Ex-Bush aides conflate 9/11, Iraq in pro-war ad campaign


Nick Juliano
Published: Wednesday August 22, 2007

A collection of former Bush administration officials and allies launched a new advertising campaign that uses injured war veterans or relatives of those killed in action to urge a continuation of the US occupation of Iraq by conflating it with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"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," said former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer in an interview with USA Today.

Fleischer is the founding board member for Freedom's Watch, a newly formed conservative group that says it is spending $15 million to run television and radio ads in more than 20 states urging members of Congress not to support a de-escalation of the Iraq war. The ads also have been posted to YouTube.

The first ad to be aired by the group features a veteran who lost both his legs in the war. Sgt. John Kriesel tells viewers he "re-enlisted after 9/11" and argues now is not the time to withdraw from Iraq.

"They attacked us, and they will again," Kriesel says as a picture of the burning World Trade Center with a second jumbo jet about to smash into it flashes onscreen. "They won't stop in Iraq. We are winning on the ground. ... It's no time to quit; it's no time for politics."

Freedom's Watch chairman Bradley A. Blakeman was a member of the White House senior staff during President Bush's first term. The group's board also includes Bush's former ambassador to Italy, Mel Sembler and its major donors include three more former Bush ambassadors, the Politico reports.

Another commercial features Laura Youngblood, a war widow who gained notoriety last year for confronting antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan at a Texas protest.

"I lost two family members to al Qaeda," Youngblood said in the ad, "my uncle, a firefighter, on 9/11, and my husband, Travis, in Iraq."

Laura Youngblood told Sean Hannity in an interview last year that "al Qaeda is taking responsibility for most of the bombs that are there" in Iraq, however a search of reports in a news database revealed no other connections between al Qaeda and her husband's death.

Travis Youngblood, a Navy petty officer, died in a Baghdad hospital July 21 after being wounded by an improvised explosive device in Hit, Iraq, northwest of Fallujah six days earlier. The Pentagon did not say who was responsible for the attack. Youngblood was serving as a combat medic with Marines who were involved in intermittent fighting with Iraqi and foreign insurgents.

A third spot sponsored by the group features the mother of a soldier killed just before the Iraqi elections in 2005. Vicki Strong says withdrawal from Iraq would encourage terrorists.

"We've already had one 9/11, we don't need another," she says as the screen displays a toll-free number for viewers to contact their Representatives and Senators.

In 2004, President Bush angered some 9/11 survivors and victims' families when he used images of the terror attacks in campaign advertisements.

Freedom's Watch says its ads will target Democratic and Republican lawmakers as Congress prepares to receive a White House-produced progress report on the success or failure of the troop surge in Iraq. Tom Matzzie, who is campaign manager for Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, which is running its own ads before the progress report is issued, reports that Republicans represent 37 of 41 congressional districts where the ad will run

Several moderate Republicans have criticized the war effort in recent months. They may be amenable to a change in course if David Petraeus, commander of US troops in Iraq, and America's ambassador to the country, Ryan Crocker, do not cite satisfactory progress in their upcoming congressional testimony.

For President Bush, maintaining the support of these potential defectors within his party will be critical as he continues to battle with Congress over the war funding and calls for troop withdrawals.

Petraeus's first appearance before Congress to report on progress in Iraq will be Sept. 11. The White House and Congressional Democrats say the date is simply a scheduling coincidence.