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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Tuesday, 31 May 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Marketing 101: Containing Costs with a Finely Tuned Marketing Campaign

In the Memorial Day comment in these pages, among other things about how the left deals with the military, readers were pointed to Bob Herbert over at the New York Times who doesn’t like the current plan to make things all better.
President Bush's close confidante, Karen Hughes, has been chosen to lead a high-profile State Department effort to repair America's image. The Bush crowd apparently thinks this is a perception problem, as opposed to a potentially catastrophic crisis that will not be eased without substantive policy changes.

… In much of the world, the image of the U.S. under Mr. Bush has morphed from an idealized champion of liberty to a heavily armed thug in camouflage fatigues. America is increasingly being seen as a dangerously arrogant military power that is due for a comeuppance. It will take a lot more than Karen Hughes to turn that around.
One of our readers, who actually teaches marketing to would-be MBA’s at a top business school, thinks the marketing problem is bigger than the issue of how the left deals with the military -
Frankly guys I'm much more concerned about the Karen Hughes PR initiative than this "left versus right debate."

It's a trite cliche that "he who lives by the sword dies by it."

But despite the trust and respect that everyday Iraqi's bestow on American GI's (and evidently this is true, if I am to believe an acquaintance with close ties to key military folks in the field) – and despite the welcome from regular folks who find themselves in a war zone of broken infrastructure - any U.S. adversary can only be bolstered into returning violence double-fold upon the American infidels. Every step we take there only increases the high likelihood of further retaliation upon our soil, and still further harm to American civilians. By sitting around and condoning through our inaction... we have it coming.

At the same time, and here's where I think the White House crowd has truly misread the playbook, how can we expect Israel or Syria or Iran or Pakistan or India (or China?) - you name the protagonist - to carry out any form of diplomacy other than with weapons - when the ONLY model they see "working" is the Bush/Blair shock and awe policy. We train the world to shoot first and hire the Hugheses to rationalize with the public later...

I fear we will pay dearly for the indiscretions of this administration.
Well, my nephew in Mosul reports the same warm relations with a number of the locals, and it doesn’t hurt that’s he’s fluent in Turkish and working on a few things to say in Kurdish.

But there are the indiscretions.

A statement from U.S. central command says that Coalition forces "regret any inconvenience" caused by the catch-and-release of moderate Sunni leader Mohsen Abdul-Hamid, adding that the former president of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council was "detained by mistake."

Reuters quotes Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari as saying that although "this is the fourth time that a Sunni leader has been arrested," he "did not think the troops who arrested Abdul-Hamid knew his background."
Oops. This sort of thing doesn?t help, nor does roughing up and humiliating his family. Hey, read the items.

Sorry about that. But we do such things. As Molly Ivins says -
What I don't get is the disconnect in Bush's mind. One must assume he figures in Iraq, "You gotta break eggs to make an omelette," or something akin.
Well, something like that.

Besides, Vice President Cheney just told the world, and Larry King on CNN, that the Iraq insurgency to be "in the last throes." Really. See this and this. The same day the chief of police in Basra is quoted as saying that his city is 'out of control' and dominated by militia gangs. But what does he know? He?s not in Washington at the White House.

Over the weekend in the weekly, Just Above Sunset, we commented on the Amnesty International report criticizing conditions at Guantanamo Bay. (See Moral Nagging for that.) Cheney says he was really, really offended by that report - "For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don't take them seriously." (Ah, but they used to take them seriously when the shoe was on the other foot.) And by the way, where did all those Guantanamo photographs come from, some liberal journalist with Adobe Photoshop and too much time on his hands?

All this is not helping matters.

And General Richard Myers on the Sunday talk shows? He?s saying we have done a good job of humanely treating detainees. (See this discussion of the problems with that ? something about documented facts and reality and all that sort of thing.) On Fox News he says these evil folks at Guantanamo "are the people that took four airplanes and drove them into three buildings on September 11th." Hey, what do THEY deserve? But over at CNN his questioner reminds him that "those people are dead ... And the masterminds behind it are not the people we're keeping down at Guantanamo." (Transcript here.)

Oh, close enough!

But close enough isn?t cutting it in the Middle East, or much of the rest of the world.

The last PR gambit is summarized by Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post on Tuesday, May 31, 2005 on Page A17 -
It was a natural idea: Send first lady Laura Bush to the Middle East to put a kinder, gentler face on her husband's smash-the-china policies. After all, the tactic had been test-marketed to perfection a few weeks ago at the White House correspondents' dinner, the annual black-tie event where everyone pastes on a smile and pretends that Washington isn't riven into bitter factions, each convinced that all the other factions will someday burn in hell.

