Gen. David Petraeus' report on Iraq may have provided some political cover for Republican lawmakers who had been reluctant to continue supporting the war, but if President Bush hoped the popular general could calm the political maelstrom in Washington, he's been sorely disappointed. The past week has seen a rash of ads concerning Iraq as each side seizes on the reopened debate to state their case.
MoveOn.org Political Action's full-page ad [PDF] in the New York Times last Monday attacking Petraeus quickly brought condemnation from Republicans and a rebuttal ad from The well-funded conservative group Freedom's Watch weighed in with a TV spot calling on Democratic leaders to condemn MoveOn, and bought airtime after Bush's address on Thursday night to air his own views on the conflict. Meanwhile, thousands of demonstrators marched down Pennsylvania Avenue this weekend in Washington to protest the war.
And the debate still looks far from over as MoveOn is releasing a pair of new TV spots this week that repeat and expand on the charges leveled in the Petraeus print ad. "A Betrayal Of Trust" focuses on Bush's announcement last week that he would order a small drawdown of troops in Iraq by summer 2008, a move that largely failed to mollify congressional Democrats.
The 30-second spot, which debuted Monday, argues that the reduction of troop levels reflects nothing more than a return to pre-surge strength. "George Bush sent in 30,000 more troops," the ad says. "Now he's making a big deal about pulling out -- you guessed it -- 30,000." The spot asserts that Americans elected an anti-war Congress to bring the troops home, and Bush's refusal to do so therefore amounts to "a betrayal of trust."
While the theme of betrayal echoes that of last week's print ad -- which referred to Petraeus as "General Betray Us" -- the shift in focus from a military leader to an unpopular president should defuse some of the controversy drummed up by the Times ad. MoveOn denies that the outrage expressed by Freedom's Watch and other conservative organizations prompted the change of targets, maintaining that the spot is part of a prearranged campaign centered around Petraeus' report.
The same cannot be said of MoveOn's second ad of the week, "Giuliani AWOL," which debuts in Iowa today and responds to Giuliani's criticisms by attacking the former New York City mayor for leaving the Iraq Study Group.
Using the by-now familiar strategy of tying Republican candidates to the president and the Iraq war, the ad opens with a shot of Giuliani and Bush smiling together as an announcer says, "Rudy Giuliani has always been a big fan of George Bush's war in Iraq." The spot goes on to charge Giuliani with abdicating his position on the panel in order to give paid speeches. Like the group's other new ad, "Giuliani AWOL" ends by accusing the candidate of "a betrayal of trust."
Thus far, Giuliani's campaign has brushed off the attack from MoveOn, calling it a "badge of honor" -- a point pro-war GOP primary voters probably agree with. Giuliani has instead focused his energies on Sen. (D), attacking her in his first Web ad for expressing skepticism about Petraeus' testimony. Clinton's team has branded Giuliani's Times rebuttal the "first negative ad" of the campaign cycle.
MoveOn, meanwhile, is already planning more spots on the "betrayal of trust" theme, and the ad war over the real war doesn't look likely to end soon.