Most American progressives agree that a U.S. ‘preventive’ strike on Iran, nuclear or not, would be stupid, and self-destructive, as well as immoral and illegal under international law. Our challenge right now is to help foster broader public support for diplomacy, not war. So how should we talk to the media and mainstream public about it? Right now too much of the country (and Congress) are being rapidly herded down the path to another, even more crazy war.
When the public is frightened and can’t flee, they get ready to fight. So we need something quick and powerful to open a gap in that train of thought–a little emotional shock, a moment of slight emotional hesitation. Our first step has to be a powerful ‘surface frame’ or sound bite–a ‘media wedge.’ A good media wedge makes people stop and wonder —‘what’s that?’ ‘what does that mean?’– it gives our talking points a chance to get heard. It also signals something about the direction our talking points will go. And in the case of a hot current issue, it has to have its own ‘internal hook’ or link to the current debate.
So the ‘wedge’ I am recommending on this issue right now is: the ‘cool it’ option. Or for the policy wonk crowd: the ‘cool and contain’ option. These two media wedges are clearly hooked to the phrase ‘all options on the table’ that politicians of all stripes are using right now in regard to Iran. It’s the phrase Professor Lakoff has just deconstructed as being in fact nothing but a naked nuclear threat. Our ‘cool it’ wedges are also familiar colloquial language and evoke other successful tension defusings, such as the peaceful end of the Cold War.
In the dialogue these sound bites can evoke, all the talking points that fit these frames can follow. For example, we might want to start with current signs of motion toward a positive outcome: how we have just been sitting down with Iran and Syria re the Iraq issue. So ‘cooling it’ is already a real potential. Another place we have just cooled it is North Korea. It’s clear that carrots worked better than sticks in that situation also.
Moreover, important experts and national figures have called for ‘cooling it.’ The prestigious and bipartisan Iraq Study Group has strongly recommended direct negotiations with Iran over the other issues we have with them too. (We might add here that most people do not know that the U.S. has been refusing to talk to Iran for about 28 years.) Iran has also just recently hosted a broadly representative delegation of American and British religious leaders there. There is a report on this visit and the religious leaders’ recommendations on the highly respected FCNL website at www.fcnl.org.
Responding to all of this widespread expert worry about what our reckless administration might do next re Iran, Senator Webb has also just introduced S759, expressly forbidding the administration to attack Iran without Congressional approval.
Next, in our talking points sequence, we could shift gears and talk about the Iranian people themselves. All of our worried experts–political and religious leaders–know that Iran is very different from Iraq:
- it’s much more of a democracy,
- many Iranian citizens are very unhappy with the current president, who does not have the ultimate power ours has, and it showed in their last election
- Iran has a pro-American middle class and street
- we’d be much better off encouraging those folks to oust their hothead president themselves
So it would be self-destructive and crazy to ‘total’ their country the way we did Iraq, and it won’t work to our advantage in Iran either. We’ll have another failure on our hands. We can change course on Iran too.
Leading with ‘the cool it option,’ or the ‚Äòcool and contain’ option invokes our national memory of other successful outcomes from diplomacy and restraint. Americans love success — let’s remind them how to get it again.
Susan C. Strong, Ph.D, is Executive Director and Founder of the Metaphor Project: www.metaphorproject.org The Metaphor Project helps activists learn to mainstream their messages by evoking the best American values. This piece was first given as a talk on March 10, at the Emergency Summit to Prevent War with Iran, at the University of California, Berkeley.