A war of words is a special type of positioning duel. It focuses only on the subjective part of a position, that is, what a position means in terms of the future. A war of words is a psychological war in which one party is trying to get someone else to physcially change their position based upon the information communicated. Generally, all wars of words can be broken down into two types: threats and promises. These are future punishments and rewards for acting or stopping acting in a certain way.
Do wars of words ever work? Yes, all the time. Every commercial you see on television is based on the war of words. Generally, advertising promises rewards if you make the right choice while hinting at the punishment from making the wrong choice, but the process is subtle. Advertisers know that by pressing to hard they can push people away. The market is based on voluntary choices. A company cannot physically punish you for not buying their product. Advertising tries to reduce the risks of making the desired choice, often by lowering prices, as an enticement. It cannot raise the stakes by inreasing the threats of punishment for choosing a competing product.
In politics, however, where the coercion of force is always possible, the war of words has a different meaning. When Bush says that Iran's nuclear ambitions could result in World War III
, he is making a direct threat. This threat is either real or a bluff. However, it raises the stakes for both parties as a way of testing resolve and how strong (united) their position is.
If you have played poker or watched it on TV, you are familiar with the concept. Many times a player will call the bluff even when they hold a weak hand because they feel that they are being bluffed by a weaker hand. They have to respond to the pressure in some way. Until the "all in" committment is made, raising the stakes is simply jockeying for position testing resolve.
Right now, Iran, the US, Europe and the Russian are jockeying for position in the issue of nukes in Iran. They are testing each other's resolve. Russia's goal is the simplest: it simply want to increase tension to raise oil prices. For the other parties, the question is how "strong" they are. Of course, in using our rules,strength is a matter of unity. This offers a good demonstration. Will the US and Europe remain united on the issue of preventing a nuclear Iran even if it requires force? Will Amadinejad and the mullahs remain united as the theat of force grows.
As these threats get more real and imminent, both parties can raise the stakes until their strength, that is their internal support breaks down. If the other party backs down first, they look like genius's when they call the bluff, but if the threat is real, they look like fools.