B S Raghavan

PR goof-up stokes embers of scepticism

B.S.RAGHAVAN | Updated on May 06, 2011 Published on May 06, 2011

Other than the say-so of the US President, Mr Barack Obama, himself, there has as yet been no concrete material placed before the people of the world that would carry conviction as incontestable evidence of Osama bin Laden's death at the hands of the US Special Forces in the early hours of May 2.

Ordinarily, at other times, a formal announcement by the head of state would never be called into question and would have been regarded as the last word.

But, regrettably, the US has been compulsively resorting to dirty tricks and falsehoods in its egotistic pursuit of mostly not-so-very-enlightened self-interest as the self-imposed super-cop, if not the lord-and-master, of the world for so long that people are leery of accepting its statements without iron-clad independent corroboration.

This scepticism is apparent even within the US itself. I have before me an e-mail from an American observer saying: “The US government has a reputation for secrecy/dishonesty…prior presidents having told the public we weren't flying spy planes over (the Soviet Union), we really did get attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin, we didn't trade arms for hostages, Saddam had WMDs…Given this, it's not terribly surprising that ….there's a growing reluctance to rely on an administration's bare word regarding critical matters.”

I vividly remember watching the US Secretary of State, Mr Colin Powell, addressing the UN Security Council, on February 5, 2003, pointing to the photograph of what later on turned out to be the ramshackle push-cart of a street vendor of groceries in Iraq and declaring with a straight face that it was a terribly dangerous vehicle which was carrying fissionable material obtained by Saddam Hussein from various sources for his weapons of mass destruction! If there was a high water-mark of deception to justify the invasion of Iraq, that was it!


Coming to the Abbottabad episode itself, there are already theories floating that it was all stage-managed with a view to bolstering Mr Obama's chances for his election as President for the second term.

I personally believe that it was an actual raid, undertaken on receipt of what the US honestly believed to be a genuine clue leading up to where Osama was ensconced in a commodious mansion, and that the Americans really got him in the end.

It may not have been a stage-managed affair in that sense, but the PR part of it has certainly been, and continues to be, thoroughly mismanaged.

This aspect of the Americans' ineptitude never ceases to puzzle me, as it is a constant in whatever complex operation they undertake, beginning (not to go too far back in history) from the U-2 flight, and going on to PR mess-ups over the Iran-Contra imbroglio, the tantrums over Tonkin, Iraq invasion and the like. The main part sails through, but the follow-up is fouled up.

In the case of Abbottabad also, it should have struck anyone with an anticipatory sense that the most essential requirement to make people believe what they are told is either to produce Osama's body, or at least to circulate the picture of it. First, the Americans show unseemly haste in spiriting away the body and “easing it” into the sea, and next, they say that the picture is so “gruesome” that it cannot be shown.

Flurry of speculation

Nothing would have been lost if they deferred the burial in the sea a couple of hours in order to have the body shown to media persons, leaving it to them to exercise their good sense about publishing it. At the same time, they could have also handed the copy of the DNA report by way of additional confirmation.

At the very least, the Americans could have given the correct identities of those killed and wounded, and, additionally, made the media privy to some authentic reactions of survivors. Failure on these counts has needlessly fuelled a flurry of speculation, doing no good to the US' already battered image.

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Published on May 06, 2011
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