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Laura’s Sweltering Middle East Tour

Posted May. 24, 2005 03:37,   


U.S. First Lady Laura Bush, who went on a five-day solo tour in the Middle East as her husband’s relief pitcher, suffered humiliation in Israel--the second country on her recent international tour--on May 22.

She met some 20 to 30 anti-American protestors at Muslim and Jewish holy sites in Jericho, where she was visiting. Nonetheless, the first lady digested the itinerary with smiles all around to complete her mission of “ameliorating the U.S.’s image.”

Playing as a Substitute to Her Husband-

The White House pins much hope in Laura’s visit to the Middle East. It is because the Middle East’s view of the U.S. is extremely hostile due to the Iraq War and the Newsweek’s recent false report.

This solo overseas tour of the first lady is her second trip abroad since the beginning of the second Bush administration this January. In March, she visited Afghanistan, which is infamous for its poor treatment of women, and emphasized “women’s liberty.”

Before leaving for her second solo overseas tour on May 20, she even mentioned in an interview with Fox News that her role “will be enlarged in the second term.” The Kuwait assembly opportunely announced last week that it would “grant voting rights to women, too.” This magnified the effect of Laura’s tour in the Middle East.

Many see Laura’s “assistance diplomacy” as the work of former White House public relations advisor Karen Hughes, who was unofficially appointed to the post of Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy early this year.

Laura’s Competitiveness-

How much influence First Lady Bush can exert influence as a diplomatic envoy is a matter of debate. Nevertheless, she is maintaining an approval rate of some 80 percent by exhibiting the refined image she honed when she worked as a librarian when she was young. It is a stark contrast to President Bush’s approval rate, which lingers in the mid-40s. In particular, since her surprise performance as a “stand up comedian” at a dinner for the White House press corps on May 1, respect for her “stage performance” skill has been augmented.

In its May 22 report, the Washington Post stated, “Recently, there are more incidences where President Bush’s speeches began by quoting ‘Laura Bush’s comedian remark.’” It means that President Bush is pinning hopes on Laura’s high popularity.

On the subject of Newsweek’s false report, First Lady Bush also showed a sense of balance, saying, “It was an irresponsible act, but isn’t it difficult to conclude that anti-American protests in the Middle East are all due to Newsweek?” It is a very different approach from the administration’s constant blame of Newsweek day after day.

Seung-Ryun Kim srkim@donga.com