Yesterday, July 20, 2006, Saddam Hussein offered a handwritten letter to the citizens of the United States. As he states in the letter, it was prompted by his attorney, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark. Here is the letter.
I am going to comment from a crisis management and reputation management standpoint. Hussein is in crisis I would say. And in the worst possible spot in a crisis in that his credibility has been destroyed. That’s always the first rule in crisis management and reputation management–never let your credibility be damaged. Because once you do, you have a very difficult time communicating in a way that anyone will believe or take you seriously.
Nevertheless, this is an interesting attempt at persuasion.
Saints, sinners and saveables. Audiences can normally be divided into these categories. And here is a good case in point. His frequent complaints about Bush lying, about the dishonesty of the American government, about the undemocratic way he is being treated, about American violence (prisoners killed by American investigators) will not fall on completely deaf ears. The more the hearer is in the “sinner” category from the Bush administration perspective, the more credible Hussein’s words will be. The more one is inclined toward the Bush perspective, the less credible. That’s why communicators normally appeal to the saveables. The problem here is that Hussein does not at all appeal to the saveables because he gives no credence whatsover to another perspective, nor does he give even the slightest nod to the saveables perspective on him and his credibility.
For example, his complaints about American violence, bad democracy, the poor innocent Iraqi population, etc. fall on mostly deaf ears because of what is well known what he did. Where is the recognition of his faults? Where is the admission of errors. Now his lawyer of course would not allow him to do that. And so his lawyer, the esteemed Mr Clark who prompted this letter, has put Mr Hussein in a ridiculous spot. To defend himself he has to charge his enemy with the very same things that he has already been accused, tried and deemed guilty of in the court of public opinion. Mr Clark, what were you thinking?
If Hussein and Clark did think it was in his best interests to try to redeem his reputation, a much better strategy would be to have someone else speak on his behalf. Someone whom the American saveables would have respect for, who it would be surprising to see speak on behalf of the defendant, and who would recognize and admit that terrible deeds were done. No excuses. No rationalizing. Just admissions. From that platform, the complaints against him and his people would be more acceptable–not necessarily compelling, but more acceptable.
One thing the letter has going for it is a sense of authenticity and humanity. In that regard it is pretty compelling. It reminds me of Pres Reagan’s appeal to the USSR leader, Breshnev I believe, when he asked why are they treating us an enemy when we did not attack them when we could and have done nothing to show willingness to destroy them. It’s humanity and personality was a huge part of its effectiveness. Hussein wrote this letter himself. That makes it highly interesting and immediately we can, to a very limited degree, see and understand that there is a human being behind these words. If onely the human being were not so self-obssessed, so unremorseful, so self-important, so accusatory, so ignorant of American ideals and perspectives. The fact that all this comes through in a way makes it more compelling, but does not make his message more effective.
Would love to hear your thoughts. Should the letter have been written at all? Was it at all effective? What should have Ramsey Clark advised his client to help rebuild his reputation? And is it a worthwhile enterprise?
– saitns sinners and saveables
– Ramsey Clark
– appeals to decency, democracy, American violence hollow with his reputation
– where is the mea culpa