March 27, 2003

The rhetoric of war…

Speech-act theory says that to say something is to do something. And I would assert that the flip side of this theory claims that to do something is to say something. What was the Bush administration saying by deciding to leave Iraqi TV intact? Michael Gordan claims this:

It seems to reflect the calculation that Mr. Hussein’s regime was so brittle it would quickly fall. Bush planners appear to have left television off the initial target list because they wanted to use it to administer Iraq immediately after the war and to limit the damage to civilian infrastructure.

Possibly. And I can think of another reason. If the decapitating strike worked, Iraqi TV sans Saddam would send a stark message of domination. We have no way of knowing exactly what message President Bush may have been sending; we’re engaging in interpretation here. But, if either of us are close to correct, the tactic didn’t work. As Gordon says:

Reports from Iraq, however, suggest that the American restraint was seen by many Iraqis as an indication of Mr. Hussein’s resilience, undermining the allied message that his days were numbered.

In other words, just because you send a message, by words or actions, doesn’t mean the auditor will get your drift. The auditor may have another agenda. And, in this case, it’s certain that the auditor has another culture–one that does not necessarily prize what we Americans have to offer. This is a tough sell.

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