? As an extended photo op to show America as liberator rather than oppressor, the trip didn't deliver. In Jerusalem the photos were of tense scuffles as the first lady was heckled by angry Israelis, followed by angry Palestinians. She remained poised throughout, understandably slipping back into Stepford mode -- a pleasant smile, a few anodyne words. In Egypt she gave unqualified endorsement to President (or is it Pharaoh?) Hosni Mubarak's blueprint for upcoming elections, calling it "very bold and wise." She was slammed by opposition groups, which charge that Mubarak is just rigging the system so his son can eventually succeed him; one critic sniffed to Reuters that Laura Bush "seems not to know enough about Egypt."
Ah, but her heart was in the right place and it doesn?t look like Karen Hughes will start her PR job until late fall. What?s the hurry?

Fareed Zakaria suggests we should hurry.

Who? Fareed Zakaria, the international editor for Newsweek ? BA Yale, PhD in Political Science from Harvard, former managing editor at Foreign Affairs - taught international relations and political philosophy at Harvard ? many books. You just have to get over his name. He doesn?t try to light his sneakers on international flights; in fact, on the discussion shows he seems like a nice fellow, even if he is one of THEM.

In the June 6 issue of Newsweek you will find this ?

Uncle Sam: Jekyll or Hyde?
War is a hellish business, but when you release prisoners today, they don't just return quietly to their villages. They hire lawyers.

The opening -
I have resisted the temptation to write something on the Qur'an-abuse story. But since the controversy continues, here goes. I think that the Bush administration has a Jekyll-and-Hyde problem?a contradictory attitude toward the war on terror. On the one hand it has wholeheartedly embraced the view that America must change its image in the Muslim world. It wants to stop being seen as the supporter of Muslim tyrants and instead become the champion of Muslim freedoms. President Bush and his secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, are transforming American policy in this realm, and while some of the implementation has been spotty, the general thrust is clear and laudable. For this they deserve more credit than they have generally been given, perhaps because of the polarization of politics these days, perhaps because the topic inevitably gets mixed up with the botched occupation of Iraq.

But while Dr. Jekyll makes speeches by day on Arab liberty, some nights he turns into Mr. Hyde. There is within the Bush administration another impulse, a warrior ethos that believes in beating up bad guys without much regard for such niceties as international law. Excessive concern for such matters would be a sign of weakness, the kind of thing liberals do. Men like Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld see themselves above all else as tough guys.

The historian Walter Russell Mead has argued that the Bush administration fits into the "Jacksonian tradition" in American politics. One of this tradition's core beliefs is that normal rules of warfare are suspended when dealing with "dishonorable enemies." Mead gives the example of the Indian wars in which American soldiers, enraged by Indian fighting tactics, waged battle ruthlessly and with no holds barred.

It is surely this sense of toughness that made Alberto Gonzales (then White House counsel) and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld assert in 2002 that the Geneva Conventions did not really apply, in Rumsfeld's phrase, to today's "set of facts." It is this sense of toughness that led Rumsfeld to authorize various forms of coercive interrogation that were designed to humiliate prisoners by offending their faith. These included shaving prisoners' beards, stripping and setting dogs on them?all religious and cultural taboos. The action memo on interrogation in Guantanamo authorized the removal of "comfort items (including religious items)." That procedure, as well as several others, was rescinded in a memo in January 2003. But in reading even subsequent memos on the treatment of prisoners, now declassified, it's often slightly unclear?at least to me?whether the Geneva Conventions were to be followed precisely.

I have some sympathy for the Jacksonian view. War is hell and Al Qaeda is as dishonorable an enemy as there has ever been. The trouble is, in today's world, militarily effective methods can generate huge political costs.
No kidding.

But can those costs be contained with a finely tuned public relations campaign? Invoking Andrew Jackson and how we treated the Native Americans seems a bit wrong-headed. But if American vacationers this summer lose enough money at Indian casinos perhaps there might be some limited use in the comparison. As a people we?re much better at getting angry with this group or that than ever before. It could work.

The rest of the item discusses how technology (digital cameras) has changed things ?
There was a moment in Rumsfeld's appearance at the Senate Armed Services Committee after Abu Ghraib that was utterly revealing. Rumsfeld explained that while he knew about the investigation, he was blindsided by the photographs and their impact. He simply couldn't get over the fact that the guards had been taking snapshots with their miniature digital cameras. With a mixture of amazement and frustration, he wondered how to fight a war in "the information age where people are running around with digital cameras and taking these unbelievable photographs and then passing them off, against the law, to the media, to our surprise, when they had not even arrived in the Pentagon."
Yeah, it?s just not fair. People find out what happened, and although how they find out may be against the law, they find out.

Yep. Exasperating. It screws up public perceptions. You have to mount a counter public relations campaign. That can be exasperating, madding and just plain irksome. You and you folks have to go on the Sunday talk shows and spin and spin ? when there are other and better ways to use your time.

