EDITORIAL: Beware of Americans bearing gifts

Beware of Americans bearing gifts

In suggesting how … a brand strategy might be applied to the United States, Business for Diplomatic Action’s chair, advertising guru Keith Reinhard, suggests a simple yet elegant promise: “We will help you.”

This little gem comes from, “Enlisting Madison Avenue – The marketing approach to earning popular support in theaters of operation,” a RAND Corporation report [PDF] for which the Pentagon recently paid a handsome $400,000.

My guess is that someone dropped a copy on Karl Rove’s desk and he passed it along to Frank Luntz with a simple request: Please distill these 211 pages into a message we can use. Word came back: Get Bush and Rice to use the word “help” as often as possible.

So, when Bush recently made a half-baked effort to warm up the Middle East peace process, he managed five helps in five sentences. Quite impressive!

… all responsible nations have a duty to help clarify the way forward. By supporting the reforms of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, we can help them show the world what a Palestinian state would look like — and act like. We can help them prove to the world, the region, and Israel that a Palestinian state would be a partner — not a danger. We can help them make clear to all Palestinians that rejecting violence is the surest path to security and a better life. And we can help them demonstrate to the extremists once and for all that terror will have no place in a Palestinian state.

Now, in the same spirit, Condi is touring the region and she’s intent on showing what a reliable helper the U.S. wants to be by handing out weapons like Christmas gifts.

What the administration is demonstrating — for the umpteenth time — is that the abuse of language has an effect: In short order your words come to mean nothing.

The only unambiguous message that this administration has managed to convey is that its word carries no weight. “Help,” “democracy,” “peace,” “progress,” — these have as much substance as bubbles floating in a breeze. They glisten, then vanish.

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