No doubt alarmed by the Rashad Hussain interview, the State Department has provided a transcript and an audio recording of the interview that departs in significant respects from the interview that was printed at the Asharq Al-Awsat website. As a preliminary matter, one has to wonder whether there is utility in speaking to such publications if the words of our special envoy are simply converted to anti-American and pro-Palestinian talking points. It is not clear whether the State Department will be requesting a retraction/correction.
What is different? Most clearly Hussain does not bash the Bush administration. In fact, when asked about overcoming hostility caused by the Bush administration, he says:
What we are really concerned about and moving forward on is implementing new areas of cooperation. Just to give you an example, to be fair to the previous administration, the envoy to the OIC was something that President Bush announced towards the end of his administration, so we are looking to go forward and really build on that and to make sure that the cooperation between the envoy and Muslim communities around the world is based on a whole range of issues, and some of those I’ve discussed with you.
However, as I indicated in my earlier post, the premise of the question — that the U.S. is responsible for hostility — is nowhere rebutted by Hussain, who is supposed to be representing the U.S., after all.
The Palestinian-Israeli question, however, is still the focus of Hussain’s pitch in the State Department version of the transcript. When asked what can be done about criticism of the U.S. “for its standing by Israel,” Hussain does not assert that Israel is an ally nor suggest that there is any other cause of hostility. (Iran perhaps? Syria?) He praises George Mitchell and coos about the two-state solution. His answer as to how to “renew the Islamic world’s confidence in the USA” is a bit strange:
The main thing which is going to improve relations between the United States and Muslims around the world is first of all when we make it clear that we have created a framework of cooperation and that our cooperation will not simply be based on one or two issues such as violent extremism, and that the United States makes it clear that we recognize that this is an issue where Muslims reject violent extremism and terrorism. That is the first step. But another step will be to really show results in a number of areas and those include working towards solving the political conflicts. The United States is working to get out of Iraq and the same thing we can say about Afghanistan. The United States is working tirelessly on a solution with the parties involved on the Middle East issue, but we’ve also implemented programs in the area of education where we’ve increased exchanges, in the area of health, we’re working on polio eradication, we’ve cooperated before Hajj on H1N1. The President just held an entrepreneurship summit as you know, and we have many forums for interfaith dialogue. So we think that as we continue to develop these areas and Muslims and all people around the world see progress, then we’ll have a good basis for restoring positive relations.
Do all Muslims really reject “violent extremism and terrorism”? Why isn’t Hussain making a pitch to defend Muslims, who are the primary victims of Islamic terror? And is the message for Afghanistan — recall that we are now in the business of reassuring President Karzai — really like the one for Iraq, i.e., that we are “getting out”?
But it is his answer on Sami Al-Arian that remains the most questionable:
You know in that case that I said very clearly on the panel that I wasn’t commenting on any of the specific allegations on him but I was making a comment about the process that was used in that case. And I think that in many of the cases which I’ve talked about, for example Chaplain Yee, the case of Brandon Mayfield, that the outcomes that have resulted in the United States, for example in both of those cases resulting in the two that were accused of being freed for example, that the justice system has fairly resolved the outcome in those cases. And I think that in America we have one of the most — we have the most just and process-oriented legal systems in the world, and I am very confident that we’ll continue in this way and we’ll continue to produce just outcomes.
This version is arguably worse than the original one. Here he seems to be reiterating that the prosecution was tainted in some respect. What is he saying about “the process used in that case”? Again, he doesn’t deny that such an allegation is shameful.
It is fair to exonerate Hussain of Bush-bashing. But this version remains problematic for the reasons stated earlier. Hussain seems to that think his job is to conceal the relationship with Israel, downplay our war in Afghanistan, minimize the focus on terrorism, and be utterly silent on Iran. This is the message we are transmitting to the “Muslim World.”