Woman Power at State

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reinvigorated the State Deparment's flagging role in foreign-policy making in a matter of months. Now, State is about to gain even more firepower when long-time Bush adviser Karen Hughes is nominated as Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. And NEWSWEEK has learned that Hughes will be given the rank of ambassador, a title that will grant her formal access to President Bush.

Not that Hughes needs anybody's okay to see Bush. She has spent years crafting the president's domestic message, but left the White House in 2002 to spend more time with her family in Texas (where she continued to advise the president from afar). If Karl Rove has been described as Bush's brain, Hughes is Bush's voice: she has been shaping and directing his message since his first days as Texas governor.

Hughes's new appointment is part of an effort to help bolster America's image abroad, particularly in Arab world. Hughes, who is also close to Rice personally, will be overseeing a range of programs, including U.S. radio and television broadcasts overseas. The formal announcement of the nomination is expected Monday.

NEWSWEEK has also learned that Hughes' deputy at the State Department will be Dina Powell, currently White House head of personnel. Powell, 31, was born in Egypt and moved to Dallas with her parents when she was four. She speaks fluent Arabic and has been serving as the president's headhunter, helping to fill thousands of jobs from ambassadors to undersecretaries. Powell is part of an inner circle at the White House along with Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and Andrew Card. Powell has previously worked with the Vice President's daughter Liz Cheney on State Department programs for women in the Middle East, and is a firm believer in administration's efforts to spread democracy in the region.

But Hughes and Powell may have a tough road ahead. Previous holders of Hughes's position have struggled to cope not just with America's image in the world but the Bush administration's policies in the Middle East. Charlotte Beers, a Madison Ave. advertising executive, created ad campaigns to promote the United States in the Muslim world that were widely criticized as ineffective. During the first Bush administration, another powerful woman and also a close friend of Karen Hughes, Margaret Tutweiler, kept the job for about a year and launched no major initiatives.

Karen Hughes has little substantive foreign policy experience, other than crafting the message of U.S. policy on Afghanistan. But along with her vast PR skills what she brings to the job is proximity to the president. And there's also what optimists are calling a possible democratic spring in the Middle East: Hughes may find herself with more of an opening with the greater optimism for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and with a newly elected government in Iraq.