A newspaper ad from the anti-war group MoveOn.org that attacks Gen. David Petraeus has prompted a Republican outcry in Washington, D.C., as supporters of the surge strategy in Iraq change the subject from the progress in Iraq to the rhetoric used by war opponents.
"General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" reads the full-page ad (CLICK HERE), which cost the liberal group MoveOn.org approximately $65,000 and ran in section A of today's New York Times.
The ad accuses the general of "Cooking the Books for the White House" and asserts "General Petraeus is a military man constantly at war with the facts," citing optimistic statements the general has made about Iraq in the past.
White House spokesman Tony Snow called it "a boorish, childish, unworthy attack" and called on members of Congress to condemn the ad. By the end of the day, 30 Republican senators and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., had written to the Democratic Senate Leader, asking him to "join us in making it clear that you do not share the views of Moveon.org, and that you will not join Moveon.org in attacking the character of this fine officer" and House Republicans had introduced a resolution condemning the ad.
A Democratic leadership aide on Capitol Hill told ABC News that the ad was "not helpful" because it allowed Republicans to refocus attention from "what's happening on the ground in Iraq and the fact that everyone, even Gen. Petraeus, agrees that political progress is lacking."
In addition to liberal activist groups such as MoveOn.org, Democrats in both the House and Senate have impugned Petraeus' testimony today, and those tuning in to the House hearing today to hear from Petraeus had to wait longer than scheduled because the general's microphone was not functioning, prompting a brief recess.
The microphones of his GOP defenders were fully amplified, however. The ranking Republican on the House Armed Services committee, Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, took much of the limited time he had to make remarks at Petraeus' briefing this afternoon to decry the MoveOn.org ad and other attacks on the general's credibility, noting that Petraeus had been unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate earlier this year.
"Let us start off this hearing with this stipulation," Hunter said, Petraeus will offer "a candid independent assessment delivered with integrity."
The chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said the ad "is outrageous and it is deplorable" and called upon her "colleagues on both sides of the aisle" to condemn the ad and, somewhat inexplicably, to apologize to the general for the impugning of his integrity.
The GOP presidential candidates added their voices to the chorus as well, with Arizona Sen. John McCain calling the ad a "McCarthyite attack on an American patriot. … No matter where you stand on the war, we should all agree on the character and decency of this exceptional American."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, wrote on the National Review blog "The Corner," that "(l)ike the men he commands, (Petraeus) is risking his life to protect our freedoms here at home. We should not prejudge him or his testimony, or give him anything less than the full respect he deserves.
Outside a South Carolina barbecue joint Monday afternoon, former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., called the ad "outrageous" and said, "MoveOn.org has today, in effect, said that the General leading our brave troops in Iraq is betraying his country. This is the group that funds the Democratic Party. all upon the Democratic Party and all of the Democratic candidates for President to repudiate the libel of this patriotic American."
But Democrats said doing so would be falling into a GOP trap and criticized Republicans for trying to change the subject from the substance of Petraeus's testimony.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said while the ad gave Republicans "a new talking point," Reid would not be decrying the ad.
"They have every right to buy an ad in The New York Times," said Reid spokesman Jim Manley. "The issue isn't Gen. Petraeus, who's a good man and a fine soldier. The problem is that he is being brought in during the fourth quarter and the administration is trying to give him ownership of the entire game. They cannot deflect responsibility like this. The American people know how we got to this point and know that it is time to change course."
Asked if they would condemn the MoveOn.org ad, the Democratic presidential frontrunners all demurred but tellingly, all of them refrained from criticizing Gen. Petraeus personally.
"Sen. Obama's question is not about General Petraeus's patriotism," said Bill Burton, spokesman for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. "It's about his logic. There's no evidence that this surge is producing the political progress needed to resolve the civil war in Iraq, or that it will be accomplished through more of the same.
Phil Singer, spokesman for the campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, said that "America's troops have done all that has been asked of them and then some, but the reality is that there is no military solution to what is going on in Iraq which is why our focus must remain on getting the president to change course."
As for the ad, Singer said, "It is unfortunate that Republican presidential candidates are focused on generating a political sideshow instead of discussing the President's failed war policy. Sen. Clinton is going to keep her focus where it should be, on ending the war."
Eric Schultz, spokesman for the campaign of former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., said that "Sen. Edwards honors General Petraeus's service and patriotism, but the General is wrong to believe that the American people or Congress should give President Bush's failed Iraq strategy more time. John Edwards believes Congress should stand firm and hold President Bush responsible for changing course with a simple and strong message -- no timetable, no funding, no excuses."
MoveOn.org says it stands by its ad.
"Every major independent study and many major news organizations cast serious doubt on Petraeus' claims," said Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org's political action committee. Pariser said recent studies by the Government Accountability Office, the National Intelligence Estimate and retired Marine Gen. James Jones contradict any assertions that the surge has been a success.
"Gen. Petraeus' claims have come under critical scrutiny," Pariser said. "The facts all point in one direction — the surge isn't working — and Gen. Petraeus and the White House are pointing in another."