But here?s an idea ? don?t give them anything to find out. Or let them find out you?ve treated people honorably, as emotionally difficult as that can be.

No. Not your style.

Zakaria says too, the problem is more than technology -
Today, when you release prisoners from Guantanamo, they don't return quietly to their villages in Waziristan. They hire lawyers, talk to human-rights organizations and organize public protests. And in a war for hearts and minds, the benefits of the intelligence gained might well be outweighed by the cost to America's image. Dr. Jekyll needs to explain this to Mr. Cheney, I mean Mr. Hyde. American soldiers operate with high moral standards, something often forgotten by the rest of the world because of the intense scrutiny they are subjected to by both domestic and foreign media. (How many front-page stories have there been on the Russian Army's behavior in Chechnya or the French Army's assistance to the Hutus in Rwanda?) Remember that it was the uniformed services and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell who argued against Gonzales's cavalier attitude toward the Geneva Conventions. But when there are lapses, the Pentagon needs to get much better at admitting them, investigating them and taking responsibility for them.
It doesn?t seem like that?s going to happen. This Memorial Day the administration ran out the big guns to tell everyone that we DO treat everyone really well, and we?re winning big time, which is why the bad guys are fighting so hard, our casualties are way up, civilian casualties are way up. That shows our success.

Just who is buying that? In marketing that is known as a hard sell. When someone tries to sell you something by opening with "Trust us ? this is not what it seems," one is naturally a bit skeptical. If that is followed with, "Have we ever lied to your before?" One steps back. If that is followed by, "I know you THINK we lied, but you weren?t listening carefully," then one steps back even more. These guys need some marketing advice.

Here?s some from Andy Borowitz (Tuesday, May 31, 2005) ?
Military Urges Use of Non-religious Insults

Addressing concerns about the treatment of detainees at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today announced today that the U.S. was issuing a list of approved taunts for use on all detainees in U.S. custody.

Speaking at a press conference at the Pentagon, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers said that the U.S. military would have ?zero tolerance? for religion-based taunting on detainees, adding, ?There are so many other things that you can taunt prisoners about.?

Gen. Myers said that any guard at Guantanamo who is using religion as the basis of taunts ?just isn?t using his or her imagination.?

The list of approved taunts, compiled by the U.S. military after searching the joke files of insult comics across the country as well as a database of inner-city ?snaps? or put-downs, will be issued to all military guards at Guantanamo, effective immediately, Gen. Myers said. ?
Note this is satire. We?re still doing the denial thing.

I wonder if my reader at that business school has any marketing advice he can forward to Karen Hughes. There?s plenty of time ? probably six months before she starts, if she ever does.

Everyone has their priorities.


From the halls of academia (graduate business school does count as academia), our marketing professor comments -
Thanks for a comprehensive run-down of recent commentary supporting my "PR's NOT the answer" alarm. All I can fall back on for deeper advice is implied already in your assembled thoughts, and I repeat myself from a comment on these pages a few weeks or months ago. [Editor?s Note: see March 20, 2005 - Just What Are We Selling? for that alarm.] Marketing includes more than just PR and advertising. Marketing IS the entire experience and it begins with THE PRODUCT. When the message isn't working, it's NOT the message stupid - it's THE PRODUCT!

A thought on the "product" in this case - modern warfare. The week following 9-11, I was struck with the insight that warfare was now changed forever. The Pentagon and our military (and civilian) strategists have no history or experience that applies to war scenarios with no rules of propriety. The people responsible for planning and executing are NOT in a mindset or position to succeed in a new paradigm!

Think of the American Revolution when WE broke all the rules of modern warfare and confounded European forces. We hid behind rocks in fields, for God's sake, and ambushed civilized regiments who were parading down the center of America's country roads in little Massachusetts towns. Talk about uncivilized. We even refused to line up in open fields around Bunker Hill and parade into bullet barrages - the only civilized way to kill one another. What was a Redcoat army to do if they couldn't conduct the full regiment equivalent of a civilized duel? In the end we Americans even committed midnight commando raids across the Delaware River on Christmas Eve. Sacrilege!

So are there ways to defeat terrorism? Ways to undermine an army that refuses to assemble behind fortified barricades, that believes individual jihad and suicide is acceptable as long as the kill ratio exceeds 1 to 1? (On the flip side of the coin, is it feasible to ask the Pentagon to think outside the box?)

Anyone out there ever studied "swarm intelligence?" There's a growing body of research that uses insect behavior as a new model for systems thinking, economic alternatives and general problem solving. Oxford Press and Santa Fe Institute published a compendium of research studies under that title in 1999. Great addition to a modern library aimed at new paradigms (e.g. WWW or wireless technology-based economy, or fighting terrorism). A swarm (of ants or bees, e.g.) achieves highly intelligent ends without any individual within the swarm possessing those high order characteristics. They live in small mobile cells and operate with a fixed set of precise behavioral rules. Acting in consistent lock-step they achieve together - as a swarm - what no individual insect could achieve alone. (Sound like al Qaeda?)

