From pictures of Kuwaiti civilians maimed by Iraqi soldiers to descriptions of captive Americans groveling for food in a far off desert, the images of Iraq's misdeeds in the Persian Gulf are important weapons in an all-out public relations battle Kuwait is fighting to convince Americans its cause is worth dying for.
To help in that battle, Kuwait -- like the Angolan rebels, the East European reformists and virtually every other international group seeking to influence American public opinion -- has employed an image maker.
With its vast resources and the imprimatur of the United States government, Kuwait has hired seven firms to work on its behalf, among them, Hill & Knowlton Inc., one of this country's largest public relations firms.
The high-priced New York organization was hired shortly after the Iraqi invasion by a group of exiled Kuwaitis.
Calling out its big guns, such as Craig L. Fuller, chief of staff to George Bush when he was vice president, Hill & Knowlton has conducted a hard-sell of the Kuwaiti position that is designed to overcome the public's lack of knowledge about the Persian Gulf and to show that a moderate response to the conflict would not suffice.
Starting with a press blitz by the Kuwaiti ambassador in Washington, Hill & Knowlton has helped organize lunches for journalists, a congressional hearing on Iraqi atrocities and advertisements in The Washington Post, the New York Times and USA Today.
It also has spread to an eager American press letters from hostages and sagas of tortured Kuwaitis. "The Kuwaitis aren't accustomed to being out front," said Frank Mankiewicz, a former campaign manager for George McGovern, who is helping direct the Kuwaiti portfolio at Hill & Knowlton. "So we have fielded some media calls and given them some advice."
With the United Nations Security Council vote expected today on a resolution authorizing the use of force to oust Iraq from Kuwait, the public relations campaign is coming to a climax. "I think so far we've done rather well in getting our point across," Kuwaiti Ambassador Saud Nasir Sabah said in an interview. "The major question now is what are we going to do about it."
The run-up to the vote has brought a flurry of media events. In Washington on Monday, with nine television cameras rolling in front of him, the finance minister of Kuwait told a National Press Club luncheon about the rape of Kuwaiti women and mass shooting of Kuwaiti civilians.
In New York on Tuesday, Kuwaiti refugees were brought before the U.N. Security Council to tell of similar atrocities. "Every day now we are organizing at least 20 speeches and other activities," according to Samir Hawana, a spokesman for Citizens for a Free Kuwait. That organization, staffed by 13 Kuwaiti exile volunteers, hired Hill & Knowlton.
Iraq has not hired a public relations company since the intervention. Instead it has sought to use its own U.S.-based diplomats, journalists and businessmen in its lobbying.
The bill for Kuwait's public relations effort has been high. One study commissioned by Citizens for a Free Kuwait on international views of the crisis cost about $400,000, according to a spokesman for the Wirthlin Group, the Washington-area public research organization that conducted it. One ad in the New York Times cost $43,000. Samir declined to say how much Citizens for a Free Kuwait is spending on public relations, but said that most of its funds come from wealthy Kuwaitis who are in exile in Western Europe.
Saudi Arabia has shouldered its share of the lobby efforts. A glossy 28-page booklet about King Faud of Saudi Arabia and his strongly pro-American views was distributed to members of Congress and journalists a few weeks after the Iraqi invastion. Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi ambassador to the United States, also has emerged as a strong, articulate spokesman for his country's interests and those of Kuwait.
The fact that U.S. public opinion has run strongly against Iraq from the beginning has made the task easier. Fred Dutton, a longtime Washington lobbyist for Saudi Arabia, said that the main goal of Kuwait's public relations campaign was twofold: to demonstrate that the United States is a welcome defender in the Persian Gulf and not a superpower flexing its muscles; and to convince Americans that the Kuwaiti cause needs urgent action.
Kuwait did have some significant image problems at the beginning of the crisis, however, and Hill & Knowlton attacked them quickly. One difficulty is the impression, still strongly held in the United States, that the Kuwaitis are fleeing for Western Europe and the United States, leaving American troops to shed blood on their behalf. In early September, Hill & Knowlton organized press briefings with a Kuwaiti freedom fighter who gave accounts of how the resistance is being organized by Kuwaiti military leaders. "When the war starts, you can be sure that Kuwaiti blood will be the first to be shed," Samir of Citizens for a Free Kuwait said in an interview.
To combat the view of Kuwait as an undemocratic, feudal society, Kuwaiti spokesmen have stressed that their country in 1962 adopted a constitution based, in part, on the U.S. Constitution. To combat an impression that the hostages held in Kuwait were not in imminent danger, Hill & Knowlton helped disseminate to the American media letters that were written by hostages and smuggled out of Kuwait detailing their miserable conditions.
In response to the view that the United States was alone in its enthusiastic support of Kuwait, the Wirthlin Group conducted a poll on views of the crisis in 11 cities, from Mexico City to Tokyo. The poll showed that backing for Kuwait's position was strongly held in all of the cities, according to the Wirthlin Group.
It was Citizens for a Free Kuwait that helped organize an Oct. 10 congressional hearing in which Americans who had fled from Kuwait described in detail the crimes that Iraqis have committed. "After that," a Kuwaiti spokesman said, "we started getting a lot of good press and calls from volunteers."
For all of their successes, the image makers behind Kuwait are still aware of some stereotypes that linger. Samir complained that Americans still think that all Kuwaitis are rich and wear robes, for instance. "I think that too much weight is given to the fact that Kuwait is not as democratic as we are," Mankiewicz said. "What country is?"