Dissidents to Aid Case for Iraq Action
U.S. to Coach Baghdad's Opponents for Debate
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 26, 2002; Page A12
The Bush administration, concerned it is losing the debate in world opinion over a possible war with Iraq, this week is bringing 17 Iraqi dissidents from Europe and North America to the State Department for lessons in how to effectively communicate the reasons to depose Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
The move comes as a chorus of doubt has risen both overseas and within some Republican circles about whether President Bush and his foreign policy team have effectively explained the reasons for possible military action.
Iraq dominated the morning talk shows yesterday, with attention focused on commentary published by James A. Baker III, secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush, that the United States should first approach the United Nations for a final resolution authorizing unrestricted weapons inspections in Iraq. "Seeking new authorization now is necessary, politically and practically, and will help build international support," Baker wrote in the New York Times.
A State Department official yesterday said the new initiative to teach the art of "spin" to Iraqi dissidents is part of a broader public diplomacy effort to influence decision-makers around the globe.
"This is an attempt to ratchet up the public affairs message," he said. "Americans talking about the horrors of Saddam Hussein is one thing. Iraqis who can speak with authority about it, well, you can't put a value on it."
In the sessions, the Iraqis -- most of them prominent in the dissident community but with little experience dealing with the media -- will learn how to write effective opinion articles and speeches and how to craft the right kind of "sound bites" for television and radio shows.
"You can do this stuff without a firm date on Iraq," the State Department official said. "We probably should have been doing it for a while."
In another sign of how the administration wants to show that Iraqis, not just U.S. officials, are demanding a new government in Baghdad, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith last Friday appeared on Radio Sawa -- a new U.S.-funded, Arabic language radio station -- to emphasize that the Iraqi opposition would have a key role in any overthrow of Hussein.
"The future that we see for Iraq is a future that would be based on the Iraqi people freeing themselves from the repression they are now suffering,'' said Feith, according to United Press International.
Feith, the third-ranking Defense Department official, added that Iraqi opposition groups "are an important part of the administration's thinking about how to implement the policy of freeing Iraq."
In his article, Baker stressed "the only realistic way to effect regime change in Iraq is through the application of military force." But he said it was wrong to think that it could be done without political support at home and abroad.
Many U.S. allies have spoken out against a war with Iraq, and opinion polls show support has slipped recently. A Gallup poll Friday found 53 percent of Americans favored sending U.S. troops into Iraq, compared with 74 percent in November 2001.
Baker's proposal won praise from Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation." Graham said it "would move us into the moral high ground in appealing to our allies for their collaboration ."
But House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), interviewed on "Fox News Sunday," rejected the idea.
"I think this is a time to lead," DeLay said. "Others will join when you show strong leadership, like President Bush has shown."