November 16, 2005
Welcome to "Ask the White House." I just returned from leading a presidential delegation to Pakistan to raise attention and private sector support for victims of the earthquake there. The devastation is incredible. The government of Pakistan is estimating that at least 74,000 people were killed, including an estimated 18,000 children who were crushed when their schools collapsed. Another 70,000 people are injured, and 2.8 million people were left homeless and now need shelter. Americans can be very proud of the work of our military personnel and embassy and aid workers who are working around the clock to help Pakistan's government save lives, deliver supplies and care for the many who are injured. They are working with a sense of great urgency, as winter is approaching and heavy snows will soon make already difficult operations even more demanding.
Joe, from Louisville writes:
What exactly is your role at State? Is this a new position, or did
someone have before you?
My title is Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, a position that was created in 1999 when the former United States Information Agency was merged into the State Department. I oversee several different bureaus, including Educational and Cultural affairs (which includes all our exchange programs), International Information Programs (publications, web sites, language translations and other information for foreign audiences) and Public Affairs (information for the American people about Americas foreign policy.) Several other people have had this job. My major role is to foster Americas dialogue with the world. I have three strategic goals: 1) To offer a positive vision of hope and opportunity that is rooted in Americas support for freedom, 2) To isolate and marginalize the terrorists, and undermine their attempt to appropriate religion in the name of violence, and 3) to foster a sense of common interests and common values between Americans and people of different countries, cultures and faiths.
Gerry, from New York
Are any other countries pitching in to assist? It seems that the U.S.
always steps up to help in these tragic situations, but rarely gets
credit for doing so.
The United States government is currently the leading donor of assistance, and our military is providing many unique capabilities such as helicopter rescue operations. Other countries have also pitched in to help, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the European Union, India, Japan and others. The United States is also a leading donor to many of the multilateral organizations that are helping, including the World Bank, Unicef and the World Food Program. I travelled to Pakistan with a group of business leaders who are heading up private efforts to raise funds to help earthquake victims, as Americans did so generously during the tsunami. If you would like to help, you can visit www.state.gov for more information about the earthquake relief efforts.
Janice, from Franklin, Tenn.
Given all the challenges our nation faces, I think Sec. Rice is doing a
great job. Also, as a woman, I am proud that two strong women such as
yourselves are representing the U.S. around the globe. How do you enjoy
working with her and what's the biggest challenge that you all see for
our country abroad today?
One of the great joys of my new job is the opportunity to work with Secretary Rice every day. She is a friend as well as my boss in my new role! As you can tell from watching her on television, she is very intelligent and capable. She manages to be both respectful of leaders of different countries and their points of view while also being very principled about our beliefs and values. Her strong diplomatic skills were instrumental in helping achieve a successful agreement that will allow Palestinians to gain control over entry and exit from Gaza for the first time since 1967. This builds on Israels courageous withdrawal from Gaza in August and will make Rafah, a Gazan city on the Egyptian border, an international crossing. This will give the Palestinian people greater freedom to move, to trade and to live lives of dignity. As they are able to export products, it will allow their economy to grow and produce jobs. The agreement also outlines important security measures. The agreement is a very positive step, and the international community, Israel and the Palestinian Authority must now work hard to make these measures work in practice so that, as they are implemented, trust can grow.
Mark, from Washington, USA
Ms. Hughes, What role do you think technologies such as this web chat
have in "public diplomacy"? Can hi-tech gadgetry replace face-to-face
programs such as Peace Corps or other exchange programs?
Web chats such as this can't replace people-to-people exchange, but they can be important additions to it. I've used web chats to communicate with our public affairs officers at embassies across the world. We are working on an initiative to expand our use of technology. While I was in Indonesia recently, I learned the government there had even used text messaging to deliver information about a big increase in gasoline prices directly to their people. The internet is also being used by terrorists to communicate with each other and to recruit suicide bombers, and our government is working on ways to counter those messages.
Uri, from Beverly Hills, CA
Mrs. Hughes, First off, thank you so much for all the work you do for
our President and our country. America is a charitable nation filled
with charitable people, for the sake of charity it should be enough to
help other countries in thier times of need. At the same there are
limited funds to spread around the world, and we must look for the most
in return for our charitable investments. What guarantees do we have
that our funds are being used in an efficient manner? Additionally, what
can we expect in return from countries we provide aid to?
Thank you for your time and efforts.
While I was in Pakistan, the business leaders travelling with me and I talked with government officials about how we could make sure the money we contribute is used efficiently. The business leaders will be coordinating with our American relief agency, USAID, to make sure money they raise to help the earthquake victims is spent on projects that have the maximum impact. The Pakistani government is also planning a sponsorship program where individuals, companies and communities can agree to sponsor the construction of a school, a hospital, etc, and they assured us those funds will be closely audited and tracked. This is a humanitarian mission, and we are providing help because the people of Pakistan need it. Pakistan is also an important friend and a vital partner in our war against terror. Since the days immediately after September 11, when President Musharraf pledged his cooperation, Pakistan has been a key ally in the fight against terrorism. Pakistans military has captured more than 600 Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
Deborah, from Colorado Springs
In what ways is the Bush Administration taking the American Story to the
As a communicator, I like to boil things down to basics, so our public diplomacy strategy consists of what I call the four Es: Engage, Exchange, Education and Empower. We have to engage more vigorously, advocating our values, policies and the many ways we are helping the citizens of our world. We also have to be faster and more aggressive in our response to rumors and misinformation about our country that travel the world in seconds on the Internet. Every person I met with as I prepared to take this job told me that our exchange programs have been the single most successful public diplomacy tool of the last fifty years. People who come here see for themselves that Americans are decent, hard working people who value family and faith; its also important for Americans to study and travel overseas. Education is also critical, especially English language training, which gives young people across the world a skill that improves their opportunities in life while also opening a window to our values. We are also working on an initiative to encourage more Americans to learn important languages such as Arabic and Chinese. Finally, we must empower our most important natural resource our citizens to help represent our country to the world. Americans work and travel around the world each day, and we are working on a robust citizen ambassador program to help our citizens share their skills and stories. In the war against terrorism, we must also empower the voices of Muslim Americans and Muslim leaders who speak out against violence because those voices often have the most credibility within the Muslim world.
Cindy, from Hartford, CT
How often do you travel? Is it tough to balance work and family?
I have been at this new job for three months and I have made three major trips: to the Middle East, Southeast Asia and most recently, Pakistan. It's always hard to balance work and family, but my life is a little easier to juggle these days since my son is now in college. My husband spends most of his time in Austin, where our daughter and granddaughter live, but he visits me in Washington and I try to get home to Texas on weekends whenever possible. We don't like being apart but I feel this job is very important for our country and for the future of all of our children. It's a great honor to be able to share the wonderful things I know about our country with the people of world.
Thank you for participating in this web chat. I am enjoying my new job and appreciate all the kind messages of encouragement and support I have received. As we count our many blessings during Thanksgiving next week, I hope we will be mindful of the many needs of people in our own country and around the world.