Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) has never been a favorite of movement conservatives, and certainly not since President Obama was elected. He’s been a pushover on Obama’s extreme nominees (both on judges and on State Department picks such as Harold Koh, whose writings on deference to international law set off alarm bells on the right.) He’s flacked for the administration on START. But until now, he has not played the isolationist card. That appears to be changing. He’s put out yet another cringe-inducing statement on Libya:

“There needs to be a plan about what happens after Gadhafi,” Lugar said. “Who will be in charge then, and who pays for this all. President Obama, so far, has only expressed vague hopes.”

“Congress has been squabbling for months over a budget to run the federal government for a fiscal year that is almost half over,” Lugar said. “We argue over where to cut $100 million here and there from programs many people like. So here comes an open-ended military action with no-end game envisioned.

With the Arab League already having second thoughts, and Turkey nixing NATO taking over, today there are even more questions. We also have to debate how all this effects the Saudis, Bahrain and Yemen.”

“The facts are that our budget is stretched too far and our troops are stretched too far,” Lugar said. “The American people require a full understanding and accounting, through a full and open debate in Congress.”

Lugar is going beyond merely a demand for congressional consultation — he’s joining with the far left in questioning the entire mission in Libya. (Does he know the vast number of Americans, 70 percent, support the war?)

If Lugar had been a devoted fiscal hawk lo these many years, this might have the patina of credibility. But now he’s discovered a place to cut back on spending — national defense. Is he auditioning as Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s replacement? Is he trying to appeal to the pull-up-the-drawbridge crowd in Indiana?

Whatever his motives, it is a dangerous game Lugar is playing. The war against Moammar Gaddafi may not suffer, but how long before Lugar starts hectoring for a pullout from Afghanistan? Following his logic, that engagement is costing a heck of a lot more than some airstrikes in Libya. So is that a war he would suggest is now too expensive to wage?

As I have written before, the Republican Party remains supportive of projecting American power and values in a dangerous world. But real trouble can be made if figures such as Lugar depart from the mainstream, taking with him devoted isolationists like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) What, then, will keep Democrats from deserting the war effort in Afghanistan in droves?

So far, Republican leaders has not suggested that the Libyan or Afghanistan wars “cost too much.” They have demanded greater consultation and communication from the imperious White House on Libya. If the president is smart, he’ll make sure they get it, lest Lugar gain followers in his newfound isolationism.