WASHINGTON – Obama ad man Mark Putnam has a dexterous sense of loyalty.
He is proud of his work on the president’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns. His website boasts that he wrote and produced Obama’s 30-minute infomercial in 2008, “the most-watched and highest-profile political ad in American history.” The site further notes that he “continued his work on the Obama Media Team” in 2012, “creating many nationally aired television ads.” There’s also a blurb from David Plouffe, former Obama campaign manager, calling Putnam “one of the best producers in our party.”
And now Putnam is repaying President Barack Obama for the faith he placed in him, by working to defeat the signature foreign-policy achievement – and one of the top overall priorities – of Obama’s presidency.
Putnam was hired by Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, a front group created by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee for the purpose of undermining the Iran nuclear agreement in Congress. The Washington Post’s Steven Mufson reported that the group is expected to spend as much as $40 million, and Politico reports that the entity has already spent more than $11 million. Putnam’s spot, a classic attack ad, features ominous music, dark and scary shots of ayatollahs and the warning: “Congress should reject a bad deal.”
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“I am more grateful to President Obama than I can ever express for being able to help him in two presidential campaigns,” Putnam told me via email. “I have strongly supported every other initiative he has undertaken. On this issue, however, I, like other Democrats, have a heartfelt position against the agreement.”
For Obama, it probably brings to mind the old adage: If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. Obama is learning that truth anew as he tries to sell the Iran deal in Congress – or, more accurately, to shore up enough support to sustain his expected veto of the legislature’s anticipated disapproval of the deal.
Republicans, naturally, have been in lockstep in opposing the Iran agreement, as they have against most everything Obama has done. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, inserting himself ever deeper into American politics, lobbied American Jews against the deal on Tuesday, saying that “more people will die” because of it. A few key Democrats have come out against the agreement, and AIPAC is going all out to pressure more.
The White House expresses confidence that it will have enough votes, at least in the House, to sustain a veto, and AIPAC’s millions have failed so far to beat a sufficient number of Democrats into submission. But Obama, wisely, has decided not to let opponents’ TV ads go unanswered while lawmakers are home for their August recess. He countered critics of the deal in harsh terms in a speech at American University on Wednesday.
He said critics of the deal are of the same “mindset” responsible for the Iraq war. “It’s easy to play on people’s fears,” he said, “to magnify threats, to compare any attempt at diplomacy to Munich, but none of these arguments hold up. They didn’t back in 2002, in 2003 – they shouldn’t now.” He claimed that Iran went from zero to several thousand centrifuges on the George W. Bush administration’s watch, and he mocked critics’ claims that a “better deal” was achievable: “Walk away from this agreement, and you will get a better deal – for Iran.”
Obama offered a sharp response to Netanyahu: “I believe he is wrong. … As president of the United States it would be an abrogation of my constitutional duty to act against my best judgment simply because it causes temporary friction with a dear friend and ally.”
Obama claimed Iran’s death-to-America hard-liners are “making common cause with the Republican caucus,” and he argued: “Between now and the congressional vote in September, you’re going to hear a lot of arguments against this deal, backed by tens of millions of dollars in advertising. And if the rhetoric in these ads and the accompanying commentary sounds familiar, it should, for many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal.”
Hard-liners, Republicans – and Obama’s own ad guy. The sunny, 30-minute infomercial Putnam made in 2008 included this promise from Obama: “I’ll renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”
Now Obama says he has done that, and he calls this “the most consequential foreign-policy debate that our country has had since the invasion of Iraq.” But his ad man has a new client.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.