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Report points out U.S.'s negative image abroad

WASHINGTON — As Karen Hughes works to repair the United States' image in a trip overseas, her State Department colleagues have received a report underscoring how tough a task she faces.

Based on their own travels to the Persian Gulf, Egypt and Britain, a nine-member advisory committee headed by former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff found widespread hostility toward the United States and its policies, especially the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

"For what can be heard around the world, in the wake of the invasion of Iraq, the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, and the controversy over the handling of detainees at Bagram and Guantanamo Bay, is that America is less a beacon of hope than a dangerous force to be countered," the report said.

"This assertion, repeated in newspaper columns, on radio and television broadcasts, and via the Internet, diminishes our ability to champion freedom, democracy and individual dignity," said the report by the Advisory Committee on Public Diplomacy.

Headed by Bill Smullen, the one-time top Powell aide who is now teaching at Syracuse University, the committee recommended boosting spending for public diplomacy and training foreign service officers in the use of research, polling and news media.

The report coincides with the mission of undersecretary of state Hughes to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The aim is to publicize American values in the Muslim world.

"We recognize the challenges we face in our public diplomacy effort," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Wednesday. "We are using all the tools at our disposal to ensure that foreign publics have an accurate understanding of American policies and values."

What people around the world love about American culture, the report said, is a sense of freedom found in its writers, musicians, painters, choreographers and filmmakers.

But after the Cold War the U.S. Information Agency was abolished and the American cultural presence abroad was sharply reduced, the report said.

"The erosion of our trust and credibility within the international community must be reversed if we hope to use more than our military and economic might in the shaping of world opinion," the report said. "Culture matters."

The committee and other academic and official travelers found a "sense of crisis" abroad, the report said.

"Put simply, we have lost the goodwill of the world, without which it becomes ever more difficult to execute foreign policy," the report said.

And yet, it said, while committee members found "deep and abiding anger toward U.S. policies and actions," the criticism was not leveled across the board.

While U.S. policies in the Middle East were condemned, the American system of higher education, science and technology were praised, as were the values of freedom, democracy and individual dignity, the report said.

"America is still seen as a place where things can happen, where change is not feared; a land of diversity, openness, candor and generosity," the report said.

It also urged the streamlining of visa procedures for international students.