TOPICS > Politics

Advocates Launch Iraq War Ad Campaigns

August 24, 2007 at 6:15 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: The much-anticipated progress report from Army General David Petraeus won’t be released for several weeks, but pro- and anti-war groups in the United States are busy framing the debate in their own terms, regardless of what Petraeus’ report says.

This week, a group calling itself Freedom’s Watch, made up of former White House aides and Republican fundraisers, launched a $15 million, five-week advertising campaign. It targets lawmakers whose support of President Bush’s war strategy may be wavering. The ads — on local and cable TV, radio and the Internet — will run in at least 20 states, many featuring wounded war veterans calling for Congress to stay the course in Iraq.

According to media reports, those being pressured include three senators, Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Pete Domenici of New Mexico, and George Voinovich of Ohio.

Many of the elected officials targeted by Freedom’s Watch have been singled out for months by anti-war interests, as well. After the president announced his surge strategy back in January, the group Americans Against Escalation in Iraq launched a $12 million ad campaign, running over 50 ads in almost 35 states. This month, they recruited field organizers in 15 states to set up public protests of the war, targeting 40 Republicans in the House and the Senate.

Well, to start, we are joined first by Brad Blakeman. He is president of Freedom’s Watch, the newly formed group running ads in support of the war.

Brad Blakeman, thank you very much for joining us.

BRAD BLAKEMAN, Freedom’s Watch: Thank you.

Urging Americans not to surrender

Bradley Blakeman
Freedom's Watch
What we're saying is surrender is not an option.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You are spending, what, $15 million, some 20 states, because you're worried that Republican support for the war is falling away?

BRADLEY BLAKEMAN: No, not at all. What we're doing is we're giving voice to those people, ordinary people, Americans, who have either lost somebody in the war or have served and been injured themselves. There's no editorializing in our advertising. It's their own words.

And the only mention of Freedom's Watch, Judy, is to tell the American people who paid for it and to urge people, if you agree with the advertisements, then to call your congressperson. We're not singling out in our ads anyone by name; that is not our intent.

These ads are what they are, and they're for everyone to see. And we hope that this will be a way of adding something to the debate, instead of cutting and running, we're not saying stay the course. What we're saying is surrender is not an option. And moreover, Judy, don't switch your votes for political reasons. This is too important.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But your goal then, isn't it, to influence especially Republican members of Congress to stick with the president on the war?

BRADLEY BLAKEMAN: Judy, we are running these ads nationwide. They're running in Republican and Democratic districts. And a fair reading of these ads by anyone will see we're not targeting anyone by name. We haven't singled out anybody.

But what we will do is we'll give the American people the facts that there's another side of this story, and that is that Americans should not cut and run. We don't surrender in America. And switching votes for political reasons is not the way to go, and it will only embolden our enemies to do us further harm, and our allies.

Faith in Gen. Petraeus

Bradley Blakeman
Freedom's Watch
Give [Gen. Petraeus] the opportunity to give his views, to tell the American people the way it is. This is not a politician; this is a general who Congress gave the authority to lead this war.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does something like the announcement by Senator John Warner yesterday, the veteran Republican senator, urging the president to begin to pull troops out this fall, does that hurt your cause?

BRADLEY BLAKEMAN: Well, it hurts the cause of freedom and giving the Iraqis the opportunity to stand on their feet. You know, General Petraeus was almost unanimously confirmed, so why prejudge what he's going to say on September 11th? Give him the opportunity to give his views, to tell the American people the way it is. This is not a politician; this is a general who Congress gave the authority to lead this war.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Brad Blakeman, I want to ask you now to take a look at an ad that's been running paid for by the group Americans Against Escalation in Iraq. This is a group supported by labor unions and some liberal groups. Let's take a look.

AD NARRATOR: Mitch McConnell has supported Bush's endless war in Iraq for four years. Now Bush's general says we have to stay there for 10 more.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, Commander, U.S. Forces in Iraq: The average counterinsurgency is somewhere around a 9- or a 10-year endeavor.

AD NARRATOR: Where are we going to get the troops to stay that long? The draft.

LT. GEN DOUGLAS LUTE, U.S. Army: I think it makes sense to certainly consider it. This has always been an option on the table.

AD NARRATOR: Tell Mitch McConnell to end this war. Paid for by the Campaign to Defend America.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now that's what the other side is saying. What do you say to that?

BRADLEY BLAKEMAN: I say that a fair reading of that ad is a scare tactic. It's there to scare the American people that somehow we don't have the wherewithal, the staying power, and we don't have the men and women to prosecute this war, and that's just plain false.

They try and scare the American people that there will be a draft. That's not so. The president is not thinking of a draft, nor is Congress, and certainly not Pentagon. And by a Pentagon official saying that all options are on the table, of course all options are on the table. What if we were attacked again? What if the war was escalated? What if they went and attacked another country?

So the military is telling you the way it is. Of course every option is on the table. Why wouldn't it be, in defense of this country?

JUDY WOODRUFF: You are spending, your group, we're told, what, $15 million?

BRADLEY BLAKEMAN: Over the next five weeks, yes.

Spending on ads to support the war

JUDY WOODRUFF: So are you roughly do you believe on a par with those who want to see the war come to an end, in terms of what they're spending?

BRADLEY BLAKEMAN: Well, Judy, the enemy, our opposition, has told you that there's going to be an Iraqi summer. The summer's almost over. There hasn't been the opposition they threatened. And I'll tell you this: They're not spending the money that they initially told you they would spend because they don't have it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How much do you think they are spending?

BRADLEY BLAKEMAN: Well, they're spending a lot less than the $12 million that they alleged to have spent so far and what they told you they were going to spend in this Iraqi summer that never developed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we are going to hear from a spokesman from their group, from And by the way, I want to ask you, Brad Blakeman, we had asked you to appear with Tom Matzzie of, and you declined to do so. And I'm just curious about why that is.

BRADLEY BLAKEMAN: Well, first of all, I don't put our organization on a par, and we don't have anything in common with or their affiliates, certainly don't believe that they're a credible group, as we are. So I am not going to share a discussion with a group that I, quite frankly, don't take seriously, and I think the American people in a fair reading of their information will say that they are incredible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we had hoped at this moment to hear the other side from Tom Matzzie, but I'm told that the signal is not good right now and we're not able to go there. So our apologies to Mr. Matzzie.

And, Brad Blakeman, I guess we'll wrap it up with that.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you very much.