September 17, 2002



Believe in rope-a-dope if you want. Believe that the Bush inner cabinet is engaged in a masterfully duplicitous diplomacy if you need to. But the latest evidence out of the White House is their spokesmen, regardless of the genius or lack thereof of their boss, really don't have a clue. Professionally speaking, the communications staff have demonstrated once again that they simply don't have the mental agility to deal with "out-messaging" their opponents. Case in point: the widely-quoted American main talking point after the Iraqis agreed to sanctions yesterday:

This is not a matter of inspections... It is about disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction..."

And how does one find out if Iraq has disarmed? Oh, yeah. Inspections.

PR Lesson #26: your key message should generally not use obvious circular logic. This was not the response of a communications staff that's playing the angles and anticipating the next moves in this high stakes diplomacy game. To any PR professional, I'm sure it looks like the response of a staff that looked at Iraq's letter yesterday and said, "oh hell, now what's our message today?" PR-wise, they're flailing. And because PR is generally driven by policy, it's fair to assume, as Noam Scheiber does, that the "operators" (what army PR folk call non- army PR folk) in the White House are making this up as they go along, too. You might be wrong, but the communicators the U.S. is using at the moment bear no sign of playing a deep game here.

Posted by BruceR at 10:50 PM



I don't know about High Noon, but every time I see Kofi Annan pull this sort of pig-in-a-poke diplomacy I think of the O.K. Corral scene in Tombstone (still the best of the Wyatt Earp movies), when Sheriff Behan walks up to the Earps and Doc in the street and tells them they don't have to go to the shootout, because he's disarmed Ike Clanton and friends. Kurt Russell's Wyatt Earp tells him to get out of the way, and brushes right by him. (Behan then meekly stands aside while the Earps and Doc Holliday settle a score, then vainly tries to arrest them for disturbing the peace.)

There's little doubt Bush and the Americans were headed down the street for a shootout with Iraq up until now. Now Sheriff Kofi has said, "it's okay, I've disarmed them," does Bush push him out of the way, as well?

NB: As was just pointed out in the recent issue of Harper's, Wyatt Earp and friends' actions at the O.K. are open to broad interpretation. Only Western romanticism keeps Charlton Heston and company from castigating the poor man for trying to take the local populations' guns away. The O.K. corral shootout itself was, the entertaining telling in Tombstone notwithstanding, a pretty lopsided gunfight. And Doc Holliday was, without doubt, a psycho killer in his own right. In some interpretations, Sheriff Behan is something of a prototypical peacemaker, even, trying to keep the Earp and Clanton factions from blowing his town apart. In comparing Tombstone politics to the current Iraq-U.S. showdown, I hope I'm only seeing the parallels between two morally ambiguous circumstances, not passing judgment on either by extension.

NB#2: I really hate it that no one can spell the word "marshal" anymore. Listen, people: there is no second "L." So stop it.

Posted by BruceR at 12:24 AM