Sunday, December 04, 2005

Behind the Scenes

In an article in Rolling Stone magazine about the "man who sold the war", I found this passage to be quite an eye-opener...

Rendon's involvement in the campaign to oust Saddam Hussein began seven months later, in July 1990. Rendon had taken time out for a vacation -- a long train ride across Scotland -- when he received an urgent call. "Soldiers are massing at the border outside of Kuwait," he was told. At the airport, he watched the beginning of the Iraqi invasion on television. Winging toward Washington in the first-class cabin of a Pan Am 747, Rendon spent the entire flight scratching an outline of his ideas in longhand on a yellow legal pad.

"I wrote a memo about what the Kuwaitis were going to face, and I based it on our experience in Panama and the experience of the Free French operation in World War II," Rendon says. "This was something that they needed to see and hear, and that was my whole intent. Go over, tell the Kuwaitis, 'Here's what you've got -- here's some observations, here's some recommendations, live long and prosper.'"

Back in Washington, Rendon immediately called Hamilton Jordan, the former chief of staff to President Carter and an old friend from his Democratic Party days. "He put me in touch with the Saudis, the Saudis put me in touch with the Kuwaitis and then I went over and had a meeting with the Kuwaitis," Rendon recalls. "And by the time I landed back in the United States, I got a phone call saying, 'Can you come back? We want you to do what's in the memo.'"

What the Kuwaitis wanted was help in selling a war of liberation to the American government -- and the American public. Rendon proposed a massive "perception management" campaign designed to convince the world of the need to join forces to rescue Kuwait. The Kuwaiti government in exile agreed to pay Rendon $100,000 a month for his assistance.

To coordinate the operation, Rendon opened an office in London. Once the Gulf War began, he remained extremely busy trying to prevent the American press from reporting on the dark side of the Kuwaiti government, an autocratic oil-tocracy ruled by a family of wealthy sheiks. When newspapers began reporting that many Kuwaitis were actually living it up in nightclubs in Cairo as Americans were dying in the Kuwaiti sand, the Rendon Group quickly counterattacked. Almost instantly, a wave of articles began appearing telling the story of grateful Kuwaitis mailing 20,000 personally signed valentines to American troops on the front lines, all arranged by Rendon.

Rendon also set up an elaborate television and radio network, and developed programming that was beamed into Kuwait from Taif, Saudi Arabia. "It was important that the Kuwaitis in occupied Kuwait understood that the rest of the world was doing something," he says. Each night, Rendon's troops in London produced a script and sent it via microwave to Taif, ensuring that the "news" beamed into Kuwait reflected a sufficiently pro-American line.

When it comes to staging a war, few things are left to chance. After Iraq withdrew from Kuwait, it was Rendon's responsibility to make the victory march look like the flag-waving liberation of France after World War II. "Did you ever stop to wonder," he later remarked, "how the people of Kuwait City, after being held hostage for seven long and painful months, were able to get hand-held American -- and, for that matter, the flags of other coalition countries?" After a pause, he added, "Well, you now know the answer. That was one of my jobs then."

Well I'll be damned!! As someone who stayed in Kuwait during the brutal occupation and the subsequent war of liberation, I've always been puzzled to this day by a couple of things:

  1. How come the CNN signal was so strong, especially when the war actually started?
  2. Where DID those flags come from?

Well now I know...

A few thoughts on the passage quoted above:

  • I'm not comparing the legitimate 1991 war to liberate Kuwait with the events leading up to the 2003 war in Iraq. I will leave that to the pundits and historians, as it's anyone's guess whether Iraq is actually better off today.
  • Can anyone verify the 20,000 signed valentines sent to US troops? This is the first time I hear about this.
  • I know some Kuwaitis were actually living it up in Cairo while we were struggling with the occupation, but did it actually make the foreign press? والله فشلة
  • I don't personally see anything wrong with hiring a "perception consultant" to improve a country's image abroad. It's a necessary evil and something I've been advocating for some time. How do you think Dubai got to where it is now?