So how do we effectively destroy insect infestations? Well, you DON'T begin with the knee-jerk reaction you'd expect from the military - which would be to poison the entire environment. Is that the route we took in Iraq, I fear? When I hear today of forays of 1,000 soldiers into outlying towns that net six dead terrorists I feel like we're using nuclear bug spray on the entire population of Iraq.

One solution that has proven to work is to get individual soldiers to transport poisons back tot he central hive... AHA! Out of the box plan. I AM heartened to hear that Skunk Baxter - a personal hero of mine from his rock star guitar days with Steely Dan and the Doobies (I'm not so sure about his earlier Ultimate Spinach chops, I should revisit that work sometime) - that Skunk Baxter is now a highly paid advisor to the Pentagon and key military contractors. Perhaps someone is looking beyond their own Red-Coats.

I'm not sure WHERE the effective answer lies, but here are a couple more "business" text titles that I believe set the cornerstones in which we will ultimately find an anti-terrorism solution:

Kevin Kelly (founding editor of Wired magazine) wrote an earlier book of anecdotal concepts that bridged biological models for the new machine age - machines/social systems/economics entitled "Out of Control" (Addison Wesley, 1994). It includes, coincidentally, work from Santa Fe Institute among others. Excellent read. Many mind-bending, assumption wrenching excursions out of mainstream thinking.

Then there are marketing texts like "The Attention Economy" (Harvard Press/Accenture, 2001) which addresses the glut of messaging and unique ways to penetrate with ideas when people stop listening without incentive - or "Guerrilla Publicity" (Adams Media, 2002) which gets at "viral marketing" (we USED to call it Word-of-Mouth), among other low-cost means of messaging. I DO know that Seth Godin's politically correct "Permission Marketing" (Simon and Schuster, 1999) is NOT the way to go... (was overly "pop-ish" writing anyway.)

I have a feeling that somewhere in the intersection of behavioral Swarm and Attention and Viral, lies an antidote to terrorism... and I'm assuming and hoping that Baxter and other less notorious new-age military advisors are crafting paths to that new intersected thinking. I KNOW Karen Hughes with her (assumed) background as electronic ear-piece ventriloquist during the "dub-ya" presidential debates is less likely to be hiring a Skunk Baxter to play lead chops for her global campaign to come. But then again, who knows? Maybe someone gutsy enough to pull off reverse e-snooping (putting words INTO the wooden mouth) will be far enough outside to actually consider the real issues at hand, and willingly build an "integrated marketing campaign" that begins first with fixing the product.

In my lifetime?


If my ramble above has little impact on national policy, at best it may have put a new title or two in your hands that helps expand your library of thinking.
Yep, time to do some reading.

Bob Patterson, who appears in Just Above Sunset as both The World?s Laziest Journalist and The Book Wranger, just back from a cross-country trip, Los Angeles to New York City and back, by bus, adds this -
There is an old axiom in Hollywood that warns against believing your own PR.

Bush not only believes his own PR, but he lives his life by it. After two weeks of seeing that the "rust belt" seems to extend from Newark to Santa Monica, and that Americans love America and its president, I may clap my hands and click my heel together and start believing in Never-never land, myself.

Say it with me:

Bush was a Vietnam war hero.
Bush was a successful business executive.
Bush is a spellbinding public speaker.
Bush is helping liberate Iraq and Che would endorse Bush's efforts. (Che Bush?)
Bush believes in humane treatment of prisoners.
Bush will say "Mission Accomplished!" ten weeks after the start of the war with Iran.
Bush deserves a third term!

There that was easy, wasn't it?

Viva Che! Viva Bush. Viva all men of the common man!

Bush says "Support the Troops" but the song he sings is "The Ballad of Ira Hayes." (Google it.)

And the reaction from our business school guru?
Che Bush? I like it!

That should either be a new line for Victoria's Secret or the long awaited porn follow-on to Deep Throat.

Is America ready for another Deep Throat after all these years? Could the rust belt begin to swallow Che Bush? (This goes dangerous places!)

And yes, Bob, I'm afraid history does stay the same... all across America? over and over again.

I mean Nixon's self-righteousness was different from W's, how?

Political machinery wasn't neurally in control of all media back then, but the blind faith was the same at the source, now wasn't it?!?
Ah, we live in an age of ever more intense faith, don?t we?

Dick in Rochester adds only this - "Thanks, Bob, we all needed that little disconnect from reality!"

Posted by Alan at 20:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 1 June 2005 12:53 PDT home

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