« Rights, Recovery & Renaissance | Main | Wake-up Call »

Some White House Framing on the war in Iraq

Recently, after much negative press, the President gave a live public
address about the war in Iraq. In it, he tried to convince the American
public that the war is good. The primary framing he used focused on
democracy and freedom. Here is one excerpt from the transcript:

Democracy in Iraq
On the political side, we're helping the Iraqis build inclusive
democratic institutions that will protect the interests of all Iraqis.
We're working with the Iraqis to help them engage those who can be
persuaded to join the new Iraq, and to marginalize those who never
will.
In two-and-a-half years, the Iraqi people have made amazing progress.
They've gone from living under the boot of a brutal tyrant, to
liberation, to free elections, to a democratic constitution.


Let's look at the framing:
"Democracy" - the implication of this word is that the government is
elected by the people, and thus represents their wishes. Democracy is a
good thing. Thus the war in Iraq, by creating a democracy, is a good
thing, too.

First, some facts: The people who voted did not include a whole
religious segment of the population, and thus those elected are not
representative. The people who ran for office were the ones we allowed
to run.

So even if the entire population had voted, their choices were limited
to candidates who may not necessarily represent them.

What these facts mean is that this was not a democratic election. It’s
like the people were taken to a farm-stand and told they could choose
from only the apples. The lettuce, pears, carrots, potatoes, corn, and
oranges were hidden away, so the people wouldn’t get any ideas of their
own.

"Those who can be persuaded to join the new Iraq"

This means that those who don't go along with an outsider's viewpoint
of what's good for them - a large percentage of the population - are
somehow stubborn or irrational - "unpersuadable." They deserve to be
"marginalized," which means ignored - or worse. With this framing the
administration means to convince us that these people who are trying to
point out the lack of democracy don’t really indicate a lack of
democracy, but are nobodies to be ignored.

"They've gone from living under the boot of a brutal tyrant to
liberation, to free elections, to a democratic constitution"


Saddam Hussein was definitely a brutal tyrant. Living in his regime had
to have been a life of daily fear for large swaths of the population,
and ending his regime held the promise of a better future.

But look at the tense of the verbs - the implication is that life is
better right now, in the present. However, the country is still
occupied by foreign troops. People are shot for driving their cars at the wrong
time. They are killed for carrying a cell phone. They are dragged from
their homes without evidence, imprisoned, and tortured. They have no
electricity or water much of the time. Most Iraqis know personally
innocent people who have dies as the result of the ongoing war in their
homeland. Is that liberation?

Are elections where the candidates are chosen for you, and which are
meaningless to you if you belong to the "wrong" religion free?

Is a constitution provided to your country by another country
democratic? Even though you couldn't vote for it, and had no voice in
what it says about your future?

The White House used careful framing. The implication is that if you
are against the Iraq war, then you mustn’t want people in Iraq to have a
democracy, you mustn’t want them to have liberty, and that you want
them under the boot of a brutal dictator.

This is a very common tool in message strategies - creating what's
called a false dichotomy: create an “either/or” choice as if those are
the only two possible choices.

To break the frame, you can either use the frame itself, or you can
break out of it entirely.

To use the frame itself, you can restate one of the false choices as a
question, like "Is being killed for having a cell phone freedom? If it
is the legitimate price of freedom, should all cell phone owners be
killed?"

To step out of the frame you can ask: "Is there a better way to acheive
the goal of freedom for the people of Iraq?"
Posted by Liane Allen

Posted by Jessica Falker on January 2, 2006 at 08:28 PM | Permalink

Comments

War is such a complicated and critical undertaking, it's important to recognize how it's being portrayed.

Posted by: Liane Allen | Jan 2, 2006 8:34:47 PM

Thanks for blogging tonight Liane.

I noticed in both of your response choices, you used the word freedom. Isn't the word freedom their frame? Wouldn't it be better not to use that word?

Posted by: Jessica | Jan 2, 2006 8:37:32 PM

I didn't watch this speach, but I heard Bush got a jump in his approval rating after it.

What was the Democratic response? (Obviously not a very effective one since I have no idear what it was). Did they use any framing techniques?

Posted by: Jessica | Jan 2, 2006 8:41:10 PM

Good question!

