A government courier is en route to Baghdad today with President Bush's eight-minute message to the people of Iraq following a diplomatic minuet at the State Department in which the Iraqi ambassador refused to accept the box of tapes during a made-for-television exchange.
The eight-minute film of Bush, made in the Oval Office Wednesday, was to be given yesterday to Ambassador Mohamed Mashat by Acting Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger. The news media were invited to record the handoff.
With the cameras rolling, Mashat fended off the box of tapes and informed Eagleburger he should use the normal diplomatic practice of having U.S. diplomats in Baghdad deliver the tapes to Iraqi officials.
Eagleburger said yesterday the point of the exercise was to get a public commitment from Mashat to show the unedited film, which the White House has dubbed the "let-him-eat-his-words film," to the Iraqi people. Mashat provided that commitment. "We are going to broadcast it in prime time," he said, adding it would be broadcast in "its entirety."
The Bush administration has given the government of Iraq five days to broadcast the tape before it releases copies worldwide. White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said earlier this week that in the tape Bush emphasizes that the United States has no quarrel with the people of Iraq, only its government, for invading a neighboring country, Kuwait, and threatening another, Saudi Arabia.
Fitzwater said Bush's videotaped message steers clear of any direct attack on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Other officials said, however, that in one segment of the tape, Bush, standing in front of his desk in the Oval Office, picks up a piece of paper and reads a segment of a speech Saddam gave in 1980. In that speech, the Iraqi leader said no Arab country should threaten another Arab country and that if such an act occurred, the Arab nations should join together to repulse it.
The technique of embarrassing someone with his own words is common in American political campaign commercials. One official said the administration "did what we do in a campaign: opposition research. It's so much more effective to make someone eat their own words than to just stand there and attack them."
Officials are split on whether they believe the tape will ever air in Iraq. But White House officials seem content with the propaganda war, reasoning that regardless of whether Iraq broadcasts the tape, it will be seen worldwide. The administration put the eight-minute address on a dozen different kinds of tapes so that virtually any nation with television, regardless of its technology or equipment, will be able to air the message. Four or five of the different tapes were in the box for Iraq because the administration wants to avoid being told its tape does not fit Iraq's technical requirements.