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Grassroots Groups Seek to Influence Iraq Policy

May 8, 2007 at 6:10 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: As congressional leaders struggle to reach agreement with the Bush administration over war funding, they’re feeling outside pressure from a wide range of sources.

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), Illinois: There isn’t a member across the ideological, the entire spectrum, geographic or ideological in our district, who isn’t getting pressure from their constituents.

PROTESTORS: Money for jobs and education! Not for war and occupation!

JUDY WOODRUFF: And many of the constituents have organized. The Democrats’ anti-war flank has raised the volume on their demands that the party move to end the war now.

PROTESTORS: We want our troops home now, General Petraeus.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Republicans, meanwhile, want to avoid having to defend an unpopular war into another election cycle. Their leaders are now considering their own deadline, this September, as the limit of their tolerance if the president’s surge plan does not succeed.

REP. ROY BLUNT (R), Minority Whip: Clearly, no one would expect us to pursue a plan that wasn’t working, and so that September time frame is one that’s important. And we’ve been talking about it as an important time frame, as has the president and General Petraeus.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This political drama is playing out as the two parties continue to debate what conditions, if any, should be attached to the revised version of a $124 billion war funding bill that President Bush vetoed last week.

The money is needed to fund military operations through October. And in an effort to get it to the president’s desk by Memorial Day, Democrats have agreed to remove the president’s major objection: a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal.

But that has brought an angry response from MoveOn.org’s Tom Matzzie, who represents three million active members. He said, if Democrats passed a bill without a timeline and with all five months of funding, MoveOn will move to a position of opposition.

It is unclear whether Democratic leaders consider the threat. But today they announced that their next bill would provide just a third of the funding the president originally requested and for only two months, through July. The remaining funding would be released in August, if the Bush administration is able to report that the Iraqi government has made sufficient political progress.

Illinois Democrat Rahm Emanuel.

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), Illinois: … there will constantly be a relationship between the resources and the new policy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: House Republicans, as they have for weeks, today argued for a funding bill with no contingencies. And Florida’s Adam Putnam scoffed at the Democrats’ monthly funding proposal.

REP. ADAM PUTNAM (R), Florida: We do not fund wars incrementally 60 days at a time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The House plan now is scheduled for a vote on Thursday. And assuming Democrats maintain the majorities they have had in several previous war votes, the plan should pass. But it could be dead on arrival in the Senate, where the Democrats, with just a one-seat majority, might need several Republican votes to pass the measure.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Democrats should not count on it.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader: I think I’m safe in saying there is minimal to no enthusiasm among Republican senators for that proposal.

Trying to influence Iraq policy

Jon Soltz
VoteVets.org
It's broken the Army and the Marine Corps. And what we'd like to see is a responsible, strategic redeployment out of Iraq, so we can refocus on capturing and killing the people that attacked this country on 9/11.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senate leaders are expected to continue negotiations over the funding bill with White House officials tomorrow.

We just heard the position of MoveOn.org. That is just one of several groups actively trying to influence Iraq policy in the Congress. For more on these grassroots efforts, we're joined by two other activists. Melanie Morgan chairs Move America Forward, a nonprofit group that supports the troop surge in Iraq. She also hosts a radio talk program in San Francisco.

And Jon Soltz is co-founder and chair of VoteVets.org, an organization that supports redeployment of the troops from Iraq. He served as an Army captain in Iraq from May to September of 2003.

Before we get into the substance of the discussion, I want to ask both of you who your organization represents. Jon Soltz, VoteVets.org represents whom?

JON SOLTZ, Chair, VoteVets.org: Thank you, ma'am. VoteVets.org is the leading political organization in America of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. And not only do we represent thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, but we represent over 40,000 veterans and support our veterans across the nation.

And we're working as part of a much larger coalition, Americans against Escalation in Iraq, which represents many, you know, base organizations, the Center for American Progress, MoveOn.org, and so forth.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Melanie Morgan, Move America Forward, whom do you speak for?

MELANIE MORGAN, Chair, Move America Forward: Well, we have over a million people who belong to our organization, which is the largest pro-American, pro-troop organization in the United States. And we are a group that speaks loudly for the military families, Gold Star family members who still support the war, who still support the president, and our efforts to stabilize Iraq, and the global war on terror, which is even more important in the long term.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jon Soltz, what does VoteVets.org want to see happen in Iraq?

JON SOLTZ: Well, I think the first thing we need to talk about is, since we're actually Iraq war veterans, that we're the largest pro-troop organization in America that supports victory in the war on terror.

And basically, as you can see yesterday, I believe, Mr. Zawahiri, the number-two leader of al-Qaida, he wants us to stay in Iraq. We're strategically fixed there.

When I served in Kosovo in 2000, a lot of people liked President Bush because he said our military was overextended and spread too thin, with one brigade in Kosovo and 6,000 of our American troops. Now our guys in Iraq are over overextended 12 to 15 months; 90 percent of our security assets are caught between the Shia-Sunni religious war in Iraq.

