State Dept. Point Person on Islamic Nations Resigns

The advertising executive who led the government's post-Sept. 11 campaign to sell America to the Muslim world is resigning because of health reasons.

Charlotte Beers "took our values and our ideas to mass audiences in countries which hadn't heard from us in a concerted way for many years," Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday, expressing regret over her departure.

Beers' resignation will become official in about two weeks. She has been forced to curtail her work schedule in recent weeks because of her ailments, according to an aide.

Her interim replacement will be Patricia Harrison, who heads the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Beers, 67, gave up a successful advertising career to become under secretary of state for public diplomacy, taking office three weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington.

Her responsibilities were global but the bulk of her time was devoted to Islamic countries.

In testimony last week, she acknowledged the challenge in reversing the widespread anti-American sentiments in these countries.

"The gap between who we are and how we wish to be seen and how we are in fact seen, is frighteningly wide," Beers told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

She cited her efforts to boost the U.S. image, including cultural exchanges and television broadcasts. Her office promoted a documentary on Muslim life in the United States that was widely aired in Islamic nations.

Her overall strategy was to try to reach as many ordinary Muslims overseas as possible while generally ignoring policy issues.

Beers has found that changing hearts and minds in Islamic countries is a long-term project. One example is the continuing hostility in these countries to U.S. military action against Iraq.

Her State Department biography says she was the only executive in the advertising industry to have served as chairman of two of the top 10 worldwide advertising agencies: J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather.

Not long after taking office, Beers became resentful about media profiles of her that seemed to equate her role in trying to sell America abroad with her success in selling Uncle Ben's Rice, among other products.

She was said to feel that such accounts trivialized her efforts at the State Department to erase stereotypes about America in Islamic countries.

But Powell used the same analogy in Senate testimony in November 2001, a month after Beers was sworn in.

"She got me to buy Uncle Ben's rice and so there is nothing wrong with getting somebody who knows how to sell something," Powell said.

In Powell's statement on Monday, he said Beers brought "incredible expertise" from Madison Avenue.

"She helped us find new ways of making our case to policy makers, while expanding our outreach efforts to make connections with ordinary people, particularly in Muslim nations," he said.

"Her goal of reaching younger, broader and deeper audiences will remain with us as she departs."