The Republican National Committee yesterday released a hard-hitting Web ad that shows the white flag of surrender waving in front of Democrats as they complain about the Iraq war.
“Democrats have a plan for Iraq,” a line of text reads at the beginning of the 60-second spot. “Retreat and defeat.”
The ad then shows a white flag waving in front of Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Howard Dean as he tells a San Antonio radio station: “The idea that we’re going to win this war is an idea that, unfortunately, it’s just plain wrong.”
DNC spokesman Josh Earnest responded: “It’s a shame that President Bush and the Republicans are more interested in attacking Democrats than in attacking the terrorists. Our troops deserve better.”
The ad is the latest and most pointed in a series of coordinated attacks by President Bush and his supporters to counter Democratic complaints about the Iraq war. Having forced a split among Democrats over whether to withdraw forces from Iraq, Republicans are redoubling their efforts to keep critics on the defensive.
To that end, the ad features a white flag waving in front of Sen. John Kerry as he seems to accuse U.S. forces of terrorism during an interview with newsman Bob Schieffer of CBS.
“There is no reason, Bob, that young American soldiers need to be going into the homes of Iraqis in the dead of night terrorizing kids and children, you know, women,” the Massachusetts Democrat said.
Kerry spokesman David Wade expressed outrage that Republicans would attack a decorated Vietnam combat veteran.
“The only shots these Republican hacks have ever fired are from their computers,” he said. “So they might not know that the flag that flew over John Kerry’s boat in Vietnam was red, white and blue.
“Only in Dick Cheney’s party would a vice president who skipped Vietnam on five deferments allow an attack on a veteran with three Purple Hearts,” Mr. Wade added. “They want a debate about patriotism? Bring it on.”
The president began his rhetorical counteroffensive on Nov. 11, when he hammered Democrats for accusing him of manipulating prewar intelligence. As Vice President Cheney and other administration officials joined the fray, the Democratic Party responded by splintering over whether to withdraw troops.
Those calling for a complete pullout within six months include Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. Those rejecting a timetable included House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.
Caught in the middle are Democrats who hope to run for president in 2008 or who face competitive re-election campaigns next year. These include Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, a White House hopeful whose opposition to a pullout has angered many liberals.
Yesterday, Mr. Bush did not mention the new ad during a Republican fundraiser in Minnesota, although he reiterated his opposition to a pullout.
“There’s a debate raging in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “There are some who are arguing for a fixed timetable of withdrawal. I think it’s the wrong policy.”
He added: “A fixed timetable of withdrawal would embolden the enemy, would confuse the Iraqis, and would send the wrong signal to our young men and women in uniform.”
The ad’s white flag also waves over an image of Sen. Barbara Boxer as she calls for U.S. forces to begin leaving Iraq next week.
“So there’s no specific time frame, but I would say the withdrawal ought to start now, right after the elections December 15th,” the California Democrat told “Fox News Sunday.”
The ad, which the RNC is sending to 15 million supporters, grass-roots activists and all 50 Republican state parties, features a soldier watching Mrs. Boxer and the other Democrats on a large-screen TV.
“Our country is at war; our soldiers are watching,” a line of text says. “And our enemies are, too.”
The ad closes with a “message to Democrats — retreat and defeat is not an option.”
RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt was unapologetic about what some called the toughest ad since the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth pilloried Mr. Kerry during last year’s presidential campaign.
“We intend to hold them accountable,” she said. “We think it’s important for Americans to understand where Democrats are on the central front in the war on terror.”
She added: “We think Howard Dean’s crossing a line when he predicts that our troops are incapable of completing a mission overseas.”
Republicans aren’t the only ones criticizing Mr. Dean’s comments.
“My words to Howard Dean are simple,” Rep. Earl Pomeroy, North Dakota Democrat, told WDAY radio in his home state on Thursday. “Shut up.”