NEWARK, N.J., Dec. 9 (UPI) -- "This war is brought to you by the folks at Hill and Knowlton." It's more of a fact than a joke.
The Bush administration has hired a former advertising executive to sell America's coming war with Iraq to the Arabs, in an effort to convince the Arabs that a war against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is not a war against Islam.
So far, the campaign is not faring well. Support in the Arab world for an American invasion of Iraq is virtually non-existent. It's not that Arabs see an invasion as a war against Islam but rather as a war against the Arabs. Many Arabs believe that the United States wants to occupy Iraq to make it easier to promote its policy in the Middle East. That policy, as far as the Arab world is concerned, is unconditional support for Israel.
The current Bush administration has been far clumsier at selling the idea of an invasion of Iraq than the previous Bush administration a decade ago, despite its use of advertising experts. The last war, in fact, was sold to the American people by Hill and Knowlton, the giant Washington public relations firm with close connections to the Bush administrations, past and present.
It was Hill and Knowlton that coached the daughter of a Kuwaiti ambassador for her appearance before a congressional committee in 1990. The ambassador's daughter testified falsely to Iraqi cruelty, with a story of Iraqi troops taking babies from incubators and leaving them to die on a hospital floor. That story was used by President George Herbert Walker Bush, father of the current chief executive, to arouse American public opinion in support of war against Iraq.
Hill and Knowlton also carefully coached another supposed witness to the same event, who spoke before the U.N. Security Council. She was the wife of the information minister of Kuwait and had not been in Kuwait when Iraq invaded the country.
Hill and Knowlton put together tapes supposedly smuggled out of Kuwait showing other examples of cruelty by the Iraqis. The firm interviewed Kuwaiti refugees who had made their way to Saudi Arabia, selected those whose stories were most likely to appeal to the American public, and videotaped their tales of Iraqi atrocities. Along with scenes edited from videotape brought out by refugees, these stories were released to the news media, who were happy to take anything they could get given the severe restrictions the American military had placed on news gathering. Television networks played the tapes without questioning their veracity.
I interviewed several refugees following their videotaped sessions with the public relations firm, at the border crossing between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Some admitted to me that they had lied about what they saw, and that they had been coached about what to say. They said they did this to help their country.
Most of what the American public saw or read during the buildup for the Iraqi invasion, was misinformation contrived by a Washington public relations firm to sell the Iraqi war to America.
No one disputes the cruel and barbaric behavior of the Iraqis during their occupation of Kuwait. What is disturbing about all this is that we cannot trust the administration to tell us the truth about the reasons for invading Iraq now. The administration has been caught in several lies already.
For example, there is no proof that the Sept. 11, 2001 hijackers met with Saddam's agents before they came to the United States, as the administration claims. There is no evidence that Iraq was, or is, very close to developing nuclear weapons. In truth, we are not being told anything that would justify war with Iraq, other than that Saddam is a monster who brutally rules the Iraqi people. I think we already knew that, and we have known it for a very long time. We knew it during the 1980s, when the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush actively promoted warm, supportive relations with Saddam.
The current president repeatedly points to the fact that Saddam gassed his own people. At the time Saddam gassed the Kurds in 1988 the United States was supporting Iraq in the war against Iran. We had a large number of military advisors in the country. The United States made no secret of its support for Iraq against Iran. I was in Baghdad at the time and I saw dozens of American military advisors as I worked around the city and countryside.
The United States did not attempt to stop Saddam or even censor him in 1988, when Ronald Reagan was president, for this truly evil act. Now, a decade and a half later, after having endured his psychotic behavior repeatedly, we decide he is to be brought to task.
Why now? Just tell us please.
-- Morgan Strong is a former professor of Middle Eastern History at SUNY Poughkeepsie, and an adviser to "60 Minutes" and other programs on the Middle East.
-- Outside View commentaries are written for UPI by outside writers who specialize in issues of public interest.