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Ari Fleischer, Freedom Watch and the Pro-War Lobbyists

The GOP’s Pre-emptive Strike

by ROBERT FANTINA

The ever-widening crack in the limited support President George Bush has for his murderous Iraq war policies appears now large enough to drive a Humvee through. The president, of course, has brought this on himself by his steadfast refusal to confront the facts of the war.

On August 22, Mr. Bush spoke to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). This speech was remarkable only for its tired rhetoric and a new twist on an old theme. The president said that his policy decisions on Iraq are guided by history. He referred to the Vietnam and Korean conflicts to support his actions.

Sen. John Warner (R-VA), who served as Secretary of the Navy during the Vietnam War, did not agree: "There are no parallels really. It’s a different type of situation we were in a country (Vietnam) that really did not pose a threat to the internal security of the United States as these conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan do." Mr. Warner, while contradicting Mr. Bush, did not mention that Iraq posed no threat to the internal security of the U.S. prior to the ill-advised and ill-conceived invasion of that country. He further failed to explain how Iraq threatens the U.S. today. He did, however state that U.S. soldiers should begin leaving Iraq by December.

While Americans and Iraqis suffer, bleed and die in that nation’s horrific civil war, and Mr. Bush walks through the body-strewn political quagmire with blinders on, a new conservative organization has appeared on the scene. Called, ironically, ‘Freedom’s Watch,’ with former White House press secretary Ari Fleisher as spokesman, this group is spending $15,000,000 on advertising to urge members of Congress to support the war. Said Mr. Fleisher: "We want to get the message to both Democrats and Republicans: Don’t cut and run, fully fund the troops, and victory is the only objective."

It is not everyday that three worn out clichés can be inserted into one sentence. A look at each is interesting.

It has been some months since Republicans stopped accusing the opposition party of being ‘cut and run’ Democrats. This tired mantra may have been last heard as the Republican Party was drowning in electoral defeat last November. Or perhaps it is because so many Republican members of Congress have either joined with their Democratic counterparts in seeking an end to the war, or are simply cowering in the safety of their closets as they try to avoid the issue. It is difficult to voice an opinion when one has one’s eye on the next election, and fears angering this or that well-funded or well-organized contingency. One does not want to alienate the conservative base, but at the same time one watches the peace movement grow. No, now is certainly not the time to raise the specter of ‘cut and run.’

There has been no budget request since the start of the war in which the troops were not ‘fully funded.’ By that, of course, is meant giving Mr. Bush all the money he wants for his war. This may not include such luxury items as body or vehicle armor; the Pentagon reported on August 22 that only about 1,500 of 3,500 ‘life saving armored vehicles’ will be delivered to Iraq this year. Although these vehicles, referred to as MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected), are so safe that the army reports no soldiers have been killed when riding in one, delivery lags behind production. They are generally flown to Iraq in order to get them there more quickly, but the Pentagon says that in the future it will probably send them by ship, a far more economical means of transporting them. One wonders why ‘fully funding the troops’ does not include incurring the expense of getting life-saving equipment to them as quickly as possible. One further wonders how many soldiers will die so the military can save some money in shipping costs.

"Victory," Mr. Fleisher proclaims, "is the only objective." ‘Victory’ is such a positive-sounding term to banter around as if it were a tennis ball. But it must have a definition, and neither Mr. Fleisher or his former boss, the self-proclaimed war president, have bothered to provide one. Obscure references to the ‘war on terror,’ or the undefined and, as was proven in Iraq, non-existent threat to the American way of life do not define victory. Perhaps Mr. Fleisher and Mr. Bush would prefer to keep vague any such definition for an unwinnable war, a civil strife in which the U.S. has no business. Perhaps the unused, but obvious name for the war, ‘Operation Iraqi Liberation’ (OIL) really points to Messrs Fleisher and Bush’s criteria for victory.

It will be interesting to see if ‘Freedom’s Watch’ has any success in influencing members of Congress. Perhaps its current $15,000,000 advertising campaign is a pre-emptive strike to minimize whatever bad news is issued when Congress receives its report on the war in September. Mr. Warner has recommended that U.S. troops start coming home by Christmas, and General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is expected to recommend a drastic reduction in troops. In the last week, Mr. Bush appeared to criticize Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and then stumbled all over himself to back-peddle, and show support for him, indicating unsurprising confusion in the White House. And Mr. Bush’s surge, bringing the number of American soldiers to 160,000, has had, at best, very mixed results. Although some areas of the country have shown decreased levels of violence, a report on the humanitarian crisis issued on August 24 paints a different picture. The Iraqi Red Crescent Organization and the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration report a huge increase in the number of people fleeing their homes. The former group reports that that number has grown from 499,000 in February, when Mr. Bush’s ‘augmentation’ began, to over 1,100,000. This is further polarizing the country, as Iraqi citizens flee the religiously mixed cities, with the Shiites going to mainly Shiite areas and Sunnis heading for Sunni areas in other parts of the country. One wonders where ‘victory’ is seen in any of this.

The inappropriately named ‘Freedom’s Watch’ may succeed in swaying some members of Congress; when one listens more to lobbyists than to constituents, anything is possible. But that organization’s activities will not stop the bloodletting in Iraq. Any freedom they are watching is not that of the Iraqi people, once oppressed by Saddam Hussein and now by George Bush. If Mr. Fleisher & Co. are not interested in bringing American soldiers home, perhaps they would prefer to use their $15,000,000 to supplement the Pentagon’s budget and send MRAPs to Iraq by air rather than by sea. This may at least help to achieve their goal of ‘funding the troops.’ But the safety of anyone, American or Iraqi, does not appear to be on their agenda. A political victory for the misguided and drowning Republican Party seems to be their goal.

ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.