Bush to Lead Global PR Campaign to Sell Post-Sept. 11 Offensive
The Bush administration, led by the president himself, is embarking on a major new public relations offensive to sell its counter-terrorism campaign as recent setbacks raise concerns about the war effort’s progress and methods.
Designed to bolster domestic and worldwide support for the war against Osama bin Laden and his followers, the initiative comes amid growing criticism of the administration’s handling of the anthrax outbreak at home and questions abroad about the bombing campaign in Afghanistan that is taking a rising civilian toll.
And even as Bush prepares to address the nation next week, his war commanders and other key strategists already are spreading the word, from writing op-ed pieces for some of the nation’s leading newspapers to appearing on key Middle Eastern television networks.
At the same time, a high-tech, round-the-clock communications center linking the United States, Great Britain and Pakistan has been created to counter information disseminated by Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban regime. White House counselor Karen P. Hughes, one of Bush’s most trusted advisors and image-makers, chairs regular conference calls.
As the dimensions of the public relations initiative emerged Thursday, top White House aides scoffed at the notion that the burst of activity suggests that the U.S.-led campaign is faltering.
“There is a reflection, though, on the importance of talking to people around the world about the importance of this cause,” said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. “We are dealing with a regime that has lied not only to its own people, but to its neighbors and to the people of the United States, to the people of Pakistan and around the world.”
White House National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice also joined the effort to shape public sentiment toward the war.
In a rare appearance in the White House briefing room, she told reporters that Bush will deliver a series of speeches next week to update the American people and coalition allies around the world on the counter-terrorism efforts.
In his address to the nation, Bush also intends to speak about “the ways in which our everyday lives have changed necessarily since the horrific events of Sept. 11, and his optimism and resolve that, despite these changes, American values are constant and impermeable,” Rice said. The time and venue for the speech were still under discussion at the White House.
Rice said Bush also intends to announce new progress on the global efforts to freeze the financial assets of Bin Laden and his followers.
In addition, Bush is to speak next week via satellite television to a gathering of Central European states in Warsaw.
The president also will continue his personal diplomacy, hosting the leaders of Great Britain, France, India, Brazil, Ireland and Algeria.
At the end of the week, Bush is scheduled to deliver his first address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Officials at the Pentagon also are stepping up their publicity effort with a nearly nonstop round of television appearances by senior officials.
They have been especially sensitive to suggestions that U.S. warplanes have been killing Afghan civilians, a charge that has been carried daily on TV programs around the world, and illustrated with videos of injured children in hospitals.
U.S. opinion polls to date indicate that domestic support for the war has not been weakened despite any unintended consequences of the bombings. But the mishaps have hurt support in the Middle East and in parts of Europe.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who wrote an opinion essay published in Thursday’s Washington Post, and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have appeared on Al Jazeera, the Middle Eastern equivalent of CNN, as has Rice.
At the State Department, interviews with senior officials are being arranged with all the primary television networks throughout the Middle East, and U.S. embassies are inviting local reporters to attend videoconferencing sessions with U.S. officials.
The administration-wide public relations offensive has reached such a level that Rumsfeld felt compelled to argue at his daily briefing Thursday that he was not spending an excessive amount of time on imagery and message. He insisted that he was spending only an hour to 90 minutes a day on such efforts.
During her briefing on the president’s coming week, Rice took the opportunity to slip in the administration’s message, saying that Bush believes that progress in the counter-terrorism campaign is being made on “all of the fronts.”
“We have gone after and destroyed many, many Al Qaeda training sites,” Rice said. “We have made good progress against the Taliban’s military assets, and we have made good progress against the goal of making certain that Afghanistan, when this is over, is not going to be a place where you can harbor terrorism.”
In addition, she said, “we are shutting down their financial networks.”
She added: “It is very hard to make a case that they are operating like they were on Sept. 10. And that is the purpose of what we’re doing.”
Rice also underscored Bush’s counsel for patience.
“The president said this is going to be a long war,” she said. “He said this may be one year, it may be several years, it may be more than one administration. . . He’s been very clear about that from the beginning, and that is what we are seeing.”
Times staff writers Paul Richter and Robin Wright contributed to this story.