President Bush today attacked the liberal group MoveOn.org for a newspaper ad that last week accused the top U.S. general in Iraq of lying, calling the piece “disgusting,” and criticized Democratic leaders for not condemning the ad.
President Bush said the Democratic response “leads me to come to this conclusion: that most Democrats are afraid of irritating a left-wing group like MoveOn.org, or more afraid of irritating them than they are of irritating the United States military.”
“That was a sorry deal,” Mr. Bush said, speaking at a morning White House press conference.
Less than two hours after the president’s comments, the Senate voted 72-to-25 in support of a resolution condemning the ad, a measure that failed to pass last week.
“MoveOn says [Gen. Petraeus is] a traitor. If we believe that, we should condemn him. If we don’t believe that, then we ought to be condemning them, not him,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
Twenty-four Democrats voted against the measure, including Sen. Hillary Clinton, New York Democrat, a leading presidential candidate.
Fellow candidate Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, was present in the chamber just prior to the vote, but left before voting began and did not cast a ballot.
The non-binding measure, sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, “strongly condemns personal attacks on the honor and integrity of General Petraeus.”
The MoveOn ad ran in the Sep. 10 edition of the New York Times, on the morning of congressional testimony by Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.
“General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” the full-page ad said, and accused the general of “cooking the books for the White House.”
MoveOn, which is about 10 years old but has risen to prominence within the Democratic party in the last few years, said Gen. Petraeus is distorting statistics from Iraq to give the false appearance that violence is decreasing as a result of the president’s surge of 30,000 troops this year.
Mr. Bush took umbrage at the suggestion today in his first comment on the ad.
“I felt like the ad was an attack not only on General Petraeus but on the U.S. military,” Mr. Bush said. “One thing to attack me, it’s another thing to attack somebody like General Petraeus.”
Eli Pariser, MoveOn’s executive director, shot back in a statement soon after the press conference.
“What’s disgusting is that the President has more interest in political attacks than developing an exit strategy to get our troops out of Iraq and end this awful war,” Mr. Pariser said.
The ad sparked an instant backlash last week by Republicans on Capitol Hill, causing even aides to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, to remark that they wished the ad had not run.
Vice President Dick Cheney this week called the ad “an outrage.”
News reports also revealed last week that the New York Times has sold the full-page ad space to MoveOn at a discount rate, slashing their regular rate of $181,692 to $65,000.
Republican presidential nominee Rudy Giuliani demanded, and got, the same rate for an ad he ran defending Gen. Petraeus last Friday.
Sean Lengell contributed to this report.