my turn


Do We Need Another Jim Wilkinson To Market Syria?

Does President Obama need a marketer? We are, obviously and predictably, back in the Middle East where the gains are going to be short-term at best. Right now, most people are in favor of the air attack on ISIL in Syria and Iraq, but that probably will change, because it's a no-win situation without the old "hearts and minds" effort. One directed at our friends over there and the public over here.

Thus, someone will probably have to keep selling our new involvement in the Levant as something virtuous if for no other reason than it's going to take a little time and cost us a lot of money and maybe lives, assuming this involves soldiers. We need someone like...Jim Wilkinson, who, under the aegis of Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, helped sell the war in Iraq to the American public. The other war. The second one. The one that led to this one, assuming the distinctions between them don't dissolve like the national borders over there. Wilkinson has gone, silkily, from Republican operative and drum beater to corporate comms guy at PepsiCo, to an even better and super-timely gig as head of Alibaba’s international communications. 



First, I will say that I mention Wilkinson because he is the consummate communications guy and I respect that. He got a lot of shit for having been blamed for peddling the Jessica Lynch opera to the Washington Post. Jon Krakauer ("The Perfect Storm") had written, in his Pat Tillman story, "Where Men Win Glory," that Wilkinson was behind the whole "Saving Private Lynch" narrative first reported by The Washington Post. But the Wilkinsonian ideal — under Central Command, he was spokesperson for Gen. Tommy Franks in Iraq, and then was flack for the Afghanistan effort — is what the Obama air campaign might need: sales and marketing leadership. I'm only being a little ironic. Someone has to do the job and it sure as hell won't be him. 

The ISIL campaign, per estimates, could cost $10 billion per year, or $30 billion over the three-year engagement predicted by the President. On Wednesday night alone we fired 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles at $1.6 million a piece at ISIL-controlled assets. Raytheon isn't exactly an NPO, so they aren't refilling the silos for free (a good time to buy Raytheon, Lockheed-Martin, etc. stock was a month ago.) So we are going to need someone to keep the narrative interesting to us, so as things drag on we don't go all Bolshevik on the larger effort. 

The Lynch story is old, but instructive and relevant now. As for what happened in Nasiriya in early April 2003, there was a real story and a manufactured one (the author of which, to my knowledge, has never surfaced.) Jessica Lynch herself blamed the Pentagon for how she was lionized. But the fiction, whoever created it, certainly helped the Bush administration just when the "we'll be welcomed with open arms" line from Cheney. et al., was suddenly proving to be total crap. And what really happened did, in fact, presage pretty much the course of the entire "war", or what you will. 

You’ll recall a certain lost convoy of cooks, clerks and maintenance folk who ended up in the city's hornet nest. In an escape attempt, one of the convoy's Humvees followed one of its escaping trucks to get the hell out of there, while the rest of the convoy was being shot to pieces. They almost made it, but the Humvee crashed into the truck, seriously wounding passenger Jessica Lynch. She was captured, taken to a hospital and treated by the enemy. And she was subsequently rescued by special forces. 

Things were much, much worse, though. Miscommunications and snafus resulted in a pair of A10 Warthogs killing 18 Marines and wounding 17 in the city. A PR and marketing nightmare. Just Fubar for the Bush admin and its "liberators" narrative. So while the friendly fire incident was backwashed, someone, somewhere, maybe in the halls of the Pentagon, dreamed up a real dog wagger: Lynch was injured and also shot, and she also fought off a rabid enemy till the very end, guns blazing. Captured, she was interrogated, strapped and slapped, stabbed, and God knows what else. Then bravely rescued by special forces charging in through a hail of bullets. 

The news devoured it. Little of it was true. The doctor taking care of her, Harith a-Houssona, tried to drive her over to a U.S. checkpoint but was turned back. The rescue was straight forward and what bullets flew were flying elsewhere. Similar situation, vis the fratricide scenario, when Pat Tillman was killed in eastern Afghanistan. This time, Tillman was lionized and lied about: the fiction narrative was that the Taliban shot him as he was fighting to protect the troops. The real truth bubbled out through the cracks. Not saying Wilkinson had a hand in any of that, but again, he's the exemplar of tactical narrative control , a player of the first water, someone this administration needs, someone with more spin than a Cuisinart.  

Because here we are again, now in Syria. And we need a marketing plan? Not just yet. But soon, if this keeps going. And President Obama speaking from the Rose Garden won't cut it. Especially if advisors on the ground in Iraq becomes boots on the ground in Syria and the three years becomes four, or five, depending on when this one ends and the next one starts. How about "War is Peace." No that's taken.

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