GOP Skepticism On Iraq Growing

In seeking a reduction of U.S. forces into a support role in Iraq, Sen. Richard Lugar (R) said President Bush and his team
In seeking a reduction of U.S. forces into a support role in Iraq, Sen. Richard Lugar (R) said President Bush and his team "must come to grips" with reality. (By Lauren Victoria Burke -- Associated Press)
By Karen DeYoung and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Key Republican senators, signaling increasing GOP skepticism about President Bush's strategy in Iraq, have called for a reduction in U.S. forces and launched preemptive efforts to counter a much-awaited administration progress report due in September.

In an unannounced speech on the Senate floor Monday night, Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said the U.S. military escalation begun in the spring has "very limited" prospects for success. He called on Bush to begin reducing U.S. forces. "We don't owe the president our unquestioning agreement," Lugar said.

The harsh judgment from one of the Senate's most respected foreign-policy voices was a blow to White House efforts to boost flagging support for its war policy, and opened the door to defections by other Republicans who have supported the administration despite increasing private doubts.

Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to Bush yesterday urging the president to develop "a comprehensive plan for our country's gradual military disengagement" from Iraq. "I am also concerned that we are running out of time," he wrote.

Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, praised Lugar's statement as "an important and sincere contribution" to the Iraq debate.

Republican skepticism has grown steadily, if subtly, since the Senate began debating the war in February. One lawmaker who has changed his tone is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.). Earlier this year, McConnell helped block from a vote even a nonbinding resolution opposing the troop increase. Now, he views a change in course as a given. "I anticipate that we'll probably be going in a different direction in some way in Iraq" in September, McConnell told reporters earlier this month. "And it'll be interesting to see what the administration chooses to do."

Indeed, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill had been hoping to stave off further defections until after a report on military and political conditions in Iraq is delivered by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker in September. However, some in the GOP fear that the White House is stalling, hoping to delay any shift in U.S. strategy until the fall. A major test will come next month, when the Senate considers a series of withdrawal-related amendments to the defense authorization bill -- and Republicans such as Lugar and Voinovich will have to officially break ranks or not.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said yesterday that Bush hopes "members of the House and Senate will give the Baghdad security plan a chance to unfold."

Lugar consulted with McConnell before delivering his speech, but not with the White House, according to Lugar spokesman Andy Fisher.

In his lengthy speech, Lugar cited several indicators that he said are working against U.S. success, including the Iraqis' inability to reach a short-term political settlement, the strain on the U.S. military, and the constraints imposed by domestic politics in Washington. Bush and his team, Lugar said, "must come to grips" with reality.

However, he warned against a total withdrawal from Iraq. A "sustainable military posture" would reduce U.S. forces into a support role to help the Iraqi army, he said. Similarly, Voinovich called for "responsible military disengagement" from Iraq. "It is absolutely critical that we avoid being drawn into a precipitous withdrawal," he said in a strategy paper that accompanied his letter to Bush.

Lugar first expressed concerns about the White House strategy during a private meeting that he and Warner had with Bush in the first week of January. Outlining his plans to dispatch nearly 30,000 more troops to Iraq, Bush argued that military escalation would give the Iraqis time to reconcile sectarian divisions. Since then, as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government has made no visible movement toward political reconciliation, the two senior GOP lawmakers have regularly voiced muted concern in public.

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