Opinion leaders unite to shift Saddam focus in US

WASHINGTON - An eclectic cadre of opinion leaders has formed a new group in an effort to make Americans think less about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons, and more about the threat posed by the man himself.

The Committee for the Liberation of Iraq (CLI), spearheaded by Randy Scheunemann, a former national security advisor to Senate Majority Leaders Trent Lott and Bob Dole, boasts such influential members as former Secretary of State George Shultz, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Teamsters president James Hoffa Jr., Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, and retired "drug czar" General Barry McCaffrey. Created just last month, the CLI has already received the blessing of the White House in the form of a meeting with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

"We came together to get a unique perspective out to the media, one that doesn't focus just on the inspection modality or force deployments," said executive director Scheunemann, who also owns Orion Strategies, a small government-relations shop. "We want to get stories focused on what we see to be the real problem: not Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, but Saddam Hussein's regime."

In order to accomplish that, the CLI is deploying its own troops to editorial boards both inside and outside the Beltway. It is also encouraging its members to hold lectures around the US, creating opportunities to penetrate local media markets. Members have already been interviewed on MSNBC and Fox News Channel, and articles have appeared in The Washington Post and The New York Times. Scheunemann also expressed an interest in obtaining wide radio saturation. "It requires a lot less travel time," he joked.

It is no coincidence that the CLI has come together just as United Nations weapons inspectors land on Iraqi soil for the first time since 1998. "This story is now at the very top of the national debate, and therefore every print, radio, and broadcast outlet is working on some element of the Iraq question," said Scheunemann.

While he makes no bones about his intention to capitalize on the media's current obsession with the story, the Capitol Hill veteran -- who helped draft the Iraqi Liberation Act of 1998 -- says he is also focused on the long term. "The Committee is committed to work beyond the liberation of Iraq to the reconstruction of its economy, and the establishment of political pluralism, democratic institutions, and the rule of law," reads the CLI mission statement.

In addition to working with Lott and Dole, Scheunemann served as senior defense and foreign policy advisor for the McCain 2000 Presidential campaign. Prior to that, he worked on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the House Republican Policy Committee.

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