Watch Targeting Iran
By Bill Berkowitz
22 October, 2007
the U.S. undertakes military action against Iran, you can credit such
longtime neoconservatives as Norman Podhoretz, William Kristol, Michael
Ledeen and the swarm of ideologues buzzing about Washington's right
wing think tanks. You can also credit Pastor John Hagee and his Christians
United for Israel, a Christian Zionist outfit with unbending support
for Israel. And credit also the billionaire and multimillionaire founders
of Freedom's Watch for helping smooth the way.
Later this month, Freedom's
Watch will sponsor a forum of some 20 experts on "radical Islam"
that, according to a front page story in the New York Times, "is
expected to make the case that Iran poses a direct threat to the security
of the United States."
The forum is being "organized
with the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, DC-based neoconservative
think tank, and it is 'private,'" John Stauber the Executive Director
of the Center for Media and Democracy, told Media Transparency. "The
fact that Freedom's Watch has been discussing it with the New York Times
appears to be a great teaser to keep the press interested in who will
be there, what will be discussed, etc."
"This in itself is a
public relations ploy; they don't need to announce a private forum,
they can hold one any time they want," Stauber pointed out. "But
they want to keep the organization in the media spotlight and look significant
and important from a policy perspective."
The idea for Freedom's Watch
(FW) first surfaced in March of this year at the winter meeting of the
Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) in Manalapan, Florida, where Vice
President Dick Cheney accused House Democrats of not supporting the
troops in Iraq. The RJC, which is credited with shepherding then-Texas
Governor George W. Bush on his first tour of Israel in November 1998,
is a big-money pro-Israel lobby group that networks Jewish-American
neoconservatives, Christian Right leaders and conservatives in Israel.
The Freedom's Watch "inner
circle of strategists and donors are close to Vice President Dick Cheney
or held high posts at the White House," the Associated Press's
Jim Kuhnhenn pointed out in late September.
According to its website,
Freedom's Watch is a 501 (c) (4) nonprofit corporation; it can lobby
on issues but cannot expressly advocate for specific candidates. It
is "dedicated to fighting to protect the ideals and issues that
keep America strong and prosperous." It is "rallying together"
to: "Bring the focus back to the real threats to our nation";
"Fight back against the policies that are corrupting America's
ability to protect our citizens, our economy, and our way of life";
and "Reprioritize our legislative agenda to protect America's core
"Ideologically, we are
inspired by much of Ronald Reagan's thinking -- peace through strength,
protect and defend America, and prosperity through free enterprise,"
Freedom's Watch's co-founder and spokesperson Ari Fleischer, the former
White House press secretary to President George W. Bush from 2001 to
2003, has stated.
Big-time movers and shakers
Among the group's founders
and major donors are Sheldon Adelson, the chairman and chief executive
of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, who ranks sixth on the Forbes magazine
list of the world's billionaires; Mel Sembler, the controversial Florida
multi-millionaire, who is a former U.S. Ambassador to Italy and Australia
and is a member of board of directors of the neoconservative American
Enterprise Institute and is also serving on the national finance committee
of GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney; Matt Brooks, executive director
of the Republican Jewish Coalition; and Anthony Gioia, a longtime Republican
Party donor who served as U.S. Ambassador to Malta until 2004 and is
former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani's Western New York State Finance
Also in the mix are Kevin
Moley, who served as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United
Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva from September
2001 to April 2006; Howard Leach, a big-time GOP donor who served as
Ambassador to France until 2005; Dr. John Templeton, Jr., the son of
mutual-funds pioneer Sir John Templeton and chairman and president of
the John Templeton Foundation who is serving as chairman on Romney's
National Faith And Values Steering Committee; Edward Snider, chairman
of Comcast-Spectacor, the huge Philadelphia sports and entertainment
firm; Gary Erlbaum, Vice Chairman of the Jewish Federation of Greater
Philadelphia and Chairman of the Federation's Israel Emergency Campaign
and the Executive Vice President of the Jewish Publishing Group which
publishes the Jewish Exponent and Inside magazine; and Richard Fox,
chairman of the Jewish Policy Center and Pennsylvania State Chairman
of the Reagan/Bush campaign in 1980.
