Kuwait’s ‘Thank You America’ PR Campaign a Grave Mistake

Published June 21st, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Jon Pattee 

Senior English Editor 

Albawaba.com 

 

Americans, it has been said, are suckers for children. No one knows this better than Kuwait's public relations strategists. 

Just check out www.kuwaitthanksamerica.org, the Kuwait Information Office’s web page thanking the US for liberating the Gulf state from Iraqi troops 10 years ago. The brief message reads: "Kuwait Thanks the American People...For Our Families, For Our Freedom, For Our Future." 

The site’s two flag-waving children also paraded their gratitude through leading US papers and magazines this spring, while the KIO underwrote US National Public Radio programming aimed at reaching “intellectuals.” 

PR. It’s one way of saying “thanks.” 

Money. It’s another way. Just last week, Kuwait’s semi-monopoly telecom firm arranged a $270 million expansion agreement with Motorola. 

It was just the latest Kuwaiti deal with US firms. In weapons purchases alone, the Gulf state has racked up a roughly $5 billion tab with the US since 1993. 

In fact, money and PR spin the world – been doing it ever since the Gulf War, when $11.5 million of the Kuwaitis’ petrodollars helped buy US public opinion, and a war to “liberate” their villas. 

How? Apparently distrustful of Americans’ eagerness to send their kids to war, the oil-rich sheikhs funneled millions to US PR firm Hill and Knowlton via Citizens for a Free Kuwait.  

Justice Department documents show that 119 H&K staffers in 12 offices mounted an enormous campaign for the supposedly grassroots “citizens” coalition, which according to O’Dwyer’s PR Daily was run by the exiled Kuwaiti royal family. 

H&K staff also coached Kuwaiti hospital volunteer ‘Nayirah’ in her testimony to Congressmen about Iraqi soldiers taking babies out of incubators and leaving them to die on a cold floor, according to several sources, including the Colombia Journalism Review.  

Even Amnesty International, which later issued an embarrassing retraction, initially bought the incubator babies story. Bush senior repeated it countless times, and in a letter to campuses across America he thundered that “there’s no horror that could make this a more obvious example of good vs. evil.” 

But apparently all this PR was not enough. One CJR article reveals that during the congressional debate on approving military action in the Gulf, H&K’s US operations chief, Robert Gray, sent a memo to Citizens for a Free Kuwait warning of the “lessening of the US public’s enthusiasm for pursuing a military operation” and calling for more atrocity charges from “eyewitnesses,” a term he put in quotation marks.  

Prior to the actual vote, six pro-war senators made specific references to the cooked-up incubator babies in their speeches. A 52-47 tally put America at war.  

But as it turned out later, ‘Nayirah’ was actually the Kuwaiti ambassador’s daughter, and the incubator babies were, in the words of Middle East Watch investigators, “a complete hoax.” 

 

Two hundred and ninety-three Americans gave their lives in the Gulf War - none of them, presumably, from Hill and Knowlton.  

Ten years later, the big contracts are rolling in, and Kuwait is rolling out yet another PR campaign. Thank you, America.  

But more PR campaigns are, perhaps, a grave mistake. Next time, the KIO might be better advised to say it with flowers. Two hundred and ninety-three floral arrangements, to be exact. 

Thank you, Kuwait. Thank you, Hill and Knowlton.

© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)


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