WASHINGTON — A long-awaited Bush administration public diplomacy strategy, intended to counter the steep decline in America's global image, calls for the creation of a new State Department center aimed solely at countering the spread of terrorist ideology.
U.S. officials said the Counterterrorism Communications Center, now being formed at the State Department and staffed heavily with military and intelligence officers, will provide a rapid response to propaganda by U.S. adversaries.
It will develop messages "to undermine and marginalize extremist ideology and propaganda" and "aggressively rebut and efficiently respond to actions and statements by terrorist groups and leaders across the world."
The recommendation is one of several in a 34-page strategy document, which was completed last month by Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes, a longtime confidante of President Bush. It has been shared with some members of Congress but hasn't been formally released.
The report also calls for a major expansion of international exchange programs and greater publicity for U.S. humanitarian aid to the world's less fortunate, which it calls the "diplomacy of deeds."
Critics say better diplomatic public relations is unlikely to change the low global opinion of the United States.
The report says the United States should "underscore our commitment to freedom, human rights and the dignity and equality of every human being." It makes no mention of U.S. abuses of detainees and detention policies, which have been decried by human rights groups.
It also says the United States should highlight its support for "those who struggle for freedom and democracy." Bush, however, continues to rely on such autocratic regimes as those in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt and elsewhere to cooperate in fighting terrorism.
"From a public diplomacy standpoint, I don't know how you come out and talk about all the stuff you do, for human rights, to support democracy. ... When people hear that, they stop and say, 'What about Abu Ghraib? What about Guantanamo?" said Price Floyd, who was the State Department's director of media affairs until earlier this year.
"I almost feel sorry" for the Bush administration, said Floyd, who said he was aware of the strategy document, but hadn't seen it. "It's almost too late. ... The opinion of the world is set."
Hughes was traveling in the Czech Republic and unavailable for comment, an aide said.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the report, which Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered, is the first comprehensive, national-level strategy to guide U.S. public diplomacy activities.
McCormack brushed off criticism that Bush administration policies have run counter to that goal. "You're always going to get people criticizing policy. That's part of our system," he said.
The report came about in response to a 2005 Government Accountability Office report that criticized White House initiatives as uncoordinated and called for a national strategy.
Top officials, starting with Bush, have repeatedly said that the "war on terrorism" ultimately will be won more by persuasion and diplomacy than by military battles.
U.S. officials acknowledge that America's adversaries have been more successful in exploiting technology — even everyday communications such as text messaging — than the U.S. government has.
Christopher Lamb, an expert at the National Defense University in Washington, expressed support for the new counterterrorism center, saying that the United States has been "slow and reactive" in responding to terrorist attacks and statements.
"A disciplined system for reacting quickly and how one might best respond to developments and rumors and sometimes misinformation is a good idea," Lamb said.
Most of the report's recommendations involve initiatives that are already underway and in many cases have been expanded since Rice took over at State.
They include highlighting U.S. aid in emergencies, such as the Indian Ocean tsunami; booking senior U.S. officials on foreign TV broadcasts; working with moderate religious leaders; and improving Americans' cultural understanding and language skills.
"It would be an illusion to think this document is going to reverse public opinion" about the United States, said John H. Brown, a senior fellow at the University of Southern California's Center on Public Diplomacy. The Hughes report was posted on the Center's Web site this week.
Even the report's emphasis on foreign exchanges is open to question.
Muslims who have visited the United States are more — not less — likely to support terrorism, according to a May study by Ethan Bueno de Mesquita of Washington University in St. Louis, who based his findings on polling data.
(Jonathan S. Landay contributed.)