WASHINGTON, D.C., Aug. 22, 2007 — -- A sort of shadow White House communications shop has emerged to help the beleaguered president sell his unpopular war to the American people.
Freedom's Watch was formed by former White House and Bush administration officials and funded by Republican big-money donors. Today it began airing $15 million worth of ads -- featuring veterans and their families -- aimed at influencing wavering members of Congress.
(You can see the ads HERE)
"I know what I lost," says one of those in a TV ad, veteran John Kriesel, who lost both legs in a blast near Fallujah last December. "I also know if we pull out now, everything I've given and sacrificed will mean nothing."
In a separate ad, veteran Andrew Robinson, who lost the use of both of his legs after being wounded by an IED in June 2006, says, "I would go back to Iraq if I could, it's that important because if Iraq isn't stable it will be a breeding ground for terrorists."
The ads also link the war with Sept. 11, despite no reliable evidence Iraq played any role in those attacks.
In the ad, Kriesel says, "They attacked us, and they will again. They won't stop in Iraq."
Laura Youngblood is featured in another ad -- she lost her uncle Henry, a New York City fireman, on Sept. 11, and her husband, Travis, in Iraq.
"Congress did the right thing voting to defeat terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan," she says in an ad. "Switching their votes now, for political reasons, it will mean more attacks in America."
Former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, one of the group's board of directors, said the group was formed to provide a counter-argument to the successful anti-war voices.
"There's been a three-year silence from conservatives and others who believe in peace through strength," Fleischer told ABC News. "The cavalry is coming, we're going to help to get that message out," he said.
The new pro-surge ads will join a barrage of other TV ads about Iraq, many against the war, all aimed at specific members of Congress who are still deciding whether to continue supporting the president.
Approximately 20 congressional districts are targeted.
One analysis of the ad campaign by the liberal group Moveon.org seems to indicate a majority of the ads are targeted at Republicans, though Brad Blakeman, president of Freedom's Watch, disputes that anaylsis.
Either way, Moveon.org's president, Tom Matzzie, predicts these ads and their images of widows and wounded veterans will backfire because they are "reminding the public of the cost of the war in Iraq" and not the justification for the military presence.
"That's bad news for Republicans who are still sticking with Bush on the war," Matzzie said.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who just returned from a trip to Iraq, is one of those being targeted, but did not seem concerned.
"It's perfectly appropriate for Moveon.org to run ads on one side and a Republican group to run ads on the other, but that's not our job," he said. "Our job is to stop having partisan votes on Iraq and start speaking with a single voice."
Alexander said all the partisanship back here in the United States is preventing any real solution overseas. "If all we do is shout at each other we're no better than the Iraqi parliament," he said.
But the shouting is only getting louder.
Z. Byron Wolf and Meaghan M. Stakelin contributed to this report.