Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Selling the War Invoked a Buying Frenzy But Was the Product Shoddy?

This short documentary was made two years ago, and offers a good introduction to my post on the enormous public relations campaign used to sell Canadians on the War in Afghanistan.

Rick Hillier certainly changed the way we saw our military and our new combat role. When he first showed up on Paul Martin's doorstep with maps and a plan, he was a man ... literally ... on a mission.

According to Billy Schiller in the Toronto Star, Hillier used this March 21, 2005 meeting with then prime minister Martin and his 12-person inner circle, to convince his government to send "a battle group of at least 1,000 soldiers" to the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. He saw it as a way to improve Canada's armed forces and their reputation worldwide.

We were no longer peacekeepers. We were fighters, or as Hillier put it 'killers.'

And he made no secret of how he felt about the people he was determined to kill. They were "detestable murderers" and "scumbags." When Jack Layton called his remarks "disconcerting", he was accused of trying to "bestow the most ennobled status on the Taliban---that of victim."

You were with him or against him. Now where have we heard that before?

It's no accident that the Support the Troops campaign was such a success though. Those three words had a proven track record, and that's because of another three words: Hill and Knowlton.

I remember when Stephen Harper introduced his first cabinet, feeling some alarm at who he named as his minister of defense. Gordon O'Connor was a career military man, but he was also a lobbyist. And not just any lobbyist, but a lobbyist for military contracts with the ad agency Hill & Knowlton.

I wrote a letter to the editor of my local paper at the time, questioning this appointment. Hill & Knowlton did not have the best reputation of it's handling of wars. Although I suppose, the word 'best' would depend on who you asked. If you were the CEO of a company that wanted military contracts, they absolutely were. And in terms of falsely legitimizing war, they were also the best.

But promoting peace, good governance or the rule of law? Nope. There is one reason and one reason only to go to war . Money. And if you need a firm who could increase your fortunes through war; H & K was that firm.

How PR Sold the War in the Persian Gulf

Hill & Knowlton, then the world's largest PR firm, served as mastermind for the Kuwaiti campaign. Its activities alone would have constituted the largest foreign-funded campaign ever aimed at manipulating American public opinion. By law, the Foreign Agents Registration Act should have exposed this propaganda campaign to the American people, but the Justice Department chose not to enforce it. Nine days after Saddam's army marched into Kuwait, the Emir's government agreed to fund a contract under which Hill & Knowlton would represent "Citizens for a Free Kuwait," a classic PR front group designed to hide the real role of the Kuwaiti government and its collusion with the Bush administration. Over the next six months, the Kuwaiti government channeled $11.9 million dollars to Citizens for a Free Kuwait, whose only other funding totalled $17,861 from 78 individuals. Virtually all of CFK's budget - $10.8 million - went to Hill & Knowlton in the form of fees.

The man running Hill & Knowlton's Washington office was Craig Fuller, one of Bush's closest friends and inside political advisors. The news media never bothered to examine Fuller's role until after the war had ended, but if America's editors had read the PR trade press, they might have noticed this announcement, published in O'Dwyer's PR Services before the fighting began: "Craig L. Fuller, chief of staff to Bush when he was vice-president, has been on the Kuwaiti account at Hill & Knowlton since the first day.

... "Hill & Knowlton . . . has assumed a role in world affairs unprecedented for a PR firm. H&K has employed a stunning variety of opinion-forming devices and techniques to help keep US opinion on the side of the Kuwaitis. . . . The techniques range from full-scale press conferences showing torture and other abuses by the Iraqis to the distribution of tens of thousands of 'Free Kuwait' T-shirts and bumper stickers at college campuses across the US."

Documents filed with the US Department of Justice showed that 119 H&K executives in 12 offices across the US were overseeing the Kuwait account. "The firm's activities, as listed in its report to the Justice Department, included arranging media interviews for visiting Kuwaitis, setting up observances such as National Free Kuwait Day, National Prayer Day (for Kuwait), and National Student Information Day, organizing public rallies, releasing hostage letters to the media, distributing news releases and information kits, contacting politicians at all levels, and producing a nightly radio show in Arabic from Saudi Arabia,"

Oh and that yellow ribbon campaign?

How Bush Sr. Sold The Bombing Of Iraq

Hill & Knowlton's yellow ribbon campaign to whip up support for "our" troops, which followed their orchestration of Nayirah's phony "incubator" testimony, was a public relations masterpiece. The claim that satellite photos revealed that Iraq had troops poised to strike Saudi Arabia was also fabricated by the PR firm. Hill & Knowlton was paid between $12 million (as reported two years later on "60 Minutes") and $20 million (as reported on "20/20") for "services rendered." The group fronting the money? Citizens for a Free Kuwait, a phony "human rights agency" set up and funded entirely by Kuwait's emirocracy to promote its interests in the U.S.

So while the narrator of the video above may have fancied that General Rick Hiller was a public relations guru; it was not without the help of a highly successful yellow ribbon campaign that made a lot of money for a lot of people.

This doesn't mean that I don't support our troops, but remember when Hillier was going around waving the flag, attracting his throngs? He was not acting honourably in Afghanistan. If the reports from the Wall Street Journal are true, he may already be named in an international investigation into war crimes.

Will that be his legacy? Will it be ours? If our prime minister and some members of his cabinet don't smarten up and allow an investigation into the Afghan Detainee issue, it very well could be.

Because that's how they support the troops, by hiding behind them.

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