The anti-war movement hit the streets of Washington Saturday, when tens of thousands gathered on the Mall to protest President Bush's plan to increase U.S. troop levels in Iraq. Now a veterans group is taking the same message to the airwaves.
VoteVets.org, a political action committee that backed Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans turned candidates critical of the war during the 2006 midterm elections, unveiled a national ad campaign against the so-called surge today. The organization, which recently helped found Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, spent an initial $500,000 to air a 30-second spot on CNN that features several Iraq war veterans voicing their opposition to the president's plan.
In the ad, the veterans list groups, including "two-thirds of the American people," who oppose the president and imply that Bush stands nearly alone in his support for escalation in Iraq. Toward the end of the spot, a visibly maimed veteran tells viewers, "If you support escalation, you don't support the troops."
That statement appears to be a response to recent criticisms launched by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Vice President Dick Cheney and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman (I/D), who told "FOX News Sunday" this week that a Senate resolution opposing the surge "will discourage our troops, who we're asking to carry out this new plan, and it will encourage the enemy."
"For too many years, those of us who advocate a responsible use of our military, and thus have spoken against the President's failed Iraq policy, have been falsely tagged as against the troops by the Bush Administration, neo-conservatives, and their cronies," Gen. Wesley Clark wrote in an e-mail to VoteVets.org supporters this week. Clark, a member of the organization's board of advisers, argued that the new ad "makes it crystal clear -- opposing the President's escalation of the war in Iraq means you are supporting the troops."
In addition to the nationwide buy on CNN, VoteVets.org is also running ads that specifically target GOP Sens. Richard Lugar in Indiana, John Sununu and Judd Gregg in New Hampshire and John Warner in Virginia. Lugar and Sununu both voted against bringing a non-binding, bipartisan resolution opposing the surge to the Senate floor for debate last week. This week, the Senate Armed Services Committee is poised to consider another, less forceful non-binding resolution sponsored by Warner.
"There are a few Senators who keep saying that they're against escalation," VoteVets.org founder Jon Soltz said in an e-mail, "but they haven't voted that way, or are indicating that they won't vote that way, so their words are meaningless." Soltz, an Iraq war veteran, strongly backs the resolution sponsored by Sens. Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.
VoteVets.org may not be trying to sway the targeted senators' votes so much as put them on notice as the 2008 election cycle approaches. Sununu, for one, is considered vulnerable, and is being eyed by national Democrats. Soltz hinted at that strategy in a recent HuffingtonPost.com column, writing that if senators who "do not change their vote on the floor to support this resolution, VoteVets.org, with your help, will ensure they are never elected to office again."