Marketing has always been a high consideration in the US adventure in Iraq, see Chief of Staff Andrew Card’s comment on the invasion, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” Needing to sell this particular product, the Administration ran out a staggering array of ante-bellum reasons for war: WMD, “Saddam is worse than Hitler,” Saddam is linked to 9-11, Saddam will destabilize the Mid-East (isn’t that like making water wet?), “We need to stand up for the UN.” All of these were underpinned by the argument that this has nothing to do with oil. One of the first things you learn in the news biz is that when someone says it’s not about money, then you can be sure it is about …
Current ex post facto rationalizations include spreading democracy in the Mid East (unless, of course, democracy gets the “wrong” people elected. Quoth Lehrer: For might makes right/And till they’ve seen the light/They’ve got to be protected/All their rights respected/ ‘Till somebody we like can be elected), creating a “flypaper” state that keeps all the terrorists in Iraq and I forget what all else.
Along with the ever-changing series of rationales, a key tactic of this marketing campaign has been to claim things aren’t happening that already are. There was the Administration saying the war hadn’t begun when we’d been bombing the Iraqis for weeks. Turns out they meant “ground war.” We had the Mission Accomplished/End Of Hostilities claim followed by more combat deaths than while “hostilities” were under way. And now there is the claim that “Civil War” is in danger of breaking out all over the place.
Last Sunday, Secretary of State Rice made the TV rounds and dismissed an “impending” civil war. And, technically, she’s right: It’s not impending if it’s already here. Her comments sound like Gen. Westmoreland’s December 1967 dismissal of the North Vietnamese’s ability to launch an offensive anywhere in South Vietnam. The following month the North launched the Tet offensive everywhere in South Vietnam.
If this ain’t Civil War, maybe it will do until the real thing comes along. What does it take to get the official imprimatur and make a war Civil? Is it when Iraqis spend more killing each other than they do trying to kill the US military? I think we can check that one off. Is it at some point when we can no longer claim all or even most of the violence is being conducted by outsiders? Now that’s actually tough to measure. Is it when Ken Burns makes a somnolent documentary of it? God forbid. The Iraqis have suffered enough already.
As usual, the Administration is being aided and abetted in its marketing by many in the media, and I’m not talking Fox TV. Last Sunday, the NYT’s Week In Review section lead with an article entitled “What A Civil War Could Look Like” which actually addressed everything but that. The article categorically refused to define “What a civil war does look like.” Instewad it fell back on some of the most hair-splitting linguistic efforts to not call an Antietam an Antietam since Bill Clinton’s famous “is.”
Like a near-death experience, the carnage seems to have shocked Sunni and Shiite leaders into a new realization of what civil war would cost, and new efforts to avoid it. But what happens if such efforts — and frantic ones by Americans — prove incapable of stopping an all-out war?
The greatest fear of leaders throughout the Middle East is that an unrestrained civil war …
If Iraq were to sink deeper into that kind of conflict,
In short, it said, we’ll know it’s a Civil War when the rest of the region falls to pieces. Or when it stops being so damned restrained. Or when someone has the nerve to call it that.
Any experienced marketer knows that you can sell pretty much anything once. Make a big enough claim for the product and someone – maybe a lot of someones – will buy it. The hard part is getting them to buy from you more than once. To do that the claims you make have to have some resemblance to the product you’re selling. When it comes to civil war, the consumer should now really be aware. And expect an official announcement of this product launch very, very soon.