  1. Interesting to read about the "technicalities" of war! There's a profession for everything, and an opportunity for everybody.

    I'm not surprised though, as i can understand how tough it was to gain support from congress. Every single "yay" voter had to convince his base about his vote on the war. So it must have been professionally done.

    Excellent find, Z.

  2. Thanks Jandeef... I actually read the article on the plane from Miami and thought it was perfect for the blog ;-)

  3. Excellent article Z, thanks for sharing.

  4. خوش مقالة
    أذكر الأعلام يوم التحرير و أذكر انه كانوا يوزعون الأعلام بالمسيرات

    و أذكر بعد التحرير بالمدارس عطونا بوست كاردز صفرة وحدة حق بوش و اليو أن و مادري منو

    و سالفة الكوتيين و الدسكوات عادية , أذكر مرة قعدت مع واحد قالي الكويتي الي ما راح دسكوات العراق بالغزو طافه نص عمره! يقول لين الحرب الجوية و اهو مطيح بالبارات و الدسكوات بالعراق

    شخصيا رحت الامارات بعد الغزو و شفت حال الكوتيين بدبي و الشارقة , صراحة كانوا يفشلون , صج صج كانوا نفس الزلمات يوصخون العمارات الي ساكنين فيها و يكسرون الليتات و من الشقة فوق يحذفون تفاخيات ماي على الي يمرون تحت و هلم جرا

    سوري طلعت برة السالفة بس ذكريات

  5. I am curious to know where Palestinians and hezbolla get their Israeli flags (which are illegal to have)... they always have some ready to burn :P

  6. واجب أن أعترف اننا هنا حاولنا الترفيه عن أنفسنا أثناء الإحتلال، وحتى ذهبنا إلى حفلة أقيمت ليلة رأس السنة هنا في الكويت... لكن ذلك كان من باب التنفيس ولأننا لم نكن نعلم إذا كنا سنموت في الحرب أم لا

  7. dear kila ma6goog
    انت شايف فايدة من تسمية الاخوة الفلسطينيين بالزلمات؟ شايفها عاديه؟ انك تطلق عليهم لقب غير محبب مثل هذا؟
    مثل الزلمات يعني انت قاعد تسوي ستيريو تايبنغ لكل الاخوة الفلسطينيين على انهم ناس مؤذيين و ما يحترمون الضيافة و ما عندهم حس النظافة

    جدا غير مقبولة هالسالفة

  8. thanx for the information wishes to the next articles zeyad...take care!

  9. great article zaydoun thanks for sharin it with us.a

  10. الأهل إلي كانوا بأمريكا بعثوا كرتون بسكوت مشكل صنع منزلي للجنود بالجبهة :-)
    الإعلانات المذكورة كانت تقوم بها هيئه إسمها:
    Citizens for Free Kuwait
    كانوا يوزعون باجات وستكرات و دبابيس
    أتذكر بأوائل ???? أصدروا كتاب إسمه:
    The Rape of Kuwait

    بالنسبة للجماعة إلي كانوا بره الديره ويفشلون، أتذكر إني شاهدت مقطع لديان سوير أيام الحرب راحت قابلت جماعة منهم بالقاهرة، واحد منهم قال لها: بتكلميني كلميني عن الديسكو و بس
    أحد الصحف هناك علقت حول الموضوع:
    To Kuwaitis, the liberation of Kuwait is just another party!

