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How the U.S. Is Losing the PR War In Iraq
Date: Sunday, January 07 2007
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How the U.S. Is Losing the PR War In Iraq
Insurgents using simple cell-phone cameras, laptop editing programs and the Web are beating the United States in the fierce battle for Iraqi public opinion.
By Scott Johnson
Newsweek

Jan. 15, 2007 issue - For nearly four years, U.S. military officials have briefed the Baghdad press corps from behind an imposing wooden podium. No longer. Last week U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell relaxed with reporters around a "media roundtable." He replaced the cumbersome headset once used for Arabic translations with a discreet earpiece. He cut short his opening statement, allowing for more back-and-forth banter. Yet even as Iraq emerged from the deadliest month in 2006 for American soldiers, Caldwell maintained the relentlessly upbeat patter that has come to characterize the briefings. "The key difference you're going to see in 2007," he said proudly, "is this is truly the year of transition and adaptation."


Another year, another message. In the United States this week, President George W. Bush's speech laying out his new strategy for Iraq will be scrutinized for its specifics—the numbers of an anticipated troop surge, the money for reconstruction and jobs programs. But at least as critical to success may be whether Bush is convincing. A draft report recently produced by the Baghdad embassy's director of strategic communications Ginger Cruz and obtained by NEWSWEEK makes the stakes clear: "Without popular support from US population, there is the risk that troops will be pulled back ... Thus there is a vital need to save popular support via message." Under the heading domestic messages, Cruz goes on to recommend 16 themes to reinforce with the American public, several of which Bush is likely to hit: "vitally important we succeed"; "actively working on new approaches"; "there are no quick or easy answers."

What's even more telling is that the iraqi messages—the very next section—are still "TBD," to be determined. Indeed, the document so much as admits that despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars, the United States has lost the battle for Iraqi public opinion: "Insurgents, sectarian elements, and others are taking control of the message at the public level." Videos of U.S. soldiers being shot and blown up, and of the bloody work of sectarian death squads, are now pervasive. The images inspire new recruits and intimidate those who might stand against them. "Inadequate message control in Iraq," the draft warns, "is feeding the escalating cycle of violence." (A U.S. Embassy spokesperson claims the document reflects Cruz's personal views, not official policy.)

With Michael Hastings in Baghdad and Benjamin Sutherland in Treviso

Continued.
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16497895/site/newsweek/print/1/displaymode/1098/


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