the blog of DC Drinking Liberally

June 16, 2005

Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood


Donald Rumsfeld gave an interview to the BBC recently that’s made a few headlines, but (what a surprise!) not in the US media. In it he said, “I think the US is notably unskillful in our communications and our public diplomacy.” Now that won’t be news to anyone who’s been paying attention during the last four years, but it is unusual to hear a member of the Bush administration admitting a flaw.

The problem, of course, is that the flaw being admitted isn’t a failure of planning or policy, only a failure of communication. If only the administration were better at getting across what it was trying to do, Rumsfeld is saying, then surely people would understand and support it. So if anyone opposes what Bush is doing, it must be because they’re misunderstanding it.

If you’re having problems communicating, one possibility is that the press is sabotaging your efforts. We’ve heard plenty of that over the years of the war in Iraq — the idea that the news media should concentrate more on how many schools have been painted and less on how many car bombs have gone off. But in this interview there’s a particularly Rumsfeldian variation: “A lot of bad things that could have happened have not happened.” Apparently, when they’re finished reporting on painted schools, journalists should be reporting on how many people have not been blown up, how there is not a full-fledged civil war going on, and how there have been no nuclear explosions or asteroid impacts.

As you might expect, Bush agrees that the problem is just one of perception. For example, today’s Washington Post says:

Bush had hoped the successful January elections in Iraq would boost the popularity of the conflict and allow him to distance himself from it. But his aides have concluded that recent events in Iraq have contributed to an erosion in support for the president — and that he needs to shift strategies. Bush’s new approach will be mostly rhetorical, however, as the White House does not plan any changes to the policy or time frame for bringing home the 140,000 U.S. troops, as some lawmakers are demanding.

And it’s not just Iraq policy. Bush’s political strategy on Social Security is to continue hammering on the issue for months until somehow people realize that his bad idea is actually a good one, even though he’s on day 100-something of his 60-day Social Security road show and his own party is telling him to give it up.

Sometimes when everyone’s telling you that what you’re doing isn’t working, the reason isn’t just that they misunderstand or that they hate you. Sometimes it genuinely is a bad idea. Unfortunately, the Bush administration seems to be psychological incapable of doing anything other than staying the course, even when the ship is headed for an iceberg. But what else is new?


  1. One word: propaganda

    Jess1:11 pm

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