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MAF: Winning the hearts and minds
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By Victor Kamber
President of Coalition Services for Carmen Group Inc.

First it was “shock and awe.” Saddam was toppled, but rampaging insurgents denied Iraqis the stable democratic government promised them. After months of furious fighting, experts agreed a military victory was unlikely, that there had to be a political solution.
With much fanfare, Iraqis voted until their thumbs turned blue, and in a triumph of democracy elected a truly representative government of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. They, of course, hate each other, intensifying a raging civil war and ruling out a political solution.
What to do? “Move America Forward,” formed in 2004 to support the president’s Iraqi war policy, recalled that about the only good news coming out of Iraq was PR generated by the Rendon Group, paid millions by the Pentagon to generate “feel good” stories about the American occupation. With a September deadline fast approaching for Gen. David Petraeus to report to Congress, why not a Rendon-like PR “surge” here at home?
 It’s in the works. MAF has announced it will launch a nationwide caravan Sept. 3-17 to win hearts and minds. MAF says the caravan will feature pro-troop rallies that will be attended by “thousands upon thousands of patriotic Americans.”
This is what we in PR call an “astroturf” campaign as opposed to a genuine “grassroots” effort to win public support for a cause or issue. Even the most vocal critics of the Iraq war support our troops and consider themselves “patriotic Americans” likely to attend “pro-troop” rallies. Such events attempt to distort, not reflect, public opinion about the war. They are as flawed and meaningless as “push” polls that ask when the opposition candidate quit beating his wife.
 For the record, a recent NY Times/CBS survey found that two-thirds of those polled said that the war is “going badly” and that “the U.S. should reduce its forces in Iraq or remove them altogether.” A Washington Post/ABC poll reported that “by a large margin, Americans trust Democrats rather than the president to find a solution to a conflict that remains enormously unpopular.”
MAF’s key players have strong ties to GOP wing-nuts. Chairwoman Melanie Morgan gained notoriety in 2006 when she suggested that NY Times editor Bill Keller be executed for treason. His crime? Reporting on the US government spying on American citizens.
 The caravan for MAF rallies will wind up in DC after stops in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso, Waco, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Wichita, Kansas City, Des Moines, Chicago, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and, of course, Crawford, Texas.
The Pentagon is so pleased with PR’s contribution to the Iraqi war effort that it recently enlisted the help of Madison Avenue. A marketing study recommended “rebranding.” Instead of the “force” brand, the study argues a more effective brand might have been “We will help you.”
Think of that! At last the Iraqis will be exposed to a message familiar to generations of Americans: “I’m from the federal government and I’m here to help you.”
It should be noted that Congress is calling for a probe of the Rendon Group.  Something about what role it played in “communicating false information and shaping the news accounts justifying the war in Iraq.”

Kamber is president of the Coalition Services for Carmen Group.

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