Are we finally seeing, moment by moment, a public relations approach unfold…or is it only a disastrous and desperate exercise in spin?
You will remember that years ago (not as many as we would hope…) the skies of Baghdad poured tons and tons of bombs.
Later on, when the fighting went house to house, those same skies poured leaflets encouraging Iraquis to support allied forces.
Subsequently, local newspapers were flooded by articles, expensively prepared by huge DC and City public relations firms, touting the invasion..
The whole Irak affair has been, and still remains, a Woolworth Encyclopedia of miserably failed attempts to modify opinions and behaviours of the Iraquis, after allies had destroyed their social and institutional structures.
Many in the world today hail the recent Obama video message to the Iranians as a quantum leap to a liberalist, rather than a realist policy of public diplomacy.
They even naively stress the Farsi subtitles as authentic proof of good will, as if the Nazis or the Soviets had the habit of distributing propaganda in other countries in the German or Russian language!
Here is at least one certainty:
Obama is keeping his bold campaign pledge to open a proactive dialogue and a diplomatic drive with the Iranian people and leaders, and he is doing this in a very public way.
We cannot obviously know what is going on behind the scenes, but if it was less than coherent with the public tone, we would certainly be made aware of this by the Iranians themselves.
To do this the President is using some of those same Internet tools which he so successfully adopted during his winning electoral campaign, and with savvy public relations support those tools are being intensely picked up by most global press, television, radio and social media networks.
Under any one of the many definitions, this is authentic liberalist public diplomacy… in the sense that the US President openly reaches out to the publics of Iran without (at least ostensibly…) filtering his contents through the Iranian institutional or media systems see.
Unfortunately, we are not aware of any specific and programmed activities within that continued flux of communication going on between Iranian migrant communities and their relatives, friends and contacts at home, but it is not difficult to imagine that the sociological globalism approach is also being adopted in this planned and concerted public diplomacy policy.
One thing I know for sure is that during the past administration, despite Cheney and Rumsfeld’s anger and that of other axis of evil thinkers and doers, Italy was hardly castigated for being Iran’s major international trading partner…. and this only due to the strong personal relationship between Berlusconi and Bush.
Since inauguration day, the Italian government received a full six weeks of very loud silence from the White House, as if the latter wished to ‘rub in’ the rage stemmed from Berlusconi’s cocky and vulgar comment in Moscow about the President being ‘tanned’. see
A comment which drove Italy’s DC Ambassador Castellaneta crazy in his intense effort to recover face, which was finally sanctioned last week by a glowing reception at the Italian Embassy.
Also, Italian Foreign Minister Frattini was finally received by Hillary Clinton, and besides having obtained a go-ahead for his G8 Italian Presidency plan, it is rumoured that he was also encouraged to use Italy’s strong economic ties with Iran to support Obama’s diplomatic drive.
Also interesting, from this perspective, is that in parallel with the State Department launch of the ‘RESET’ program with Moscow (a brilliant pr trouvaille, I must say), Obama decided to directly address, with a very warm letter of friendship, Italy’s ex Communist and excellent English speaker President Napolitano, thus confirming the spreading rumour that Berlusconi’s personal ties with Putin are considered by the White House staff to be a serious risk factor.
As if to say, we do not trust you, we do not want you to intercede on our behalf, we are going to dialogue with the Russians directly and, by the way, we want you to publicly know that we prefer to converse with your arch enemy Napolitano in Rome and to speak directly with your Foreign Minister who is more trustworthy than you are.
So, it appears that this administration is very much counting on public diplomacy as much as it is evident that Obama is seeking to gather popular support for his highly risky, but again bold and coherent with his electoral platform, economic and social recovery plan at home.
The growing cohort of critics accuse him of propaganda and of spin doctoring the United States towards a northern European model of social democracy, and they might not be entirely wrong.
And this might not, in fault of other visible and viable alternatives, be in itself a negative objective.
I was particularly impressed by his explicit refusal to jump on the anti-AIG-bonus witch-hunt which has been devastating the American public sphere in these last few days in the implicit intention to create a new bogus enemy, until some good economic news comes from the field .
It will be interesting to see if Obama will want to jump on the bandwagon of the good news and how he will address it when it comes. Given the enormous amount of money which is being thrown at the market by this administration some positive effects will certainly come, although not really as positive as many expect. You can actually sense this new craze coming as one watches television.
What will he choose to do?
If he is truly a leader and an excellent public relations professional he will play it cool and low profile.
If he is only a propagandist and spin doctor, he will probably do what any of us would do: jump on and exploit it before midterm congress elections come up, not so far away.