WASHINGTON — Freedom's Watch, a conservative group with ties to the Bush administration, launched a multimillion dollar ad blitz Wednesday to pressure lawmakers wavering in their support of the Iraq war to stand strong behind President Bush and resist calls for withdrawal, a move the ads characterize as "surrender."
With this ad campaign, the newly formed nonprofit, which a spokesman said aspires to become a principal mouthpiece for conservative issues, seeks to energize the pro-surge segment of the population and demonstrate to members of Congress that a substantial number of Americans believe that victory in Iraq is not only possible, but essential to America's safety. The monthlong, $15 million television, radio and grassroots campaign is designed to compel lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to continue their support of the war. Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary and spokesman for the group, told USA Today: "We want to get the message to both Democrats and Republicans: Don't cut and run, fully fund the troops, and victory is the only objective."
The ads debuted in more than 20 states Wednesday as leading presidentialcandidates from both parties were delivering speeches about the war at the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention and as Bush was lashing out against critics of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In his own VFW address, the president tried to defend the conflict in Iraq as an ideological struggle, similar to those the United States faced in World War II and Vietnam.
Early August saw a slight bump in public support for the troop surge, and many analysts suggested that things might be going better on the ground in Iraq. However, a deadly bombing in northern Iraq, coupled with the government's failure to make any advancement on political reconciliation, have left Americans generally skeptical that victory is within reach.
In Freedom's Watch's ads, Americans who have made enormous personal sacrifices for the war on terrorism -- a wounded soldier, an amputee veteran, the mother of a slain soldier and the widow of an Iraq vet -- make emotional appeals urging viewers to contact their representatives and voice support for the war. Each ad repeats essentially the same message -- that, in the words of the war widow, "Surrender is not an option. Victory is America's only choice."
Lawmakers have been bombarded over the summer with conflicting messages on Iraq from groups on both ends of the political spectrum. For example, the Freedom's Watch pro-war blitz corresponds with a recent campaign launched by an advocacy group with the opposite purpose -- Americans Against Escalation in Iraq.
In response to the Freedom's Watch campaign, AAEI released a summary of which lawmakers are being targeted by the ads, with AAEI spokeswoman Moira Mack claiming that 90 percent of those under fire are the same Republican lawmakers who are being pressured by their constituents to bring the troops home.
Both members of Congress and presidential candidates have been working to tweak their messages on Iraq ahead of a potential turning point for the war -- Gen. David Petraeus' and Ambassador Ryan Crocker's progress reports, set to be delivered to Congress next month. Freedom's Watch has timed its advertising initiative to craft public opinion in advance of this ostensible climax on Capitol Hill and to turn up the heat on any GOP lawmakers contemplating jumping ship.
Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.