And it's destroyed our ability to protect America. It's broken the Army and the Marine Corps. And what we'd like to see is a responsible, strategic redeployment out of Iraq, so we can refocus on capturing and killing the people that attacked this country on 9/11.

This president has empowered Iran, he has empowered our enemies in Iraq, and he's undermined our troops in the field. And we cannot support those policies.

Redeployment out of Iraq

Melanie Morgan
Move America Forward
I want the troops to stay until the job is done. And that will be determined by our generals who are running and prosecuting this war. When there have been political benchmarks that have been reached, when we have a stabilization.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So just to be clear, a strategic redeployment, does that mean all troops out of Iraq and by when?

JON SOLTZ: Well, it means we need to find a way out of Iraq, and that's why, obviously, we're supporting the Democratic plan. And we need to figure this out. It's more important than just troops in and troops out.

I mean, when I served in Kosovo, we had 40,000 troops to protect 200,000 Serbs. That was one troop for every five civilians. In Iraq, you've got 120,000 troops for over 26 million Iraqis. Adding 20,000 more is like spitting in the ocean.

So it's a little more complex than in or out, but we want to get out of Iraq. And we need to do it with a diplomatic surge. And that's what President Bush, he's got to step up to the plate, and he's got to negotiate directly with Iran and Syria.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Melanie Morgan, Move America Forward, what do you want to see happen in Iraq?

MELANIE MORGAN: I want to see victory, and apparently the Democrats don't, because otherwise why would you possibly conceive of funding a war in six-month increments? I would like to see Congressman Rahm Emanuel explain that plan or whatever it is that he seems to be proposing, along with commander-in-chief Nancy Pelosi, to our troops directly, to their face.

Tell them that they are failing, that they have a failed, miserable performance, that they are losing. I'd like to see Mr. Soltz say that to the troops in the field, as well. I don't think that you would get that exact same opinion from them, nor from the millions of other Americans who wish for us...

JON SOLTZ: We are the troops.

MELANIE MORGAN: ... to succeed, to find a strategy that will work, to give it time to work, to be patient, and to win.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I'm going to have Mr. Soltz respond to that, but, just to be clear, you're saying you want the troops to stay how long?

MELANIE MORGAN: I want the troops to stay until the job is done. And that will be determined by our generals who are running and prosecuting this war.

When there have been political benchmarks that have been reached, when we have a stabilization -- I have often said, we've already won the war in Iraq. We have not won the peace. And that is the difficult job.

The Iraqi army is working very hard to accomplish that. We are working very hard with them. We have attained many of the benchmarks already that the president set out when we invaded Iraq. We have deposed President Saddam Hussein. He's now dead. We have a democrat, freely elected government in place, and we are trying now to secure that peace. And that is the difficult and grinding slog that we face.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jon Soltz, what do you have to say to that?

JON SOLTZ: Well, we are the troops. And there was nothing worse than when I was in combat in Iraq and a soldier that I sent on a convoy was killed, and I had to hear my president, the man who never had the courage to serve in Vietnam, entice my enemy with words like, "Bring it on."

MELANIE MORGAN: Oh, please!

JON SOLTZ: So this is a very important thing. This week, VoteVets.org is launching a major massive campaign component, or not campaign, but an education of sorts, where we're running commercials across the country. And we're not just using Iraq war veterans. We're having General Batiste, the commander of the First Infantry Division in Iraq.

Of course, President Bush says he listens to the commanders on the ground, but General Batiste, going in to four different states, where there's four different senators, and House districts across the entire country, saying, "Mr. President, you don't listen to the commanders in the field. You've put our Army and our Marine Corps in peril."

And it's up to these senators to protect America, and not George Bush. And that's what this is about. This is about victory against al-Qaida.

MELANIE MORGAN: No, this is exactly what it's about, Mr. Soltz.

JON SOLTZ: We are a pro-troop organization. We fought for this country...

MELANIE MORGAN: We are a pro-troop organization, as well.

JON SOLTZ: ... and we do not support -- excuse me, ma'am. Excuse me.

MELANIE MORGAN: What it is about for you is political games.

Holding Congress accountable

John Soltz
VoteVets.Org
We have the hearts and will of over 65 percent of the American people, the Iraq Study Group, the 45 percent of the troops who have served in our military that don't support George Bush's war in Iraq, and they have the 36 percent that do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to let each one of you speak. So, Mr. Soltz, finish that sentence, and then I want to hear...

JON SOLTZ: Yes, ma'am. I have fought for this country, and I have earned my right for you to hear my opinion on this show.

So here is the bottom line. The bottom line here is that what this is about in the next two weeks isn't about these mysterious bills we keep hearing speculating about, short leashes. This is about holding accountable and moving senators and moving members of the House to not stand with the president, because they're two-faced.

