November 20, 2005

The 'Rendon Group'?

Not exactly a household name, is it?

But the Rendon Group is the PR firm that turned the pathetic Iraqi National Congress and convicted embezzler Ahmad Chalabi into important actors in the events leading up to the invasion of Iraq, and almost got Chalabi the Iraqi presidency. And it was the firm that engineered a PR campaign on behalf of the Kuwaiti government that helped convince the US public that the first Gulf War was necessary. And it did the PR work to create a political climate in which the US could invade Panama and depose then-president Manuel Noriega.

And, not least of all, the Rendon Group is the PR firm that has helped Dubya's administration to manipulate news coverage in the US and world press.

Rolling Stone [of all places] has an excellent report by James Bamford that outlines the history of this behind-the-scenes player that's been so important in the last 15 years or so of US political history.

Rendon's involvement in the campaign to oust Saddam Hussein began ... 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....

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. Working through an organization called Citizens for a Free 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."

You can find more info on the the Rendon Group here at Wikipedia and at here at Source Watch.

In These Times had an excellent story in 2003 on the Rendon Group's role in selling Dubya's invasion of Iraq. You can read it here.

More: Bamford's story obviously hit where it hurt. The Rendon Group has sent a letter to Rolling Stone, complaining about 'the many mistakes' in the Bamford article. You might want to go read it yourself and decide who you think is telling the truth.

Still more: Over at War and Piece, Laura Rozen has some interesting comments on Rendon's letter to Rolling Stone.

Posted by Magpie at November 20, 2005 12:10 AM | Propaganda | Technorati links |