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Thursday, March 20

Analysis - American propaganda machine takes on 2-front war

By Chuck Raasch

WASHINGTON - Shock and awe on one front. Measured goals and reassurances on another.

The American war propaganda machine is walking a fine walk in defending the U.S.-led attack on Iraq.

While military planners forecast action of unprecedented ferocity, George W. Bush and his diplomats are spending considerable effort assuring the world what this war is not about.

One battle may be won by brute force, but the other will require far more refined arts of persuasion.

"People are concerned about war. People always have a level of anxiety," Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged in an interview with Gannett News Service and three other wire services Thursday. "And frankly some motives have been attributed to us that are inaccurate. That we are in it for the oil. That we are in it in order to control that part of the world in the Middle East.

"But as the president said…we don’t want to stay there a day longer than is necessary to put in place a responsible form of government."

Powell added: "As people see how we conduct our activities they will understand the United States is not anti-Muslim, anti-Iraqi people, anti-people in the region, anti-Arab. And we’ll do it well. …And I hope we will reverse this trend.’

The "shock and awe" language is aimed primarily at the American people, where the specter of Vietnam has often been raised in the wars since.

"This will not be a campaign of half measures," President Bush said in a nationally televised address from the Oval Office, shortly after hostilities began late Wednesday.

The measured rhetoric and reassurances are aimed primarily at the Arab world and allies in Europe, where the United States faces charges it is an arrogant superpower bent on Middle East domination and oil.

"The only objective," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer insisted in a briefing Thursday, "is disarmament of a regime."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also walked the line in a briefing Thursday.

"Iraq belongs to the Iraqi people and once Saddam Hussein’s regime is removed, we intend to see that functional and political authority is placed in the hands of Iraqis as quickly as possible," Rumsfeld said.

But, he added of the military conflict: "What will follow will not be a repeat of any other conflict. It will be of a force and scope and scale that has been beyond what has been seen before."

Yet as the war intensified Thursday, criticism mounted around the globe. The Russians and Chinese denounced the invasion and said it could have dire consequences to future relations. Religious leaders expressed regret, and protests continued here and abroad. Violence broke out in a demonstration in Cairo.

"(Bush) is circumscribed in the arguments he can make because he doesn’t have large numbers of traditional allies with him," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

Bush’s father had a far different challenge. While he struggled to define why the United States organized a coalition to confront Saddam after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, in the end, it boiled down to driving Iraq’s armies out of Kuwait.

The current Bush must constantly argue - as he did in his Oval Office speech - that "we have no ambition in Iraq except to remove a threat."

"It is always a problem when you argue you are not doing something," Hall Jamieson said. "When you begin by framing things in what is, in essence, a rebuttal argument, it is difficult maintaining the rhetorical initiative."

She said she was surprised that administration officials had allowed the "shock and awe" rhetoric to resonate so heavily because it carried with it heavy expectations of immediate success.

"If all the frightening scenarios fail and instead things are better in Iraq and there is no terrorism, I think Bush will come out well," Hall Jamieson said. "On the other hand, if they don’t get Saddam or there are problems in Iraq and Iraq is clearly not better after the war, then clearly there are problems for Bush."

(Contributing: Sergio Bustos, GNS)