This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," December 9, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Earlier, I had an exclusive with Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes.
HANNITY: You have embarked on this mission to improve America's image around the world. Now I personally am of the belief system that that shouldn't even be necessary considering America and Americans have paid the price, blood, sweat, tears, and the financial burden for freedom, just about everybody where in the world, but we don't seem to get credit for it.
KAREN HUGHES, UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE: We don't. We're an enormously generous country, and we take care — you know, a lot of international organizations, the World Food Program, we are the largest donor to that program, and yet as you go around the world, people talk about the World Food Program, and I said, do you realize that America is the primary donor to that program?
Well, I didn't know that. And so we have a big job to do in helping the world to know the good that we are doing around the world in addition to our standing for our values and fighting for freedom and risking our lives, the lives of our young men and women even today in Iraq on behalf of freedom.
HANNITY: Well, people call what you are doing "mission impossible." I wouldn't think it would be that difficult to talk about America's goodness, inherent goodness, not perfection, but the generosity and the goodness of the American people.
HUGHES: Well, it is a real privilege to be able to talk about that. I went to Pakistan a couple of weeks ago where our military is delivering aid and food and supplies to people who have experienced a devastating earthquake, 3.5 million people without shelter. And America, the military — you feel this great sense of pride as you watch our men and women in uniform delivering food and supplies and tents to people who are desperate for them.
And so we are a wonderfully generous country. On the other hand we do face significant challenges around the world. People sometimes resent our position as the world's only superpower. And so we face some significant misconceptions, challenges in the supercharged media environment that we operate in today's world.
There are a lot of rumors and myths and lies and propaganda, frankly, being spread about our country. And so it is a big job to try to take that all on. But I'm enjoying it very much.
HANNITY: Let me converge your two worlds, your political world and, of course, your diplomatic world that you now find your yourself in. When the head of Democratic Party, or the opposition party in America, suggests that we cannot win this war in Iraq, when the former presidential candidate for the opposition party, the Democratic Party, John Kerry, says that U.S. soldiers are using terror against women and children in the dark of the night in Iraq, how harmful is that towards your mission?
HUGHES: Well, it does undermine what we are trying to achieve. In the case of allegations like that, it makes it very difficult because the world is watching. I saw this morning in the paper a poll that showed that China is viewed by many countries more favorably than the United States. And I thought, you know, I wonder if China had a free media and the kind of coverage and the kind of criticism internally that we have in our own country, whether that would still be the case.
Now that said, we are a democracy, and people have the right to speak up and to debate and to engage in a vigorous debate about issues. But I do think sometimes some of the things that are said hurt us around the world and hurt our image around the world.
HANNITY: Let me see if you will take it a step further. Does it undermine the effort when you have a congressman suggesting the president is targeting civilians for assassination as Dennis Kucinich did, or Ted Kennedy, a leader, at one time suggesting that we went into war solely for political gain, or what Dean said or what Kerry said or Chuck Schumer this week saying the U.S. is imposing elections on Iraq or John Murtha saying our Army is broken, worn out and living hand-to-mouth?
I mean, it seems that every single day that there is a negative comment about the war, that we should pull out, that we should redeploy.
HUGHES: Well, again, it is challenging in a communications environment like this one, but we are a democracy, people have the right to speak their minds, people have the right to disagree, they have the right to criticize the war effort. I do think that people around the world listen to that and sometimes find ammunition in that...
HANNITY: You are well-known has one of the president's closest confidants, one of his closest friends, how has the presidency changed George W. Bush?
HUGHES: Well, you know, it's hard — I don't see a significant change in the sense that he is a different person today. He is still a very thoughtful person. He still has a big heart. I saw him recently in a meeting with a group of Iraqi women. It was very touching, they were thanking him for what he has done to help their country regain its freedom. He still has a sense of humor.
I think that this has been a very difficult time. It is difficult to be a president of a nation at war. It's hard to make — I can't even imagine having made that decision. I read the names of the soldiers every day in the paper who have lost their lives and I try to make it a point to read about them and to read where they're from and to think about their families, and that is hard. And I wasn't the one who may the decision.
So I'm sure it is hard but he also knows in his heart that we are doing the right thing and that what we are doing is going to lead to greater peace and security for our own people and for people across the world.
HANNITY: How hard is it on him to have the daily non-stop barrage of criticism, which has been particularly harsh of late?
HUGHES: Well, nobody likes it, obviously.
HANNITY: That he lied, that he lied, that he hyped, that he misled?
HUGHES: Well, nobody likes that. He has had a remarkable ability to sort of let it roll off. And as I said, he knows in his heart he is doing the right thing. I have to say, as a friend of his, that what gets me the most are the questions about integrity, because this is a man of enormous integrity.
And I was there during much of this time. I left in the summer of 2002, but I was still involved in the lead-up to the Iraq decision, and no one there misled anybody. The president made the decision based on the best information, the best intelligence that he had at the time. And that's what exactly he is asked to do as commander-in-chief and that's exactly what he did.
HANNITY: The president said in his most recent speech that the Democrats who said the exact same things about Saddam and the dangers from biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, and weapons of mass destruction, he said they were right then and they're playing politics now.
As one of the president's closest friends, and this will be my last question, how hard is it for you to hear the opposition party say he lied, he hyped, he misled on a daily basis, questioning the heart and soul and the integrity of one of your closest friends?
HUGHES: It's very hard. It's very hard, because this is man, as I said, of enormous integrity. And I was there, I remember the context. We were very worried about the threat to our security. That's the reason.
You know, when I hear those statements, it's almost as if everybody wanted to go to war. No one wants to go to war. It is the hardest decision a president can ever have to make, so why would he have tried to mislead us into war? He didn't want to have to go to war.
He felt we had to take this action to confront a threat to our security. And I was there. The environment at the time, the overwhelming vote in Congress, as you recall, Sean, he didn't have to go to Congress, he wanted to because he felt it was important to get the authority, the moral authority of having Congress back what he did.
The overwhelming environment, all — the previous administration, the Clinton administration, the Democrats in Congress saw the same intelligence and reached the same conclusions.
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