Freedom's Watch Strengthens Surge Efforts

Sustaining public opinion in time of war — especially this war — is not an easy proposition.  With the 2006 Democrat Congressional takeover, Iraq War supporters have been at a disadvantage. In response, they have formed organizations that provide a platform for their cause.

The latest in a series of public opinion support groups was unveiled Wednesday. Freedom’s Watch, a non profit corporation dedicated to a strong national defense and economic prosperity, launched four hard hitting pro-surge advertisements to kick things off.

According to a press release, their initial plan of action is “ensuring Congress continues to fully fund the troops with the ultimate goal of victory in the War on Terror.” The 30-second spots feature individuals who’ve been tragically affected by the War — including a widow with two children, a paralyzed veteran, a mother whose son was killed and a legless soldier — all speak for continued support of the surge.

The commercials, which will run for five weeks in 20 states on national and local cable stations, come at crucial time just after seven American soldiers currently deployed on the front lines in Iraq wrote a scathing op/ed in the New York Times, criticizing the surge and painting a picture of hopelessness. The recent report by Brookings Institute scholars Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack spurred a whirlwind of positive discussion on the effort in the month before Army Commander David Petraeus reports to Capitol Hill on how the strategy is working. In light of this positive spin came Sunday’s soldier-authored op/ed.

The Times piece has been the subject of too many political talk shows this week, including Hardball on MSNBC, where yesterday pro-surge Vets for Freedom Executive Director Pete Hegseth debated anti-Iraq war Founder Jon Solz on the commentary.

Freedom’s Watch plans to spend approximately $15 million on radio and television ads and other grassroots activities — that will likely counteract the negative op/ed reports. According to a Fox News report, Freedom’s Watch has paid for significant ad placement in Iowa and other battleground states. They boast an impressive list of supporters including former U.S. Ambassadors Anthony Gioia, Kevin Moley, Mel Sembler and Howard Leach. 

With this support, including that of Sheldon Adelson (who Forbes Magazine says is the third-richest man in America), and former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, Freedom’s Watch has a shot at having a real impact. According to a Wednesday New York Times editorial, Fleischer said Freedom’s Watch central message is this: “the war in Iraq can be won and Congress must not surrender.”

They join other organizations like Vets for Freedom, Appeal for Courage and The Victory Caucus, who consistently rally support for the troops through grassroots efforts.

Democrats have continually changed their position on the surge. Most recently, some have made positive comments, always hedging their bets. Sen. Hillary Clinton said in some areas, “particularly Al Anbar province, [the surge] is working.” And Rep. Dick Durbin (D-Il), a vehement opponent of the war, said the surge has “resulted in a reduction of violence” in Iraq. Democrats’ positions can be trusted to blow with the breeze. Freedom’s Watch hopes to counter them with a constant flow of commentary from those who genuinely support the surge effort.

They are also targeting Republicans who’ve rescinded support for the surge, including Richard Lugar (Ind.) and George Voinovich (Ohio). Vets for Freedom has taken the same approach, creating video messages for specific representatives whose votes and voices may make a differences in war support and funding. Most recently, they targeted Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe. released an advertisement yesterday in response to the Freedom’s Watch campaign, specifically targeting Sen. Susan Collins (R.-Maine). The ad will run in 10 states and districts in the next several weeks.  If liberal reaction is any gauge, the Freedom’s Watch campaign must be succeeding so far.  It was featured in the top spot of the hyperlib Daily Kos blog, with a tagline reading, “The last thing endangered Republicans need is Bush ‘pressuring’ them with millions of dollars on the very issue that could very well cost them their seats.” The Iraq veteran in the VoteVets counter-ad claims that we are now “stuck in a religious civil war” that the “troops say its only getting worse” but the dishonest approach of lumping all the troops into a collective quote inhibits the message significantly.

In a Wall Street Journal Op/ed on Monday, Sen. Joseph Leiberman said, “The United States is at last making significant progress against al Qaeda in Iraq” and many agree with him. Gen. Petraues and Ambassador Ryan Crocker will report in September and many predict their words will be at least generally positive about progress in Iraq. If that is the case, Freedom’s Watch could be an important tool in helping sustain public opinion and progress in the war on terror.