Writing in the October 8,
2007 issue of the American Conservative, Philip Weiss reported that
a story titled "Pro-Surge Group Is Almost All Jewish," from
the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a wire service for Jewish news, noted
that four out of five members of Freedom's Watch board are Jewish, and
half of its donors are Jewish. According to Weiss, "The JTA quoted
one of its directors, Matthew Brooks, saying this was strictly a 'coincidence.'"
When Brooks was asked by
Weiss "whether Freedom's Watch was devoted to Israel's security,"
Brooks replied: "That is absolutely not true. This is a broad-based
organization. For anyone to draw any conclusion that we are focused
on Jewish issues is an incorrect assumption and false in reality ...
We are vehemently and strongly focused on making the case for the war
on terror as being in America's interest. Israel's interest is totally
Supporting the surge
Freedom's Watch made its
first public splash just prior to the appearance of General David Petraeus
and Ambassador Ryan Crocker before Congress, testifying about the situation
in Iraq. In late-August, FW launched a $15 million radio and television
advertising campaign aimed at maintaining Congressional support for
President Bush's surge and the occupation of Iraq.
The heart-wrenching ads featured
a wounded Iraq veteran pleading with Congress and the American people
not to "surrender" in Iraq. A still photograph of the second
hijacked plane heading for the World Trade Center on 9/11 is shown while
Sergeant Kriesel says, "They attacked us, and they will again.
They won't stop in Iraq."
Freedom's Watch's pro-surge
ads "are the handiwork" of Jamestown Associates, whose client
list also includes the Republican Jewish Coalition and Benjamin Netanyahu,
leader of Israel's Likud Party," David McKee reported in late September
in Las Vegas CityLife. Jamestown Associates website describes the company
as a "full-service Republican political and public affairs consulting
firm" with offices in Washington, D.C., Princeton, N.J., Baton
Rouge, La., and Dallas, Texas."
Freedom's Watch intends to
raise $200 million by November 2008, one anonymous benefactor told the
New York Times.
While supporting the surge
in Iraq was its first public campaign, Freedom's Watch has another target
in mind: Iran.
In late September, the group
ran a newspaper advertisement calling Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
"If Hitler's warnings
were heeded when he wrote 'Mein Kampf,' he could have been stopped,"
Bradley Blakeman, the president of Freedom's Watch and a former assistant
to President George W. Bush, told the New York Times. "Ahmadinejad
is giving all the same kind of warning signs to us, and the region --
he wants the destruction of the United States and the destruction of
Blakeman is apparently giving
"the same kind of warning signs" to the American people that
a well-financed media campaign advocating military action against Iran
is on Freedom's Watch's drawing boards.
Look for another series of
slick advertisements: Perhaps footage of Hitler's storm-troopers overrunning
Poland juxtaposed against shots of Iran's Revolutionary Guard goose-stepping
down a Tehran street. Perhaps a few mushroom clouds while Ahmadinejad's
wrong-headed remarks roll across the screen. Not emotional enough? Pictures
of wounded U. S. soldiers in Iraq in a split screen with caches of weapons
stamped "Made in Iran."
Since most people in the
U.S. now believe that it was wrong for Bush to invade Iraq and that
the original mistake has been compounded by the administration's mistakes
and miscalculations and its refusal to set a timetable for withdrawing
from that country, is it possible that Freedom's Watch's money-men can
convince the public that a military strike against Iran is the right
thing to do?
Although Freedom's Watch
"declined to identify the experts" appearing at its late-October
forum on Iran, "several were invited from the American Enterprise
Institute," the New York Times reported. "Some institute scholars
have advocated a more confrontational policy to prevent Iran from acquiring
nuclear weapons, including keeping military action as an option."
"They may keep the meeting
closed or possibly open it up," John Stauber noted. "If they
do keep it closed, you can be sure that participants will be talking
with the press. This is an effective PR ploy to get their message out
"If you look at how
Iraq was sold to the American public, a number of pro-war groups and
committees of the same ilk and backing had meetings at the White House,
embarked on policy discussion tours around the country with media, and
appeared as experts on news shows," Stauber pointed out.
"It should be remembered
that Freedom's Watch is run by a White House PR flack [Ari Fleischer]
who was key to selling that last war. It is the same script, same images,
same messages, and same players. And it is likely to provoke the same
response from the mainstream media."
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