The big news of the summer for those not obsessed with Michael Vick and Larry Craig has been the preliminary results of the “surge” strategy in Iraq. There is a heated argument over whether the surge is working, and if so, how much. It will only intensify as General Petraeus gives his official report to Congress later this month. Supporters and opponents of the war are already trying to win the battle of public opinion.
To that end, Freedom’s Watch, a pro-war group has launched a $15 million, five week ad campaign. The ads feature wounded veterans from Iraq making an emotional pitch to viewers to stay the course.
In the first one, a soldier tells us: “Congress was right to vote to fight terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan. I reenlisted after Sept. 11th because I don’t want my sons to see what I saw. I want them to be free and safe. I know what I lost. I also know that if we pull out now, everything I’ve given and the sacrifices will mean nothing. They attacked us, and they will again. They won’t stop in Iraq. We are winning on the ground and making real progress. It’s no time to quit. It’s no time for politics.”
What most struck me most about the group though, were not its ads, but an appearance on Hardball by one of its founding members, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. His naïveté was stunning; he thinks that, “everybody in this country is making a sacrifice” in the war. Worst of all, he couldn’t even name the brave soldier his group was using in its ads.
Paul Rieckhoff, the next guest on the show said it best: “What bothered me most is that Ari Fleischer didn’t even know the guy’s name. He’s willing to run a multi-million dollar campaign utilizing the personal story of a soldier, and he couldn’t tell you on national TV what that soldier’s name is…Our troops are not political props and they’re not chew toys.”
For me, Fleischer’s comments on the show highlighted the divide between those of us who are sacrificing in this war, and those who aren’t. However much Fleischer might downplay it, there’s a huge difference between the mostly working class men in the military, and the chicken hawk aristocrats who exploit their stories of heroism. To men like Fleischer — and a whole host of war supporters — soldiers like the one in the ad are nameless, faceless pawns in their neocon imperialist adventures.
Of course, this is hardly surprising given that the most ardent hawks today largely couldn’t be bothered to fight when they had a chance in Vietnam. Dick Cheney had other priorities, and George W. Bush went A.W.O.L. Saxby Chambliss didn’t have the will to go fight, but he did muster the audacity to attack Max Cleland, a man who lost three limbs in that war for his patriotism in a 2002 race for the Senate from Georgia.
These are the same men who told us to sacrifice by going shopping in the aftermath of September 11. They cut taxes for millionaires — whose children aren’t fighting in the military — at the same time that they made soldiers buy their own body armor and scrimped on veteran’s benefits.
Moreover, I don’t like the way the soldiers in Iraq have become props to help make somebody else’s argument. Fleischer and his ilk aren’t the only ones guilty of this behavior by any means. Anti-war groups are more than willing to use the sacrifices of solders to argue for a withdrawal. It is unseemly to use these brave soldiers to advance a political agenda. Why can’t we have an argument about the war on the merits, without resorting to wounded veterans to make the arguments for us?
In the next few weeks, I expect the soldiers to be exploited on a regular basis as politicians try to make their points in the debate about Iraq. But Fleischer and his group have reached a new low in that tawdry game.