Thursday, August 10, 2006

Misunderspinning Again: The White House, Administration Can't Get It Right

Misunderspinning Part II:

Bush Administration Mired

In Communication Missteps

By John E. Carey
September 4, 2006

President Bush and his team pride themselves in a lot of things; not the least of which is communications.

But the cold, hard facts would make the Bush team blush rather than beam with pride, we suspect. Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post this week wrote about, “Bush's subdued public demeanor in discussing Iraq.”

Hoagland believes that the dire situation in Iraq is beginning to sink in on the president, even though just a few weeks ago there was a feeling just short of euphoria that troop reductions could come soon.

Last year, Gen. George W. Casey, the U.S. Commander in Baghdad said “significant'” troop withdrawals could take place soon after the Iraqi elections that December. Casey and other top commanders said at the time that they were prepared to recommend a drawdown of 30,000 soldiers by the spring, if the election and training of security forces went well.

Just last month, troops scheduled to come home to the United States had their tours of duty extended in Iraq.

They were transferred to Baghdad to help put down the ethnic violence.

As of Friday, Sept. 1, 2006, according to the pentagon, the death toll for U.S. forces in Iraq stands at 2,643.

We reiterate these facts to show that it isn’t easy, in war, to predict the future, read the tea leaves and tell the story straight.

That notwithstanding, there are many examples of the White House and the Bush Administration “misunderspinning” when the facts are relatively clear.

The White House has had problems communicating beyond those one might normally anticipate in war.

“The great irony of this administration is that its opponents credit it with being masterful at spin,” wrote Mr. Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post on September 3, 2006.

“When it is in fact pathetic in managing its messages and its collective image. Whatever small credit Bush was gaining for becoming more realistic about Iraq was quickly wiped out by the controversy created by sharply partisan speeches of Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld last week in the latest example of a gang that can't spin straight.”

Vice President Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld were roundly criticized for referring to the terrorists as “fascists” and comparing the current struggle to the dark days before World War II.

“The message water was later muddied even more by a belated reaching-out letter to Democrats from Rumsfeld and by a bleak Pentagon report on sectarian violence in Iraq,” wrote Jim Hoagland.

The highly regarded UPI Editor at Large Arnaud de Borchgrave mused, “When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld compared his Iraq war critics to the appeasers of Nazism in Europe in the mid-1930s, it would seem he got his ‘isms’ confused.” He believes the terror war is more akin to the Cold War than the war against the Nazis.

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson also saw a certain over-reach or ineptitude in the theme from the White House: "With George W. Bush talking so much about Nazis and fascism, Donald Rumsfeld warning ominously against lily-livered appeasement and Dick Cheney quoting Franklin Roosevelt on the "dirty business" of war, one might worry that this direction-challenged administration has wandered into some sort of time warp. Somebody's going to have to break it to them that Churchill and Stalin are gone and the Dodgers don't play in Brooklyn anymore."

Tony Snow: Call Home!

I experienced first hand how many in the media view the kind of talk Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld engaged in during an election cycle.

When I told Alex Sirotin of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, on the air, that the White House wouldn’t use such language for political gain, my friend Alex laughed, on the air.

Alex, undoubtedly, believes I am way too naïve.

The bottom line is this; some time ago we at Peace and Freedom created a word for the White House missteps on communications: "misunderspinning." We defined “minunderspinning” as that situation in politics and other dialogue that involved “spin” filled with misunderstanding, missteps, misjudgments and a general under achievement.

After the end of the war between Hezbollah and Israel, President Bush optimistically proclaimed that the Army of Lebanon, along with the United Nations, would disarm Hezbollah, ensure peace and stability in the region, and keep Hezbollah from being rearmed by Syria and Iran.

Though it is still early in the process, Kofi Annan's experiences in the last two weeks might give the president reason for concern. No one has agreed to disarm Hezbollah, the U.N. force has arrived only belatedly in Lebanon, and the Syrian president told Kofi Annan his army would patrol the border between Syria and Lebanon unimpeded by international peacekeepers.

Consequently, we define the president's initial analysis of the situation in Lebanon as "misunderspin."

American foreign policy always relies upon correct and clear communications. Added to that, there is a widespread belief that in the war against terror, a critical element is an effort to win the “hearts and minds” of the people on the streets in the Middle East.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently mused, "The enemy is so much better at communicating. I wish we were better at countering that because the constant drumbeat of things they say -- all of which are not true -- is harmful. It's cumulative. It weakens people's will and lessens their determination, and raises questions in their minds as to whether the cost is worth it."

Mr. Rumsfeld also said, the ability of terror groups to "manipulate the media keeps me up at night."

Last September, President Bush hired Karen Hughes, his long-time media advisor, to run the U.S. Department of State’s “hearts and minds” campaign. We thought Ms. Hughes might assist in stemming the flow of “misunderspinning.”

On August 29, 2006, President George W. Bush told NBC News reporter Brian Williams, "We are great with TV but we are getting crushed on the P.R. [Public Relations] front."

Maybe we were wrong.

The misunderspinning of our government continues. While the enemy continues to control his own message pretty well.

That keeps us up at night. And it should start to hurt the president's sleep as well.