A GOP Challenge to Bush's Iraq Policy

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One of the most respected GOP voices on foreign policy, Sen. Richard Lugar, broke with the White House in a dramatic Senate speech   Monday evening in which he said President Bush’s so-called Iraq surge strategy is not working.

In my judgment, the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved,” declared Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “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 breaking ranks with the Bush administration, the veteran Indiana senator expressed publicly the doubts among many analysts--and some military officers--that the current strategy will be able to turn around the situation in Iraq in a time frame satisfactory for the American political process. Originally, a congressionally mandated September report from the commander of American forces in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, was anticipated as a critical decision point for subsequent policy, but increasingly the White House and GOP leadership have shifted toward portraying that report as merely an update that is likely to be inconclusive.

Lugar’s speech gives cover to other GOP figures to question the prospects for the current U.S. military operations in Iraq . If others follow, such as Sen. John Warner of Virginia , a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, it could further put President Bush on the political defensive over what is now a widely unpopular war.

Lugar expressed doubts that the Iraqi leadership will take the kinds of political steps that Bush has said are necessary for reconciliation in Iraq . “I see no convincing evidence that Iraqis will make the compromises necessary to solidify a functioning government and society, even if we reduce violence to a point that allows for some political and economic normalcy,” said Lugar.

Further, he expressed concern about the strains of the war on the U.S. military. Some observers may argue that we cannot put a price on securing Iraq and that our military readiness is not threatened,” he said. “But this is a naive assessment of our national security resources.”

Lugar said he doesn’t support a full withdrawal but rather a “downsizing and redeployment of U.S. military forces to more sustainable positions in Iraq or the Middle East .”

“Numerous locations for temporary or permanent military bases have been suggested, including Kuwait or other nearby states, the Kurdish territories, or defensible locations in Iraq outside of urban areas, he said. “All of these options come with problems and limitations. But some level of American military presence in Iraq would improve the odds that we could respond to terrorist threats, protect oil flows, and help deter a regional war. It would also reassure friendly governments that the United States is committed to Middle East security. A redeployment would allow us to continue training Iraqi troops and delivering economic assistance, but it would end the U.S. attempt to interpose ourselves between Iraqi sectarian factions.”

U.S. News recently published a comprehensive report on the “surge” strategy in Iraq .

--Terry Atlas