WASHINGTON – As the House prepares to introduce another Iraq war spending bill, one retired general is openly defying the commander in chief by helping launch an ad campaign saying President Bush ignored his generals in the battlefield.
A group critical of the Iraq war, VoteVets.org, began airing ads this week featuring retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who led soldiers in Iraq. In the ad, Batiste says Bush has misled the war and calls for troops to come home.
Meanwhile, members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars presented to two Republican congressional leaders a petition signed by 2,755 current and former troops who say they believed full funding of the Iraq war is the only way to defeat terrorists and prevent them from attacking U.S. soil again.
In the 30-second ad critical of the president, Bush is shown repeating an oft-stated pledge to take guidance from military leaders on his Iraq policy. "I have always said that I will listen to the requests of our commanders on the ground," he says.
Batiste follows: "Mr. President, you did not listen. You continue to pursue a failed strategy that is breaking our great Army and Marine Corps. I left the Army in protest in order to speak out. Mr. President, you have placed our nation in peril. Our only hope is that Congress will act now to protect our fighting men and women."
The $500,000 ad campaign targeting four senators and 10 representatives will roll out in the coming weeks. The campaign also features two other retired generals, Gen. Wesley Clark, the former NATO commander, and Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who served in Iraq.
VoteVets.org is specifically targeting Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, John Sununu of New Hampshire and John Warner of Virginia. The House members in the group's crosshairs are Reps. Mary Bono of California, Mike Castle of Delaware, Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri, Phil English of Pennsylvania, Tim Johnson of Illinois, Randy Kuhl of New York, Mike Rogers of Michigan, Fred Upton of Michigan, Jim Walsh of New York and Heather Wilson of New Mexico.
VoteVets.org spokesman Eric Schmeltzer said the ads aren't necessarily targeting GOP lawmakers the group hopes to unseat, but they are trying to sway Republicans away from their support of Bush's war policies.
"There's a number of them that are in pretty safe seats, that no amount of advertising is going to affect them. ... They're on the fence," Schmeltzer said.
Schmeltzer said the ad featuring Eaton is expected to air next week and generally will follow the same format as the Batiste ad. The ad featuring Clark will be slightly different, focusing on how the Iraq war hurt the War on Terror. Batiste, Eaton and Clark are all on the VoteVets.org board of advisers.
VoteVets.org also caught the public eye recently when it co-sponsored an ad that was directed by Oliver Stone, a controversial filmmaker who has made movies critical of war and government, including "Platoon" and "Born on the Fourth of July." The ad featured one of VoteVets' members who is an Iraq war veteran calling for the troops to come home. The group also sponsored an ad during the Super Bowl.
But in the battle for military backing for the war, Republicans have their own support teams. VFW Executive Director Bob Wallace, who personally handed the petition to House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said the petition comes at an important time.
"I think the positive thing of it is, is they get to hear it from the troops. I mean, nobody's made anybody sign this petition," Wallace said.
Wallace said the petition's organizers, Navy Lt. Jason Nichols of Florida, and Army Staff Sgt. David Thule, a member of the Minnesota National Guard, are both stationed in Iraq and decided the petition was the best way to show congressional leaders that the Iraq war is the right fight and that the troops need Congress' support to complete their mission. They approached Wallace two weeks ago about the petition.
Wallace said he spoke earlier Wednesday with Nichols, who is stationed in Baghdad, and asked him his thoughts on the objective of the petition.
"His response was very simple: To win the war," Wallace said. Wallace said that Nichols told him media coverage has focused too negatively on the war, and it is important for Americans and Congress need to know otherwise.
"He said we are winning the people and people need to know that," Wallace said.
The "Appeal for Courage" petition reads: "As an American currently serving my nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to fully support our mission in Iraq and halt any calls for retreat. I also respectfully urge my political leaders to actively oppose media efforts which embolden my enemy while demoralizing American support at home."
It ends: "The War in Iraq is necessary and just effort to bring freedom to the Middle East and protect America from further attack."