I had planned to write an extended piece on the Karen Hughes listenting tour, but at this point there has already been enough commentary out there that I doubt I could really add anything. Serves me right for leaving town at such a delicious time. The whole thing reminds of Evita's "rainbow tour", as portrayed in the theater version of Evita (which I'm embarrassed to say I quite liked as a kid): "face the facts, the rainbow's starting to fade... I don't think she'll make it to England now"/"It wasn't on the schedule anyhow") Just a few thoughts:
The fact that people booed her and challenged her doesn't bother me at all. That's the point of a dialogue. If it wasn't what Hughes was expecting, well, great. It should have been. I would have been far more bothered if she had assembled Bush campaign-style groups who asked questions like "Why are we Arab so irrationally hostile to you? Is it because of Islam or because we resent your civilizational success?" As it is, she at least got some earful of honest opinions.
The "I'm a working mom" thing - I'm glad she did it. I'm glad it bombed, horribly and humiliatingly. Maybe now she'll start really understanding that Arab publics are savvy, smart, aware, and highly politicized, and don't appreciate being talked down to. If anyone had asked me (or had read my Foreign Affairs article from two years ago) I would have told them to expect exactly the response she received: "So you're a working mom - who gives a fig? Let's talk about issues." The idea that Hughes could bond with Arabs around common humanity - "we all love children" - is deeply patronizing, infantalizing, and condescending. It also flies in the face of all available survey and focus group data, which overwhelmingly shows appreciation for American society and Americans as individuals, but hostility to American foreign policy.
What matters now is what Hughes does with the experience. If she takes away from this that public diplomacy will only work as a real dialogue about issues, in which her interlocutors have reasoned views which should be taken seriously, then the listening tour will have succeeded. If she takes away from this that future tours need to be better managed, then it will have been a disastrous failure.