    ذكر لي أحدهم إن عدد من اللاجئين بالمملكة العربية السعودية تم تخصيص مجمع لهم تم الإنتهاء من إنشائه ذاك الصيف لسكن سكان المملكة - يعني جديد بالكامل. ما صار الصيف إلي بعده إلا و المجمع كان محتاج ترميم و إعادة إنشاء - قرأت في أحد الكتب إن هواية الأطفال المفضلة هناك كانت اللعب بالمصاعد الكهربائية - صاعد/نازل

    بالنسبة للأعلام، كان عندنا بالبيت شوية أعلام من مناسبات سابقة كالإحتفال بتجديد تمثال الحرية، وايد أبرك من ذاك إلي شق له علم من تي-شيرت مادري بيجامة :-))

  11. Nice article Zaydoun..
    During the war i was in Egypt. I was young but i still remember many (not all) Kuwaities spending hell of a time in night clubs & enjoying hourse riding in the pyrimads area.
    An Egyptian magazine (I think it was RoseAlyousef) published a caracater of a Kuwaiti man holding a glass of wine in one hand, The Kuwaiti flag on the other and a girl sitting on his lap, saying :"Al7amdillah, 3indina floos o mo nagi9na illa albalad".

  12. Yeah Zaydoun that news about livin it up did make it to the int. press..
    As for the PR machine that was put to work at the time, they teach it in Poli Sci and Media classes at college..there are long references to the way 'propaganda'(term used in the textbooks) was used to successfully sell an otherwise unpopular war back then...the selling of that war is one of the most famous examples in the 20th's all about image, otherwise why would any person agree to lay his life on the line for a country he never heard of before.

  13. Dear Zaydoun:

    Very interesting post, especially considering that John Rendon seems to be selling himself and taking quite a liberal interpretation of history.

    I know Rendon pretty well, and I recall a number of his efforts at the time. Yes, the Rendon Group did have an important impact in helping some in Taif to formulate their thinking, but to say that he was a mastermind of this strategy is far-fetched. The policy of liberating Kuwait came directly from the minds of George Bush and Margaret Thatcher, with significant input from Brent Scowcroft and his staff. If you read Bob Woodward's "The Commanders," you'd see how frustrated Colin Powell (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time) was when, in the first week of the occupation, Bush declared: "This will not stand... This aggression on Kuwait." That statement, and the policy that surrounded it, were pushed directly from the Oval Office long before Rendon even signed his contract.

    The nightclub story unfortunately was used effectively against us, but it was really a 3-day story. ABC News, if I recall correctly, stationed a camera inside a Cairo disco and photographed Kuwaitis dancing the night away. The government responded quite quickly and very well that every society has its dilittentes and they followed up by showing Kuwaiti students who had volunteered to work with the US military.

    I never heard of the Valentines story. And even if it were true, that's a pretty stupid response to the story about the nightclubs. So much for $100,000 not well spent.

    Meanwhile, Nightline used to have regular interviews with a Kuwaiti resistance member from inside Kuwait, who provided outstanding reports on Kuwaitis' morale in Kuwait and what our brethren were doing to resist Iraqi troops. ABC identified him only as "Ali Salam." Only upon liberation did Nightline get a camera to him and he finally was identified as Shaikh Ali Salem Al-Ali. Other news organization clamored to get interviews with him, and Kuwait got hours' worth of airtime to make its case. Rendon had nothing to do with that.

    As for the emotions of Kuwaitis towards liberating troops, if Rendon claims credit for that, too, he might as well claim credit for making the sun rise. The affection that we Kuwaitis have for the allies remains real, and those flags came from the troops who brought them in with them.

    Rendon, along with many other consultants, probably provided important assistance, but to say that he sold the war to the US public is preposterous. You don't sell war like you sell soap. What sold the war was the Iraqis' bruitality.


  14. Salmawy... excellent comment and yes I do remember Ali Al-Salem's broadcasts very fondly, on the days when the TV signal was sort of clear that is...

    This guy Rendon seems like a shady character anyway, but I guess he meant that he supplied the troops with all the flags.

  15. Whether its Rendon or Hill&Knowlton (The White House PR consultant during the 90's), the point is the method followed to manage perceptions and project images .. Dubai spends millions on this .. I know cause i was part of the team ;)

    Z is absolutely correct...

    If Kuwait wants to bring itself back under the spotlight - it should consider investing in retaining a bunch of communications consultants along with a proper reputation management team: Preferably, an outsider, to see things the way outsiders do - as we always fall into the trap of looking at things from our own perspective, hence loose sight and create unnecessary misconceptions.

