GWU Issues Management

A blog established for the George Washington University School of Political Management's Issues Management course.

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A middle aged white guy, who likes to think, talk and, too infrequently, write about politics, religion and gadgets.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Issues Management at the Pentagon

Good story on the front page of the New York Times outlining the Pentagon's efforts at issues management around the growing critique from retired generals about Donald Rumsfeld. It's a classic technique of engaging third party validators and giving them the information they need to make the case.

Review it and analyze whether this techique is likely to work. Think about what they are trying to do. Is it legitimate? What goal will it achieve? What risk does it entail? How did it get on the front page?

8 Comments:

Blogger Wal-Mart Walter III said...

There is no easy way for DOD to respond to retired generals’ criticisms. They cannot come out attacking their own especially when these guys are basically American heroes. The “fact filled memo” was clearly a way to leak positive information and draw out supporters of the President and the Secretary. Its legitimacy should never be in question. This is similar to other tactics the pentagon pr teams have used in the past and is simply talking points which are used constantly in this business. Although DOD is not supposed to be political to an extent, when retired personnel call for the resignation of an appointed cabinet member they are being as political as you can get. Does anyone not believe maybe Wesley Clark has a motive? There definitely is a risk in playing the “talking points for supporters” game but I don’t see other very good option. I wouldn’t mind have Tommy Franks and Richard Meyers in my corner too!

This story got on the front page of the NY Times because it’s the NY Times! DOD’s PR team trying to defend the Secretary against criticism, what a scoop!!!!

11:03 AM  
Blogger ajyass said...

Bush was quoted in the Post today as saying that "I'm the decider, and I decide what is best." This was in reference to not firing Rumsfeld.

While this is by no means the stupidest comment that Bush has made, something about it made me pause. Couldn't he have said, I'm the decision maker? His choice of words isn't even really the point though; this whole episode makes Bush appear as a petulant child. Rumsfeld is just a toy he is not willing to give up.

I think the Pentagon is doing all they can under the circumstances. Trying to find supporters of Rumsfeld makes sense with all the criticism that is flying around. If Bush wants to keep Rumsfeld as Secretary then it needs to at least appear as if other high level officials support that choice.

7:20 AM  
Blogger Johnny Utah said...

The transparent and blatant coaching by the DOD to get former military commanders and civilian analysts to back Rummy undercuts any real support they may give the beleaguered SecDef. This is also the same reason it made it to A1 on the most influential paper in the world.

The news value is that the Pentagon, whose focus is fighting wars, not mounting political campaigns, is now circling the wagons, engaging in a concerted effort to protect its top guy.

The technique of third party support is a solid one, but from an entity who is not supposed to be political (although is anything in this town not), the risk is greater than the reward.

7:38 AM  
Blogger Wal-Mart Walter III said...

Why because coaching supporters, trying to spin for support, and producing talking points is a big deal in DC??

I agree the Pentagon theorectically is a "non-political" entity, but in reality everything in this town is. Doesn't the Pentagon constantly engage in PR campaigns domestically and internationally?

9:24 AM  
Blogger SoCal Girl said...

I agree with Mr. Coryn. Showing people that demanding a top cabinet member's resignation can actually work is extremely dangerous. That is a trend that would be all to popular in every administration and would quickly spiral out of control. In fact, I feel that it already is slightly out of control. Obviously President Bush is not going to "demand" his Sec of Defense's resignation, but the fact that people are suggesting it is frightening enough. This is a position that is appointed by the president- if retired generals, or anyone else for that matter, were suppose to have a say in who occupied these positions, their names would be on the ballot instead.
As for why it ended up on the front page?????????????? I dont know, but the article was extremely boring and kind of tacky.

12:47 PM  
Blogger ABPITT said...

I think that the Pentagon is doing well under the circumstances in handling this matter. Using third party testimony to the fact that Rumsfeld is doing a good job is about the best tactic that they can use to establish credibility and legitimacy to their claims. However, criticism of Rumsfeld is not a surprise and I would think that this third party testimony would have been more beneficial as sort of an offense rather than using it so defensively. The engaged public has already formed their opinion about Rumsfeld and a “he knows better than other” claim is not going to change many minds. I personally find it sad that at the forefront of the Pentagon’s political engagement are retired generals seeking to somewhat discredit others. Using other generals in a way makes it less credible and more political as far as third party testimony goes.

1:56 PM  
Blogger green elephant said...

Certainly I think it's a valid technique to educate supporters to a higher level of credibility. If it is genuine in its purpose, it may be a bit misguided. Support for Rummy isn't front-page or primetime material outside FNC. It's certainly not going to quell continued questioning of Rummy. If anything, it's greatest utility is amongst the retired military community, fueling internal debate to perhaps distract those calling for resignation. Sure, it may make Clark's ambition a bit more obvious, but won't tackle the larger PR goal. This is on the front page because it's another distinct example of the administration appropriating "facts" to justify the handling of the war.

3:10 PM  
Blogger roscoe p coldchain said...

I think this whole situation is very revealing and shows the general mess that the administration has made in Iraq, et al. When ex-generals speak out against their superiors, it means something is seriously wrong, as it is a huge breach of protocal to do so.

This makes it tough for the DOD to respond, as it is not a situation that they are accustomed to dealing with. Having to "leverage third party support" from within your own ranks also shows a sad state.

They should probably just court martial the ex-generals. Just kidding, but they actually could!

2:25 PM  

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