Memo To: Supply Side Students
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: PR versus Propaganda
In lesson #7 of this semester devoted to the politics of political economy, we covered the topic of "propaganda." This week's less is adapted from a lesson of October 18, 2002.
A public-relations campaign is in the same family as a propaganda campaign (of the kinds we discussed in lesson #7.) With propaganda, a political team will attempt to deceive people into doing something they would not otherwise do. A PR campaign does not attempt to deceive, but does attempt to get people to think better of the person or enterprise that is waging the campaign. With PR, your aim is to put your “best foot” forward or put “a good face” on your client,” or “accentuate the positive” in a person or enterprise that has obvious negatives. Propaganda is necessarily a short-term effort, as deceit can only last as long as its objectives do not get to the underlying truths, either by examination or experience. PR has to be based on more or less solid stuff so the effort has lasting effect.
You have heard of “political spin” and expert “spinmeisters” on the campaign trail. This is a form of PR, not propaganda, where political “operatives” circulate among reporters after their candidate’s performance in debate or in a speech. They attempt to knock off the rough edges of the performance and highlight the good points as best they can, even to the point of arguing that what seemed like a faux pas by their man was a fiendishly clever ploy. That takes a “meister” spinner. There is a tradition in grand opera where a performer new to an audience will hire a “claque,” a group of people to lead the applause at a performance, another form of spinning.
For a new President with little or no experience in foreign policy, it is useful for him to understand that every major industrial and political power has at its center a finely-tuned collection of hawks and doves. They are the pessimists and the optimists among a nation’s intellectuals, diplomats and military folk. On one side there are those watchdogs who bark at any rustling in the trees, who believe they are threatened by their neighbors or by distant foreign powers. On the other side are those who assume their neighbors mean them no harm and behave as if there were nothing but blue skies and sunshine in the firmament.
These are now issue being widely discussed because of the new book by Richard Clarke, "Against All Enemies." Clarke, who was in charge of counter-terrorism when President Bush took office in 2001, urged the incoming administration to focus on the threat from Al Qaeda, which he believed was imminent, and not Iraq, which did not pose a terrorist threat. Here is how he put it:
From the interactions I did have with Bush it was clear that the critique of him as a dumb, lazy rich kid were somewhat off the mark. When he focused, he asked the kinds of questions that revealed a results-oriented mind, but he looked for the simple solution, the bumper sticker description of the problem. Once he had that, he could put energy behind a drive to achieve his goal. The problem was that many of the important issues, like terrorism, like Iraq, were laced with important subtlety and nuance. These issues needed analysis and Bush and his inner circle had no real interest in complicated analysis; on the issues that they care about, they already knew the answers; it was received wisdom. Bush was informed by talking with a small set of senior advisors," those who uniformly agreed on targeting Iraq.
[In the same way, we note Senator Kerry, the putative Democratic presidential nominee, struggling with economic issues. Where Bush has a variety of economic counselors -- supply-siders, conservative Keynesians, monetarists, Kerry draws only on the received wisdom of traditional Keynesians.]
The best book I’ve read on the outbreak of the Cold War after World War II was "Shattered Peace" by Daniel Yergin. Written originally as an academic dissertation, Yergin makes the clear and simple case that because there was so little communication between Moscow and Washington, the hawks in both capitals always had the upper hand. There were doves in Washington who argued that Moscow was not planning communist aggressions, but because there was no free speech or free press inside the USSR, “behind the Iron Curtain,” the doves lost all their arguments. The hawks in our government, Democrats as well as Republicans, presented worst-case scenarios on Soviet intentions and as Yergin points out, they won their arguments by default.
A few years ago, I bought several copies of "Shattered Peace" and gave them to friends and acquaintances at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, urging them to take the message seriously and at the very least open themselves to questioning by the foreign press on a regular basis. They needed to be able to confront the suspicions constantly being raised by the hawks in our “anti-China coalition,” or our doves, including me, would lose all the policy arguments. And in Beijing, our dove counterparts would lose all their arguments to the hawks, who naturally insist on escalating pressures on the U.S. when they see us escalating pressure on them. I’ve also made the argument that we and they should set as a goal a reciprocity in our relationship based on the Golden Rule. In wartime, anything goes, of course.
Winning is everything, and in the Cold War I was always with the hawks. When peace broke out, I broke with my old hawk allies -- Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Kristol and Donald Rumsfeld -- and began arguing that in peacetime, it is more appropriate to follow the rule that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us, and expect the same of them. When we began complaining to Beijing about their casualness in respecting intellectual property rights, for example, I made the point to the Chinese Ambassador at the time that while they do not have much intellectual property to protect right now, as they grow they will create such capital and wish to have it respected by others. Perhaps my suggestions helped move the ball along in those negotiations, which ended successfully.
Without a Golden Rule at the heart of our relationship, we are left with what our hawks define as the Moral Equivalence doctrine. This is the notion that some nations are more “moral” than others, so the Golden Rule will not work. We are more “moral” than the People’s Republic of China, which means we are able to hold the PRC to higher standards than we can permit them to hold us. In this specific case of the airplane collision, for example, we must be permitted to fly along their coastline, giving them only a 12-mile cushion, but if they come within 200 miles of our coastline, we won’t simply harass them, we will shoot them down. Our hawks carry this Moral Equivalence doctrine into every corner of our relationship with China, and with Russia. Did we sign an ABM Treaty with the government in Moscow? No, our hawks say we signed that treaty in 1973 with some old government in Moscow, when we were engaged in Cold War with the communists. Now that the communists are no longer in control of the government, our hawks insist the ABM treaty no longer applies. Treaties can be devalued just that easily when we insist a foreign government does not have Moral Equivalence.
