with people across the world – is really the job of all of us. My job is sort of as a coordinator, to help run the exchange programs, to help make sure we - education – one of the people you interviewed mentioned the importance of education, and I agree, and I think one of the things that our government can do is do some English language training. It’s something people across the world want, and it’s something that’s valuable but it also opens a window into America and American values for young people who learn English. They can get on the Internet and read more about our country, and read more about the world, and so my job to some degree is to coordinate the efforts of our Ambassadors in countries across the world, the efforts of our public affairs officers, the efforts of all of our government. And the President, obviously, is a – communicates with foreign people on behalf of America, and so does the Secretary of State. And so it’s not just one person, it’s a lot bigger than that. My specific job though, I think, an important part of my job, is really to try to listen, and to listen to what I hear to people here in Malaysia, and to learn from you, and to take that back and report to Washington. I will report to the President and the Secretary of State what I heard, the good things I heard and the concerns that I heard. And I will report them and then they will have the benefit of that knowledge to help make policy decisions.
ZAMIL: Well, I have to ask: If you are in charge of finding out the world’s opinion about America, who is in charge of finding out about Americans’ opinion about the world?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well I think that’s part of it. It’s a two-way street. I think that one of my jobs, as I said, will be to go back to America – I’ve got a speech in Texas, when I get back on Thursday night, and I will talk about my experiences here in Malaysia. So, my job, I see it as a two-way street: To listen to people abroad, but also to share with my fellow Americans what I learn as I travel overseas.
SHERRY: We’ve got a few comments there. Take a look at a few… One of the SMS scrolls, uh… producer, can you please read it out to me? What is your comment on God, who had told President Bush to attack Iraq?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, I think that – the White House has said that is just simply not true. The President is a man of faith. He believes, his faith is very important to him. It is a source of strength and of wisdom, much as I know that the many Muslims here in Malaysia find that their faith is a source of strength and of wisdom and a way to live your life. But the White House has said that that is simply not true, that was an inaccurate statement released by someone who apparently did not reflect accurately what the President had said.
I noticed your Prime Minister, and I don’t want to be remiss in missing the opportunity to express on behalf of the – I noticed your Prime Minister talking about the importance of his faith in getting him through the difficult time after death of his wife – on behalf of President Bush and Mrs. Bush, and the American people, I want to extend our thoughts and our prayers to the Prime Minister, to the people of Malaysia. I know this is a – I know that the Prime Minister’s wife was much loved in this country, and this has to be a very difficult time. And the people of America mourn with you.
ZAMIL: I’d like to address another SMS there on the screen. He says that, “I am an American, and we are a confused nation, especially under Bush’s presidency.” Maybe you could, you know, explain further.
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, in America, we have freedom: We have freedom of speech, we have freedom of elections, we have freedom of press. And we just had a presidential election not too long ago, in fact last year about this time, and President Bush was re-elected by a substantial margin. That doesn’t mean there weren’t people who disagreed with him. There were. There were a number of people who went out and voted against him. But the great majority of Americans, in fact for the first time in a number of presidential elections, he won a majority of the vote. In previous elections, they’d not won over fifty percent of the vote, and President Bush did, so he won a very substantial majority. That said, I understand there are Americans who disagree with his policies, and they have every right to do that in our free country.
SHERRY: OK. We had a guest a few days ago from the United States and she claims that as a Muslim being in the United States wearing a scarf may cause a little agitation and discomfort. Is that true? Are Muslims supposed to take off their scarves?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: No, absolutely not. I know Muslim women who cover in the United States and feel very comfortable. In fact, in the aftermath, one of the beautiful things that we saw, in the aftermath of September 11th, was Christian and Jewish women who went to their Muslim friends and went shopping with them so they wouldn’t feel threatened or wouldn’t feel as if Americans were looking at them as if they could be, you know, part of the terrorists as well. So, I feel that was one of the very beautiful things that we saw, was people coming together to support Muslim Americans and to support their right to cover themselves if they choose, or not, if they so choose. And I see a lot of women who cover on the streets of Washington all the time, and in fact a woman came to my church after September 11th and she was covered… and came to my church just to sit in the pew and to express her solidarity with her fellow Americans and her concern for America in the aftermath of the terror attacks.
ZAMIL: Well, before we go to our polling, I have to ask this last question: Do you think the world demands too much from America?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, I think America is a big, important country. And it’s interesting that you ask that, because I was struck a lot of times when I traveled with President Bush. In his meetings, people would complain about actions of America, and then they would ask for America’s help. And so I understand that, as a superpower, America has a lot of obligations and a lot of responsibilities. We feel a responsibility to stand for our values: For freedom, and for human dignity for all people. But you know, I’ll leave it up to the world to decide what they expect. I do think that Americans are very generous, compassionate people who feel an obligation to work and to help in the world, and you saw that in response to the recent earthquake in Pakistan. We’ve got the American military there helping in that terrible, terrible situation in Pakistan. And of course in the tsunami here in Indonesia and Malaysia, where we were able to respond and help. And I think that really represents the true heart and generosity of American people that I know, who are my friends and neighbors at home.
SHERRY: All right, let’s take a look at the polling results, I think we’ve already come up with the results.
ZAMIL: Yes, so let’s take a look. What is the image that best describes America right now? Eleven percent say “unilateral world cop”, five percent say “economic powerhouse”, eleven percent say “generous humanitarian nation” and seventy-three percent say, hmm, “lost and confused country”.
SHERRY: Lost and confused… Maybe you’d like to comment on that?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, I don’t know exactly what that means.
ZAMIL: Well, you’re here to change that…
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: That’s right. One of my jobs, I suppose, is to work on that perception, and let the people of the world know that America wants to partner with people in countries like Malaysia, to work for education, to work for opportunities, to work for a better life in a more peaceful world for all our citizens. That’s the reason I took this job, because I’m concerned about – I love children, and I’m concerned about my own children and about children here in Malaysia, and making sure that they all grow up in a better, and more peaceful world.
SHERRY: Thank you. What are your last words for our Malaysian viewers this morning?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, thank you for your hospitality. I’ve really loved my visit here. I’m looking forward to opening an American Corner at the library here today and to attending a Ramadan market this afternoon and another buka puasa tonight. So I’m enjoying my visit to your country and I hope that – for students out there watching, I hope that you will come visit America, and come on an exchange program to our country.
SHERRY: All right. Thank you, Karen.
ZAMIL: Ambassador Karen Hughes, thank you so much for coming to the show.
SHERRY: … And from all of us here at “HOT”, have a nice day.
Released on November 2, 2005