Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s joyous announcement yesterday that his country has sped ahead in its nuclear development and "…has joined the nuclear countries of the world" may not have been the smartest thing to say if he’s interested in self preservation.
In our positioning and media training sessions, we often talk about "…the message being sent by the speaker is not always the one that is being received by the listener." For example, when Richard Nixon went on national television at the height of the Watergate crisis in order to reassure Americans that all was well, he uttered the now infamous statement, "…your president is not a crook." Talk about a poor choice of words. It immediately undid everything else the beleaguered president was trying to accomplish in that night’s speech and planted the seed of doubt in many previously supportive voters. Clearly, the message he intended to send was not the one American listeners heard.
Returning to the white hot issue of Iranian nuclear development, I wonder what President Ahmadinejad’s speechwriters must have been thinking when they crafted such provocative phrasing? Obviously, they wanted their man to "stand tall" in the Islamic world and be seen as a bulwark against perceived American imperialism. And, I’m sure the speech did just that.
But, at the same time, how must it have been received at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Based upon the current administration’s war record, Ahmadinejad’s comments had to have been the political equivalent of waving a red flag at a bull or pouring gasoline on fire. This group definitely doesn’t need much prodding to pull the trigger. Which, in some perverse, unknown way, might be what the Iranian leader wants anyway. Martyrdom, after all, is a very big deal in the Islamic faith.
If a regime change in Tehran is the ultimate outcome of yesterday’s inflammatory speech, I can tell you one thing: we won’t be interviewing any newly-unemployed Ahmadinejad speechwriters anytime soon. And that’s one message that should be unequivocal to the listener.