Assault on the Serbs: Clinton team launches a TV offensive

Persuading America
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The Independent Online
THE SECRETARY of State was on CBS, her deputy was on Fox, the National Security Adviser was on ABC, the Defense Secretary and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of the armed forces were on NBC and CNN.

Yesterday, as on every day since Nato military action in Yugoslavia began, the United states administration packed the airwaves with its most senior and loyal officials to drum home the message: our action is just; we have an overriding humanitarian purpose that we are sticking to; the greater purpose is to prevent the conflict in Kosovo escalating into a regional conflagration; our engagement is incontrovertibly in the US national interest.

President Bill Clinton is often described as a permanent campaigner and his administration embarked on its coordinated justification for US military involvement over Kosovo in the manner of an all-out political operation, mobilising all the people and means at its disposal.

In the first three days, the Defense Secretary, William Cohen was on television eight times; the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright - who is said to have argued most strongly for military action - appeared seven times and the National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, who is perhaps the least eloquent of the security team, was seen three times.

Early last week, Mr Clinton heeded calls from advisers to prepare a largely ignorant, but also divided, American public not only for action, but for the risk of US losses. Some experts and academics ridiculed his first effort - a planned speech to local government trade union representatives that he turned into a folksy lecture that could have been entitled "Where is Kosovo and why it matters" - but many in his audience found it effective.

On Wednesday, within minutes of the announcement from Nato that bombing had begun, Mr Clinton was on television to make his announcement to the American people. That evening, he broadcast again, giving a sharper and more refined version of his "Where is Kosovo" lecture, complete with map and pointer.

On Thursday, he was seen in working mode, surrounded by his security team, and spoke briefly to reporters, stressing the humanitarian aspect of Nato action. Both Mr Clinton and Ms Albright - she speaking in Serbo- Croat - recorded television appeals for satellite broadcast to the Balkans. Mr Clinton's appeal was also dubbed into Russian.

Subsequently, Mr Clinton has taken a lower profile, reportedly to convey the message that the Nato mission is a long-term one.

While the Administration's publicity campaign has been energetic and comprehensive, it has been greatly assisted by the lack of vocal opposition to the action so far, either from politicians or from the public. Even now, the public appears largely uninterested in events in Yugoslavia, although that could rapidly change.

Perhaps the most unhappy constituency are reporters, because actual information imparted has been limited. US reporters in Washington have grown increasingly critical of the quality of information being imparted by the White House and the Pentagon. Especially irksome to them is that their colleagues in Europe have been better and more promptly briefed than they have.