In my efforts to avoid war in the Middle East, I made these arguments to Mohammed Aldouri, who was Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations. Having done my own due diligence, I had been persuaded that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, was not a threat to his neighbors or the U.S., and should be dealt with diplomatically to keep whatever troublesome impulses he might have. I advised Aldouri that most of his country's problem was in public relations. The Baghdad government did not have such a terrible image in the rest of the world in late 2001 because the pros and cons of what they had done and were doing to cooperate with the UN were bringing about some degree of balance on the core issues.
In the United States, there had been no such discussion, only a perpetual flow of “propaganda” about Iraq by the warriors in Washington. As long as the warriors believe we are at war with Iraq anyway, anything goes, including the use of “strategic influence,” or deceit, in gathering the support of the American people for a military campaign. If Iraq wants to avoid war, I further advised its U.N. Ambassador, Baghdad must be more diplomatic in its utterances. And its diplomats who are able to speak to the American people should do likewise. A soft answer turneth away wrath. Starve the hawks and feed the doves.
When I suggested he write an op-ed for the New York Times, he told me previous attempts to do so were rejected by the editors. Because war seemed imminent, I suggested he write something himself instead of sending pre-packaged boilerplate from Baghdad. He agreed and, lo and behold, the editors accepted.
Here is a good example of putting your best foot forward, with Aldouri taking my advice in an op-ed he wrote for the October 17, 2001 Times While it may have read like propaganda to readers back then, in the context of what we know now, it was Political Public Relations at its best. War came anyway, but as a result of the way the President was deceived by his claque:
Iraq States its Case
By Mohammed Aldouri
After so many years of fear from war, the threat of war and suffering, the people of Iraq and their government in Baghdad are eager for peace. We have no intention of attacking anyone, now or in the future, with weapons of any kind. If we are attacked, we will surely defend ourselves with all means possible. But bear in mind that we have no nuclear or biological or chemical weapons, and we have no intention of acquiring them.
We are not asking the people of the United States or of any member state of the United Nations to trust in our word, but to send the weapons inspectors to our country to look wherever they wish unconditionally. This means unconditional access anywhere, including presidential palaces in accordance with a 1998 signed agreement between Iraq and the United Nations - an agreement that ensures respect for Iraq's sovereignty and allows for transparency in the work of the inspectors. We could never make this claim with such openness if we did not ourselves know there is nothing to be found.
Still, we continue to read statements by officials of the United States and the United Kingdom that it is not enough that Hans Blix, head of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, and his team of inspectors have unconditional access. They say this is because the Iraqi government may be hiding weapons that will not be found, or is moving weapons from place to place, or is developing new weapons in roving vans or in underground locations.
The United Nations officials with whom our government has worked on these matters know that these concerns have no foundation. In December 1998, when the United Nations weapons inspection team left Iraq on the orders of Richard Butler, the chief United Nations arms inspector at the time, it had exhausted all possibilities after seven years of repeatedly examining all possible sites; only small discrepancies existed.
It is now widely conceded that Iraq possesses no nuclear weapons and that it could not develop them without building facilities that could be spotted by satellite. Since 1999, we have allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit Iraq. If it wishes, it can inspect any building anywhere. The agency's inspectors will find nothing untoward.
Scott Ritter, who led many United Nations inspections, has said that he questions whether Iraq possesses biological weapons. Mr. Ritter also has been on CNN in recent months explaining that his inspection team destroyed plants that could produce chemical weapons. If these plants were reconstructed, Mr. Blix and his team would quickly find them out. Building such weapons costs billions of dollars and requires enormous facilities and huge power sources. The idea that such projects could be moved around in trucks or stashed away in presidential palaces stretches the bounds of imagination.
It is my belief that the American people are not aware of this history because, in my opinion and the opinion of my government, no American political figure has been seriously interested in discussing these matters with our government. The United Nations was created in 1945 to provide a forum for nations in conflict to come together to work out their disagreements. It was designed expressly for the purpose of making the use of force an absolute last resort.
For more than 11 years, the people of Iraq have suffered under United Nations economic sanctions, which have been kept in place largely by American influence. According to statistics compiled by the Iraqi Ministry of Health, these sanctions have caused the death of more than 1.7 million of our citizens. The embargo has been so severe that we have been prevented from importing chemicals needed for our sewage and water and sanitation facilities.
At the same time, the last three American presidents have stated that these sanctions would not be lifted as long as our president, Saddam Hussein, remains the nation's leader.
Iraq is not a threat to its neighbors. It certainly is not a threat to the United States or any of its interests in the Middle East. Once the United Nations inspection team comes back into my country and gets up to speed, I am confident that it will certify that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction - be they chemical, biological or nuclear. Such certification we hope will remove the shadow of war and help restore peace between our nations.
Mohammed Aldouri is the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations.
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I’d like to continue this discussion next week with a Q&A session on propaganda and political pr. These are profoundly important topics for the world’s only superpower as it tries to figure out how to manage the family of nations, with force and diplomacy as the chief tools. You can send questions to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org Or post them in TalkShop, where we will begin a string on these issues. Please do not make speeches. Just pose questions.