It's definitely part of their framing, but their frame is more along the lines that the war is the only path to freedom. By aksing a question that opens up other possibilities, you're breaking out of the "only option" frame.

Posted by: Liane Allen | Jan 2, 2006 8:41:24 PM

Liane said, "The people who ran for office were the ones we allowed to run.

So even if the entire population had voted, their choices were limited to candidates who may not necessarily represent them."

This struck me as true of our elections. No wonder our current administration sees nothing wrong with controlling who gets to participate in the Iraqi government.

Posted by: Charlene | Jan 2, 2006 8:44:47 PM

If I recall correctly, most of the democratic response focused on the fact that it was nothing more than a repeat of old speeches.

There was a bit more about the source of the strategy document - a professor who isn't a part of the administration.

Posted by: Liane Allen | Jan 2, 2006 8:45:16 PM

their frame is more along the lines that the war is the only path to freedom. By aksing a question that opens up other possibilities, you're breaking out of the "only option" frame.

Posted by: Liane Allen | Jan 2, 2006 8:41:24 PM

Well, that's good I guess, except that makes me think about the fact that the Dems have offered no alternative.

Posted by: Jessica | Jan 2, 2006 8:47:17 PM

You can tell that the speech's framing must be very effective, or they wouldn't have re-used it.

Also, it's clear that simply pointing out some little facts of the speech isn't effective. The response needed to make people understand the implications of the strategy in relevant human terms.

Posted by: Liane Allen | Jan 2, 2006 8:50:40 PM

OK, so what if Joe Sixpack is all impressed by Bush's speach and you say:

"Is there a better way to acheive the goal of freedom for the people of Iraq?"

And he says: "No, that's why we must have a military presence there."

What do you say then?

Posted by: Jessica | Jan 2, 2006 8:50:51 PM

The Democratic strategy seems to be that this war is the president's responsibility, and he should be required to take it seriously. With that strategy, providing an alternative would imply that maybe the President doesn't have to be responsible.

It's not a viewpoint with which I agree.

Right now, it's like the administration is being allowed to sleepwalk us into terrible danger, when the more responsibile action would be to wake them up and show them the safest path out.

Posted by: Liane Allen | Jan 2, 2006 8:56:01 PM

Posted by: Liane Allen | Jan 2, 2006 8:56:01 PM

I completely agree, as do most Dems I think.

Posted by: Jessica | Jan 2, 2006 8:59:08 PM

For Joe Sixpack, asking for clarification often works:

"Why do you feel that way?"

Posted by: Liane Allen | Jan 2, 2006 9:00:20 PM

Did you intentionally not capitalize "war" in the title of this blog?

Posted by: Jessica | Jan 2, 2006 9:00:28 PM

**************
Did you intentionally not capitalize "war" in the title of this blog?

Posted by: Jessica | Jan 2, 2006 9:00:28 PM
**************

Nope.

Posted by: Liane Allen | Jan 2, 2006 9:03:34 PM

Is "war" a good word for us to use?

Posted by: Jessica | Jan 2, 2006 9:06:42 PM

Further on the Joe Sixpack response:

Typically people, on any side of any issue, have made up their minds without really thinking very deeply. If you can respectfully draw them into a conversation that goes past the talking points, then you can help them see alternatives.

With the real die-hards on the far extremes, there's not much chance of deep discussion. However, with most people, truly listening to them can lead them to step outside the frame in a way that talking to them (or "at" them) cannot.

Posted by: Liane Allen | Jan 2, 2006 9:07:52 PM

Oooh! I originally wrote up something about the word "war" and how it limits us to thinking only in certain ways - but there wasn't time to do justice to the concept.

Using words that opens the discussion to other approaches to the solution is very powerful. As a quick example, the "war on drugs" concept encourages armed raids against the bad guys instead of encouraging programs that make our kids self-assured enough to resist drugs....

Posted by: Liane Allen | Jan 2, 2006 9:13:31 PM

Posted by: Liane Allen | Jan 2, 2006 9:13:31 PM

I hope you can come back sometime soon and do a post about that.

I've gotta run. Thanks for blogging tonight.

Posted by: Jessica | Jan 2, 2006 9:16:10 PM

Good night, and thanks for the opportunity! ;-)

Posted by: Liane Allen | Jan 2, 2006 9:18:24 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.