    I've been involved in developing several perception management strategies government/quasi government entities. Even got down and dirty executing tactics all over Dubai, Amman and Muscat.

    Some of them were a breeze but most of them were living nightmares! (3aqliyeh 7okomiyeh 3arabieh)

    One of the most crucial factors to the success of any reputation enhancement campaign is leadership buy-ins - meaning: reputation management means influence and involvements form the people with grande kojones. If you can't get the big boys to play ball, what ever you do will go down the drain.

    It also has to be a longterm plan. many perception management initiatives cause more damage than good because they are designed as short term plans.. This happens when the big guys measures effectiveness in how thick the press clipping report is.

    Changing minds is a product of projecting new ideas times the frequency of exposures. (the ancient advertising recipe).

    There are certain ideas/perception that you just can't change... thats why what ever objectives you set, they have to be doable..

    Reminded me with my stint as a communication's consultant for Microsoft.

    One of their senior guys told me: "We don't need to get more coverage for Microsoft .. we have enough"

    my answer was:"I know, your software security threats does that for me .. my job is to manage that coverage!"

    thats my $0.02 worth - apologies for the dull biz-lingo

  16. moryarti... CALL ME!!!

    Seriously... A bunch of us tried to get the ball rolling on a similar initiative a couple years ago but met with mostly blank stares and indifference. I doubt the thinking here has changed now.. But what you said could've been lifted from any number of conversations I had with various people, until I just ran out steam and gave up!

  17. Thanks, Zaydoun

    Uhh.. Ali Salem al Ali reporting for CNN on the bombaghdment heard in Kuwait City was a breeze of fresh air.

    (And I second NYChick)

  18. Very Interesting! Thanks Zaydoun ;o)

  19. Salam,

    Mark is still spewing his recist remarks,and for a start maybe people need to stop calling Palestinaians Zalamat and Indians rafeegs and Egyptions Sa3aydah and Kuwaitis yahood elkhaleej.
    Once people get outside the ignorance box things should start moving on.

  20. i was in sadui arabia , the saudi government gave some kuwaiti's a newly built building to live in , it was a part of a plan for make houseing for saudi ( اسكان) , which partly failed because most people don't want to live in a flat

    but the kuwait nearly destroyed the building , you had people pissin / taking a dump in the elivator and such

    about the PR campain , yeah kuawit spent money on that , at least it was spent on something to help kuwait , not the bags of money that was used in other stuff

    NYchick , i don't know , from what i know , sryians and some lebnanse use Zalamat as a name for all men they don't know, i was replacing my car tire and the guy working there said " ya zalama you can't fix it , you need to replace it "

  21. مقال يستحق الاهتمام
    فعلا الكويتيين اللي خارج الكويت فشلونا
    سمعت بعد التحرير في احد اسكان المملكة خرج بعض الكويتيين محملين معاهم ثلاجات وغسلات مملوكة للسكن
    أنا أعتقد اللي تركه بلده أيام الغزو مالم يكن معذور أو مصطاف فليس بغريب عليه هذه التصرفات
    وهذي ضريبة التجنيس العشوائي
    كويتي بالاسم فقط

  22. Zaydoun,
    I started getting into reading your blog, great job :-) I really thought the article and the comments on the article were enlightening.
    The only thing that bothered me was that people were reciting the issues that "fashilona". Ya3ni if others didn't know how embarassing some people's behavior was, NOW they do because of some of the comments. So embarassing...

  23. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  24. ZinZinQ8
    I'm one of those who said "Fasholna"
    What's wrong with that?
    One of our job as a community is to criticize our bad behaviors. Why are we so sensitive when it comes to criticizing our self? And why we are so afraid about what others might think about Kuwaitis?
    I recommend you to watch some U.S. media to see how aggressive they are when they criticize their own bad behaviors.

