Not-So-Swift Vets

With voters threatening a mutiny over Republican military misadventures, what looks to be a 2006 version of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth has formed. The putatively grassroots organization called Vets for Freedom has been offering up decorated, interview-ready soldiers to, as its Website puts it, “promote the unbiased, nonpartisan truth of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, to educate the public and mobilize public support for the Global War on Terror.” Their offensive started in April, when former Bush press secretary Taylor Gross, who worked under Scott McClellan until last year, tempted newspaper editors at the New York Post, the Daily News, the Richmond Times Dispatch, and the Buffalo News with inexpensive war coverage—“unbiased perspectives” that “would not be at any significant cost.” Gross had no takers.

Then, over Memorial Day, Owen West, a Goldman Sachs commodities trader, Marine reservist, and adventure-book author (Sharkman Six and Four Days to Veracruz), published an op-ed in the Times in which he lashed out against war opponents, including the “sliver of malcontents” in the battle-zone ranks. (West served four months in Iraq in 2003.) “We are clashing with an enemy who has been at war with us in one form or another for two decades,” West wrote. “Our military response may take decades more.” He then evoked Lincoln: “ ‘With malice toward none, with charity for all … let us strive on to finish the work we are in.’ ” West was identified as a “founder” of the Vets.

John Stauber, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, thought the Vets’ Website looked suspiciously un-grassroots. Then he saw the privacy notice: “We may from time to time share the information our visitors provide with other Republican candidates and other like-minded organizations.” After Stauber blogged about it last month, the Vets removed that notice. The group’s Website is hosted by Campaign Solutions, a high-profile political consultancy that does Republican-campaign Web work. Clients have included Bush-Cheney ’04 and the Swift Boat Vets. “Vets for Freedom are the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” of the ’06 cycle, says Stauber.

Speaking from his office in Manhattan, West says he’s no Swift-y and that linking his group to the GOP distorts its message and is unfair. “Guilt only by association,” he says. “How could we be a front group for the GOP when we are supporting Democratic candidates? It doesn’t make any sense. We’re not Republican. We’re not Democrat. We’re pro-mission.” Next: Q&A With Rudy Giuliani’s Divorce Lawyer

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Not-So-Swift Vets