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The Senate Foreign Relations Committee conceded that its recent call for a debate on Alhurra's effectiveness should have happened before America’s Arabic television channel went on the air. But the oversight committee is too late. The dispute rages daily in Washington and the Middle East, and battle lines have been drawn on two major issues.

One is who is watching Alhurra, and the other is what they see there.

November 29, 2005

Karen Hughes is America's Top Gun communicator. But how will her job performance be rated 25 or even 50 years from now by her team in the State Department, elsewhere around the world and in the many politico-history books that will be written about her?

Of course it's too early to tell, as she is just finding her way as the new undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. But does she have the qualities that helped raise some former directors of the defunct U.S. Information Agency to legendary status?

Alhurra needs a facelift.

The ratings of America’s Arabic TV channel are flat among Iraqi audiences, the Bush administration is turning elsewhere to reach Arab and Muslim publics abroad and Congress is poised to debate Alhurra’s future.

As a result, Alhurra appears to be seeking a harder edge to its programs in an effort to attract viewers and to make the channel a more popular platform for the discussion of U.S. foreign policies. A recent public opinion poll confirmed that such changes must be made if Alhurra hopes to survive in such a competitive market.

The Bush administration is beginning to provide specifics on how it plans to shape up U.S. public diplomacy and effectively introduce American ideas to the Arab and Muslim world.

Karen Hughes, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs and a confidant of President Bush, testified before the House International Relations Committee last week in “An Around-the-World Review of Public Diplomacy.”

The world is divided among three superpowers: the United States, the United Kingdom, and al-Jazeera.

The world of Arabic satellite channels, that is.

Each of the three has claimed its section of this world, defining it in a tidy little package called a business model. The models created by the U.K. and al-Jazeera have filled, or plan to fill, specific voids in the marketplace. The third superpower has its business model too, but the void it attempts to fill is more vague than the others, and thus its goals have been more difficult to attain.

It is relatively clear to me where U.S. public diplomacy is headed in 2006. And so there’s really no reason to wait until late December, or New Year’s day, to make predictions about the coming new year.

Therefore, I will submit my predictions now, and take my chances.

The Bush administration has a new public diplomacy game plan to promote democracy within Iran. The idea is to build public support for democratic reform there and to pressure Iran's new hard line leadership into becoming more enlightened, especially where their nuclear aspirations are concerned.

The State Department's plan includes a Farsi-language television service beamed to Iran. But there are at least two problems with that public information concept.

While State Department official Karen Hughes was wrapping up her listening tour of the Middle East, an important session of United Nations representatives was taking place in Geneva.

Ms. Hughes, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, was assessing how the United States government might better communicate with Arabs and Muslims abroad. The U.N. meeting was tackling the issue of how much authority the United States ought to have in overseeing world information that would help the United States do so.