NO WONDER HUGHES’ DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS WERE UNSUCCESSFUL…. It’s been relatively heartening to see some leading Bush/Cheney aides step up and denounce the right’s attacks on the Park51 proposal. Mark McKinnon, a former Bush strategist said his own party is “reinforcing al Qaeda’s message.” Michael Gerson, Bush’s former chief speechwriter, has expressed similar sentiments.

If anyone should understand this, it’s Karen Hughes, who, despite not having background in diplomacy or international affairs, was the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs from 2005 to 2007. Her principal task: put America’s best foot forward in the Middle East, making clear to the Muslim world that the United States treats all people with dignity and respect.

By all appearances, Hughes wasn’t especially adept at her job. She tended to talk down to her foreign audiences, offered the kind of schlock that no one in the Middle East wanted, and lectured them about the inadequacies of their culture.

With that in mind, I suppose it shouldn’t come as too big a surprise that Hughes is now arguing that the proposed Park51 building should be relocated — not because the critics are correct, but because it’d be awfully nice of Feisal Abdul Rauf and his partners to accommodate those who can’t tell the difference between mainstream, law-abiding Muslim Americans and radical terrorists who’ve tried to hijack Islam.

[I]t is so important that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his congregation make what I fully understand would be a very difficult choice: to locate their mosque elsewhere. Putting the mosque at a different site would demonstrate the uncommon courtesy sometimes required for us to get along in our free and diverse society.

I recognize that I am asking the imam and his congregation to show a respect that has not always been accorded to them. But what a powerful example that decision would be. Many people worry that this debate threatens to deepen resentments and divisions in America; by choosing a different course, Rauf could provide a path toward the peaceful relationships that he and his fellow Muslims strive to achieve. And this gesture of goodwill could lead us to a more thoughtful conversation to address some of the ugliness this controversy has engendered.

It’s a curious argument. Most of Hughes’ case is quite reasonable — explaining that Muslim Americans have the same rights as everyone else, emphasizing why Rauf and terrorists have nothing in common — right up until she gets to her recommendation. In effect, Hughes believes it’s up to Park51’s developers to simply give in to a heckler’s veto, accommodating those who dislike Muslims by giving them what they want.

No wonder Hughes was so bad at foreign policy.

She added a provocative comparison, which was actually quite thought-provoking.

In 2005, when I was at the State Department, a Danish newspaper published cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad. The debate around the world was heated and strikingly similar to this one. It pitted those supporting the right of a free press to publish anything, no matter how offensive, against those who took to the streets and threatened death to the cartoonists.

Many of those citing freedom as they advocate locating the mosque near Ground Zero were on the other side of the argument when it came to the cartoons. At that time, I joined with many Muslim friends in saying that while newspapers were free to publish the offensive materials, I hoped they would show respect and restraint and decide against it. That is an instructive model now.

It is, indeed. As I recall, U.S. conservatives strongly supported the publication of those cartoons — some even re-published them on far-right blogs. What was paramount, they said, was First Amendment principles. Those who were offended, they argued at the time, would just have to get over it. Free people don’t bend to the will an intolerant mob. Does the right still believe this or not?

Hughes concluded:

I suspect that the terrorists might celebrate its presence as a twisted victory over our society’s freedoms.

That’s hopelessly backwards. Terrorists, by all available evidence, desperately want the West to treat the Muslim mainstream as second-class citizens. They want the United States to discriminate. It helps terrorists when we blur the line between violent radicals and peaceful Americans.

Hughes’s advice is deeply misguided, and best left ignored by everyone involved.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.