The above points are all classed as a “False Crisis”. They are not an actual crisis yet. This type implies that a crisis exists when it does not. Quite often they’re an exaggeration or simply not true at all. This is the most common form of the tactic. However, the very serious and ruthless tactician often ensures a genuine crisis is discovered or created.
For example: An unethical politician, whose political ticket to be elected a city mayor is “Anti-Crime / Safer Streets”, might be tempted to ensure that there was significant civil unrest in the weeks leading up to the election. In short, the creation of a “Real Crisis”. Can this be done? Yes – quite easily. The release of some clearly racist pamphlets in the appropriate part of the city could swiftly trigger race riots. A power failure in a deprived area would stimulate looting. A few drive-by shootings in a wealthy suburb would create panic – some wounded lawyers or actors would be best. The “surprise” discovery of an “allegedly” hidden report that claimed violence was actually up 50% would make front page news. And … there are plenty of worse things that could be done too.
A real example of how this tactic might have been used is the 2003 Iraq war. The USA and Britain wanted to remove Saddam Hussein from power. A crisis was needed and generated. The existence, and devastating threat, of WMD’s (weapons of mass destruction) suddenly gripped the media. Saddam had them for sure – everyone was in danger. War was approved!
U.S. President George W. Bush declared the objective of the invasion was “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.” (Wikipedia 2007)
Well, Saddam fell, the region was destablised and surprise, surprise – no weapons of mass destruction were ever found. Interestingly, both Tony Blair (Prime Minister of Britain) and George Bush (President of the USA) survived the revelation. Was it tactical? You’ll have to make up your own mind.
A third way to use a crisis is to wait for one to happen and then be prepared to capitalize on it. This is known as an “Opportunistic Crisis”. This is a political favourite as the tactician need not cross-the-line into what is currently accepted as unethical behaviour. Also, they probably won’t have to wait too long.
Why does this common tactic work so often? People respond differently when faced with a crisis and often make quick and over reactive decisions. Fear is an important factor. On the surface, this is not unexpected as a crisis usually requires rapid action. A burning building, a terrorism threat and even negative accusations in the press all require a speedy response. The emergency services can’t afford the time to have a three day workshop to discuss the problem of the burning building and create team consensus about how to fight the fire. They have to act immediately if life and property is to be saved. It is for this reason that many companies even establish a crisis management team.
It seems to be part of human nature that the majority of people dislike being involved in a crisis even though those same humans tend to be fascinated by the same subject if it is happening far away and is no direct threat to them.
From a tactical point of view, the creation of a crisis can be a powerful tool to manipulate opinion but a word of caution, use it too often and people will start resisting or recognizing what you’re doing. Once that happens, your reputation is gone forever. Most importantly, train yourself to recognise this tactic when it is being used. It really is everywhere – just read today’s newspaper.