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Is Freedom's Watch PNAC in Populist Drag?

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Is Freedom’s Watch PNAC in Populist Drag?

According to the Associated Press, Freedom’s Watch is new conservative group of “outsiders” who seek to influence a broad range of issues, unlike their close cousins, the Swiftboaters, who focused only on smearing John Kerry. But, the roster of PNACers involved in this project – L. Scooter Libby, Mary Maitlan, consultants from the so called “think tank” The American Enterprise Institute, as well as former White House officials Ari Fleisher and Bradley Blakeman, begs the question in what sense can this group be called “outsiders”. Outside of the West wing or, outside of the Bush Cabinet? Or, maybe only outside of public view?

This White House front group is dominated by people close to Dick Cheney, like Mel Sembler who also chaired the Libby defense fund and Kevin E. Moley who was a senior aide to Cheney’s 2000 campaign. It has been reported that the idea for the group resulted from a meeting of Florida Republicans where Cheney was the keynote speaker. The group was quickly welcomed to the conversation on Iraq by the neoconservative group Foundation for Defense of Democracies, led by Bill Kristol, Steve Forbes, Jeanne Kilpatrick, James Woolsey, Richard Perle, Charles Krauthammer -- indeed, the PNAC “A” team.

Freedom’s Watch has been selling itself as a grassroots organization although anyone who can read can determine very quickly that it isn’t. Their website exhibits none of the messiness of a working grassroots enterprise – in fact, it looks somewhat uninhabited. Their stated goals echo White House rhetoric, down to their favorite metaphor. As Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, our new enemy is Hitler, we are fighting another World War II and anyone who disagrees with their imperialism is Chamberlain. (They really need to come up with a new vehicle because this one is a dead giveaway.)

The group’s grassroots window dressing is being validated by the AP and also by the New York Times, who seem strangely unable to distinguish between real grassroots and neoconservative astroturf. Both outlets have compared Freedom’s Watch to MoveOn, a real grassroots group, repeatedly. Over this last weekend, AOL had a poll up comparing the two groups. The AP has referred to these two organizations as left and right “bookends” which is patently untrue. MoveOn has about 3.3 million members. It is unknown how many members Freedom’s Watch has besides the original 20 who could write million dollar checks.

The group’s first effort was an ad to rally support for Bush’s failed Iraq policy. The ad used the Administration’s strategy of conflating Iraq with 9/11. It deployed a veteran, (an amputee) as the mouthpiece for the message just as the Administration has from the outset used our service people as props for their public policy statements.

During the visit of the Iranian president, the group took out a big ad in the New York Times. The ad was a photograph of Ahmadinejad, the title was “TERRORIST!” and the ad ripped Columbia University. A complaint from Freedom’s Watch was also behind the Time’s apology for the MoveOn Petraeus ad. It’s ironic that the Times apologized for an ad critical of a general officer up to his chin in Bush propaganda but not for the ad that called out a visiting foreign head of state during an increasingly tense diplomatic moment.

Freedom’s Watch is planning a forum, in conjunction with AEI fellows, to develop a rationale and a PR campaign to sell a war on Iran. This is a private, not a public grassroots, gathering -- although there may be foie de gras and a few rounds of golf. If this isn’t PNAC in populist drag, we're looking at neocon twins separated at birth.


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Elizabeth Ferrari is a San Francisco author and activist.
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