The Bush administration has lost Dick Lugar, and that’s akin to a seismic crack appearing in the wall of a dam.
Given the extent of the debacle in Iraq, and the impending ’08 election calendar, it was probably inevitable that a respected Republican senator with strong foreign policy credentials would publicly renounce the Bush war strategy and thus provide political cover for timorous GOP colleagues who have long yearned to do the same. All year long the White House has tried to forestall such an event, by perpetually pleading for more patience, but the clock ran out on Monday night.
Dick Lugar – the senior senator from red-state Indiana, a Bush loyalist on every key Iraq vote dating back to 2002, winner of landslides in all his Senate elections (especially in 2006, when he didn’t even draw a Democratic opponent), a long-acknowledged dean of the GOP foreign policy establishment, a former Foreign Relations Committee chairman, a guy who routinely draws near-zero ratings from liberal groups, a ’96 presidential candidate who warned about nuclear terrorism even though nobody listened – stood on the Senate floor and issued his declaration of independence from the Bush war team.
In short, he called for a reduction in U.S. troops. Others are bound to follow – GOP senator George Voinovich of Ohio joined Lugar in dissent yesterday, calling for "gradual military disengagement," and senator John Warner of Virginia said of Lugar, “I hail what he did” – in the clearest indication thus far that Republicans will refrain from joining hands with Bush and jumping off the cliff.
Apparently, there is an ebbing desire among Senate Republicans to buttress a president whose approval rating is now on the south side of 30 percent; as Warner reportedly said yesterday, “”you’ll be hearing a number of (Iraq) statements from other colleagues,” after the Fourth of July recess. They well recognize that Gen. David Petraeus is already trying to pre-spin his September report on the Surge by dampening any expectations of success; Lugar, by delivering his speech on Monday night, has signaled that the senators are not content to simply wait around until Petraeus shows up to plead for more patience.
If a Democrat had given the Lugar speech, Bush’s surrogates would have assailed the speaker as a defeatocrat who was obviously “rooting for failure.” But Lugar’s credentials have inoculated him from rhetorical attack; indeed, GOP senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama said yesterday that when Lugar speaks out on foreign policy, “everybody tends to listen.”
Some Lugar highlights: “In my judgment, the current surge strategy is not an effective means of protecting (America’s national security) interests. Its prospects for success are too dependent on the actions of others who do not share our agenda. It relies on military power to achieve goals that it cannot achieve. It distances allies that we will need for any regional diplomatic effort. Its failure, without a careful transition to a back-up policy would intensify our loss of credibility. It uses tremendous amounts of resources that cannot be employed in other ways to secure our objectives. And it lacks domestic support that is necessary to sustain a policy of this type.”
Therefore, he said, “our security interests call for a downsizing and re-deployment of U.S. military forces…I believe that we do have viable options that could strengthen our position in the Middle East, and reduce the prospect of terrorism, regional war, and other calamities. But seizing these opportunities will require the president to downsize the U.S. military’s role in Iraq and place much more emphasis on diplomatic and economic options.”