They say to you, when you go to their office, "We're with you. We're against the president and the escalation," but yet they vote for a stay-the-course, anti-al-Qaida-defeating policy. And that's what we're here to fix. Get our troops out of Iraq so we can fight the war on terror.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ms. Morgan, how are you attempting right now to influence members of Congress?

MELANIE MORGAN: Judy, what we're doing right now is pointing out on television and across the country -- and we've held hundreds of rallies. We have aired over two dozen commercials. And we are unveiling a new commercial coming up this Friday, and it is called "The Choice is Clear."

We make it powerfully and visually apparent to everybody that, if we don't win in Iraq, we are going to lose America. It's that simple.

And let me also say that I certainly would hope that the Democrats, if they're planning their strategy meetings with people like Mr. Soltz and MoveOn.org, others who are meeting daily in telephone conference calls, which we are not, by the way, on our side, that al-Qaida is listening to their results, as well.

And I would really hope that they could put that energy into defeating the enemy rather than to accommodate some sort of political score, some sort of game to them to win elections in '08. And that's what we are doing.

We are doing rallies, e-mails. We have a complete strategy in place. And we will fight organizations like VoteVet.org and MoveOn.org. We don't have the millions of dollars in funding that George Soros has given them, but we have the hearts and will of American people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mr. Soltz, respond, and I want to know which senators and others you're targeting. Can you just give us a few names?

JON SOLTZ: Yes, ma'am. We have the hearts and will of over 65 percent of the American people, the Iraq Study Group, the 45 percent of the troops who have served in our military that don't support George Bush's war in Iraq, and they have the 36 percent that do. So the polls and we have that support.

But, you know, the issue is that they want to support this nation- building policy. So this week, we're rolling ads out in Minnesota targeting Senator Coleman. We're running ads in New Hampshire targeting Senator Sununu, Virginia, Senator Warner, and also in House districts across the country, along with Susan Collins in Maine.

But she's right. I couldn't agree with her more. Al-Qaida is listening, and that's the entire point. And al-Qaida supports their policy. They have undermined our troops in field. They've empowered Iran.

Al-Qaida said it two days ago. They want us in Iraq. They've strategically fixed our assets to defeat them in the war on terror inside the middle of a Shia-Sunni conflict in the middle of the Middle East. And it's absolutely ridiculous.

MELANIE MORGAN: Well, it's nice to know that you really believe in the fearsome firepower of al-Qaida and in their ability to win a war. And I think what you're saying is shameful and really disrespectful to our troops.

JON SOLTZ: You're undermining our troops in the field right now by these comments...

JON SOLTZ: I am the troops.

Republicans to weigh Iraq progress

Melanie Morgan
Move America Forward
Much like MoveOn.org, our side, on the right, those who support the troops and support their mission and victory in Iraq, will be watching their votes. Any Republicans who waver whatsoever, we will be targeting them, as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I need to ask Ms. Morgan a question. I need to ask Ms. Morgan a question, and that is the development over the last day or so, where we now have the Republican leadership saying that they are looking at the fall, and even today, I believe, we had Senator McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, say they're looking even at late summer and saying, if there's progress or not in Iraq, and that will determine what they do going forward.

MELANIE MORGAN: Well, I would just want to send a message to all of the congressional representatives and the senators. Much like MoveOn.org, our side, on the right, those who support the troops and support their mission and victory in Iraq, will be watching their votes. Any Republicans who waver whatsoever, we will be targeting them, as well.

This is a long-term war. And I'm sorry that Mr. Soltz doesn't seem to understand that we can't snap our fingers and be out of Iraq tomorrow. There's nobody who wants our men and women, our sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters back immediately.

But we are paying attention. We will raise the money, a dollar at a time, and we will continue to roll out our ads and take out newspaper columns. We will write our congressmen and our representatives, and we will be just as active, energized and engaged as those on the leftist, anti-American, anti-war side. And you can count on it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mr. Soltz, just quickly...

JON SOLTZ: I think she's exactly right. She better spend her money on the Republicans, because they're fracturing real quick, because they can't stand with a president who's like an anchor on their policy. So, Ms. Morgan, spend your money on the right, because we're playing offense, not defense. And we've got the Republicans...

MELANIE MORGAN: We're spending money for our troops and to support their mission...

JON SOLTZ: Yes, you know what? See, we are the troops. That's why this bill that the Republicans voted against, they voted against $25 million to clean...

MELANIE MORGAN: You keep saying that like it's some sort of...

JON SOLTZ: ... $350 million for Walter Reed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We're going to have to leave it there. Mr. Soltz, Ms. Morgan, we thank you both. I think we get a sense of the depth of the feelings on both sides...

JON SOLTZ: Thank you, ma'am. Appreciate it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: ... of this important debate. Thank you both. We appreciate you joining us.

JON SOLTZ: Thank you. My pleasure.

MELANIE MORGAN: Thank you.