Must read--this is good =-)
I did not watch for very long when President Bush spoke to the nation about the war on TV. I knew that someone else had scripted his speech and afterwards the pundits would give me a quick summary. I watched long enough to see if he was wearing a red tie or a blue tie and whether he had learned to control that little corner smirk when he smiles.
Yes, the public relations people who handled this war did a very good job. The president wore a blue tie when he announced the invasion plans--blue looks more statesman-like than his usual "assertive red" tie. He also learned to control that smirk--and I wondered how many hours a TV consultant had to work with him on it.
This is the first war in my lifetime (and I've been through several) that seemed to be handled completely by a PR/advertising agency team. I don't know who they are but I know they are worth plenty. Military technology won the war on the battlefield, but PR know-how won the war in the living room.
How did they do this? They managed to:
ˇ Equate Saddam Hussein with Osama bin Laden and thus tap into the American anger at 9/11. It doesn't matter whether these two conspired together or not--as long as it could be true, people would believe it.
ˇ Keep drumming: "Weapons of mass destruction, weapons of mass destruction."
ˇ Equate supporting the war with supporting the troops and thus tap into the American guilt about civilian treatment of our troops during the Vietnam War.
ˇ Keep supportive press (like Fox News) supplied with an endless line of victims of Saddam's regime and experts on biological and chemical weapons.
ˇ Keep the free press circumscribed by "embedding" them with troops. Keep them away from hospitals and other sensitive places.
ˇ Bomb the Iraqi Ministry of Information so that their propaganda chief could not keep on blathering. Oh, and did we kill a few foreign journalists at the same time? Oops, that was a mistake and besides they were Arabs anyway, weren't they?
This whole PR campaign played very well in America. But how will history see us 20 years from now, long after the media experts have packed their bags and left Washington?
ˇ As a bully who invaded another country because we didn't like the leader there?
ˇ As a liberator who toppled a dictator and then let the country be taken over by radical fundamentalists? Or become divided by factions?
ˇ As barbarians who stood around while a museum was ransacked of ancient artifacts?
ˇ As liberators who made Iraq a better country?
We really don't know. The last time we went on this sort of adventure was when we "freed" Cuba from Spanish rule in 1898. That war gets about two pages in the history books and is mostly noted as our entry into Colonialism, a position we didn't particularly like. So we gave Cuba back to the Cubans (who never managed to get completely free anyway) and we kept Puerto Rico (I can't remember why). But that was our own hemisphere and we were "allowed."
We are now on the brink of a new type of imperialism, one where we make up the rules as we go along. Do we put in a puppet government and keep our troops in the country, the way the Russians did to East Europe after World War II? Do we go back to economic imperialism and just export Coca Cola and Britney Spears to the conquered masses (and just go to war in case anyone revolts against that culture?) Or do we come up with a hybrid imperialism crafted by Rumsfeld and Co.?
Whatever we do, the PR people will come up with a catchy slogan. "We Come In Peace" (if we keep our troops there) "Don't You Want to Be Modern, Like Us?" (if we try for cultural influence). Whatever the tactic, the public relations bulldozer will be in the front lines, leading us on.