Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Republican Senators Losing Patience With Bush Over Iraq War

GOP Dissent Spreads, Fractures Widen

Republican Senator Richard G. Lugar is by no means the first GOPer to break ranks and announce that he has lost faith in the president's ability to win the Iraq War, but he is expected to be the first of a new wave of dissent on the Hill.

Lugar is no low-ranking rebel, hoping for a moment in the national media spotlight by bagging his boss. He has been one of the most die-hard supporters of Bush, particularly when it came to Iraq and the 'War on Terror'. And Lugar also happens to be the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Lugar's fears that the US is losing the Iraq War, and is indelibly damaging the international reputation and standing of the United States, is reportedly a common belief amongst the majority of GOPers, even though few have said as much, so far.

But Lugar's decision to announce, broadly and boldly, to the national media that he has lost faith in the president, and the Iraq War, is expected to spark a flow of fellow GOPer dissent and direct criticism of Bush and his war-fighting policies. In fact, that flow-on effect is already taking hold in Washington.

The message to Bush from the GOP is clear enough : You've been given plenty of time, and that time is running out. Change course now. Before it really is too late.

From the New York Times :

“In my judgment, the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved,” Mr. Lugar said Monday during a 50-minute speech on the Senate floor, which was delivered after nearly everyone in the Capitol had retired for the evening. “Persisting indefinitely with the surge strategy will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our vital interests over the long term.”

In an interview with reporters on Tuesday, Mr. Lugar said President Bush had limited time to change the course of the war because of the 2008 presidential campaign.

“We’re heading into a very partisan era,” he said. “The president has the opportunity now to bring about a bipartisan foreign policy. I don’t think he’ll have that option very long.”

His remarks reverberated through Capitol Hill on Tuesday, picking up support from other Republican senators, even as the White House, which was not alerted about Mr. Lugar’s speech in advance, tried to minimize their significance.

At his daily televised briefing, Tony Snow, Mr. Bush’s press secretary, dismissed the idea that the White House might worry that Mr. Lugar’s statement would encourage fellow Republicans to join him in breaking with the president.

For months, Mr. Lugar has kept his skepticism about the president’s Iraq policy largely to himself, seldom offering anything beyond a hopeful wait-and-see statement. A soft-spoken cardinal of foreign policy, Mr. Lugar is known to his colleagues as anything but a bitter partisan, which made his remarks all the more stinging.

Senator George V. Voinovich, an Ohio Republican who also serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, echoed Mr. Lugar’s message in a letter to the president on Tuesday, a critique whose timing was coordinated to follow on the heels of Mr. Lugar’s.

“I am also concerned that we are running out of time,” Mr. Voinovich wrote in the letter.

Other Republicans also said their patience was waning.

“The one real disappointment is that the Iraqi government has not stepped up and fulfilled what we think is the role that they need to play,” said Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina. “If that doesn’t happen quickly, I’m sure more of us will come to the conclusion that Senator Lugar has.”

The White House and the Pentagon have implored lawmakers for patience until they receive an update in September from Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq.

Mr. Lugar said he thought it was too late to begin devising an exit strategy. The United States is becoming diplomatically paralyzed in the Middle East and around the world, he said, and by September the presidential campaign would inflame the partisanship battle.

“The administration and Congress must suspend what has become almost knee-jerk political combat over Iraq,” Mr. Lugar said. “Those who offer constructive criticism of the surge strategy are not defeatists, any more than those who warn against a precipitous withdrawal are militarists.”

By the end of the day on Tuesday, the White House also had a letter to contend with from Mr. Voinovich, who called on the administration to develop a comprehensive military withdrawal plan from Iraq.

“My heart has been heavy for a long time,” he said in an interview. “We’re talking $620 billion. We’re talking over 3,500 people killed. I have a picture of one of our marines that’s on my desk so I don’t forget, O.K.?”