PAUL HOLMES: White House has only managed to sell duct tape, and not the need to go to war with Iraq

When New Yorkers were advised to go out and buy duct tape so they could seal windows and doors in case of a chemical or biological attack, my first thought - given this administration's record on ethical issues - was that either President Bush or Vice President Cheney must have bought a ton of shares in a duct-tape company. How else to explain the fact that we were being issued advice that appeared to have been lifted straight from the '50s, when schoolchildren were taught to hide under their desks to protect themselves from a nuclear blast?

When New Yorkers were advised to go out and buy duct tape so they could seal windows and doors in case of a chemical or biological attack, my first thought - given this administration's record on ethical issues - was that either President Bush or Vice President Cheney must have bought a ton of shares in a duct-tape company. How else to explain the fact that we were being issued advice that appeared to have been lifted straight from the '50s, when schoolchildren were taught to hide under their desks to protect themselves from a nuclear blast?

The duct-tape issue is a small one, except that it seems typical of the administration's increasingly desperate attempts to market a war no one wants. It is becoming difficult not to believe the administration is pumping out terror alerts in an attempt to create a siege mentality - a wartime atmosphere to get people so scared or so angry they will support whatever the White House decides to do on Iraq. Bush, Rumsfeld, and Powell have made every conceivable argument to win public backing for their Iraqi adventure. They point to Iraq's flouting of UN resolutions, although they appear to have conveniently forgotten that Israel has defied the UN just as steadfastly, and for even longer. They talk of the suffering of the Iraqi people, though Amnesty International can point to dozens of countries with human-rights records at least as awful as Saddam Hussein's. They warn of an imminent danger because of Saddam's supposed ties to al Qaeda, while ignoring North Korea as it builds nuclear weapons capable of targeting US cities. Under the circumstances, in the absence of any clear articulation of the values that are driving US foreign policy, you can't blame Americans for suspecting some unspoken motive for the President's enthusiasm for war. That suspicion manifested itself last week - despite the obsequiousness of congressional Democrats on this issue, and the lack of any serious dissent in the mainstream media - in massive demonstrations in New York and elsewhere. And the domestic opposition is nothing compared to what's happening on the international front, with a million or more people marching against the Blair government - America's largest ally - in the UK. History has taught us that it is almost impossible to fight a war without the support of the domestic population. The American people will of course rally around their troops when fighting begins, but supporting our fighting men and women and giving a free ride to those who sent them there are two very different things. The administration needs to make a much more compelling case for war if it wants public opinion on its side.
  • Paul Holmes has spent the past 15 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of http://www.holmesreport.com.

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