  25. ليس لي العادة ولا المقاقه للرد على التعليقات و الدخول في مهاترات بيزنطية و مزايدات مالها أي داعي
    , لكني مضطر هني اني أرد
    أعتقد أن تعليقي كان واضح و لم أذكر فيه الفلسطينيين أو غيرهم فمن أين أتيتي يا NYchik
    بكلمة فلسطن و لزقتيها بكلامي؟؟

    أنا قلت زلمات بدون تحديد انتي الي استنتجتي انهم فلسطينيين !!

    و الشكر الجزيل

  26. Well I live here so I have no choice but to watch American media so Im 100% with you on criticizing ourselves WHEN IT'S USEFUL. Talking about how some guys were dancing in bars while the rest of Kuwait was getting killed and tortured back home is useless and embarassing and it doesnt even represent Kuwaiti people because most weren't like that and didnt do those things. This is the same as the French talking about how a lot of French people collaobrated with the Germans when they invaded them. It's simply a black dot that serves no future purpose.

  27. zinzizn... it was mentioned in the Rolling Stone article, not just here

  28. Yes I realize but we don't need to corroborate it with more embarssing tales about kids and water balloons and what not.

  29. kila ma6goog
    اها يعني الزلمات الي قصدتهم كانوا شعب باربدوس

    اعذر لي جهلي

    و دخلتك في نقاش بيزنطي و " مهاترات" لاني اعترضت على كلمة في تعليقك و اشرت اليها

    لا يوبا كلش ولا ترد علينا( و انا ما طلبت رد) و تدخل في مهاترات

    بس ملاحظة صغيرة:
    انا ما كتبت "فلسطن"
    انا كتبت الاخوة الفلسطينيين
    من وين يبت كلمة فلسطن و لزقتها في كلامي؟

  30. zinzin... I see your point but remember it's only a discussion on some random blog, not broadcast on TV

  31. True dat. I still think your blog is the bomb zaydoun :-)

  32. reputation and a country's image is sooo important, personally sometimes i make up stories about kuwait to friends or exaggerate a little ( sometimes alot) just to feel good enjoy the envious looks in their eyes, i do it for me. i dont see anything wrong with creating plots just to make ur country and ur people feel special. If i can just do it as a job 3aaaaaa i will be soo happy. make me happier and let me have my office at home since im a stay at home mom until he goes to school ( full time breastfeeding mom and proud of it ;)

    laken e3lam el kuwait is not helping me on my mission, but if the government ever thought of investing in this project please count me in, im sooo good at it, just give me a couple of employees with the right skills and i willl run the project. people just love me and they fall in love with me from the first sight, give me some authority and i can make the world love us all !!

    about Kuwaitis abroad, fi facts o fi disturbing facts, o fi facts i dont want to hear o fi facts i chose not to believe. my husband always tells me that im living in a pink cocoon, well maybe the outside world is too ugly for me i chose to block certain facts, plus i get disturbed easily, it affects me o nafseeti tseer doodooo. there is this one story that breaks my heart: a close friend (i think he was 14 or less at the time of the invasion) told me about how his parents used to drink and how it hurt him to hear and see his mother and dad this way and he used to run away and throw rocks at parties because he hated to see his country in pain and people having fun, this story wayeddd takserrr kha6reee o t3awwer galbi bas it made him a better person, ya3ni law he didnt see these ugly pictures at this critical age chan sar shay thani. LAKEN ashwa ma sar erhabi o el mesee7yeen koffar, like another friend (used to be a close friend now he would say hi to my husband in soug but wouldnt even look at me) who even believe that killing Americans is jihad, because it hurt him as achild to see parents drinking and stuff,now his first shar6 for his wife is to be a met7ajba because his mom mo mt7jba, he is associating mo met7ajba with drinking poor thing allah eysame7 ahala.
    baby just woke up bye bye

  33. intresting post...

    Come support the brand new Kuwait forum @ SSC :

  34. Nevermind the OT responses, this is an interesting deep disussion of behind the scenes.

    We need to burrow deeper into anything relating to kuwait to see further than front of our noses.


Keep it clean, people!