Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Iraq policy is failing, says top senator - Time to begin bringing GIs home, Lugar says

Iraq policy is failing, says top senator - Time to begin bringing GIs home, Lugar says
By Mike Dorning
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published June 26, 2007

WASHINGTON -- The top-ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee called Monday for a drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq, breaking with the Bush administration and signaling a further weakening of congressional support for the president's Iraq strategy.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who chaired the committee until Democrats took control this year, said the White House's continuing commitment to its troop "surge" is hurting U.S. leverage with other countries, strengthening America's enemies, stressing the military and compounding the chances of a chaotic retreat from Iraq down the road.

"Our course in Iraq has lost contact with our vital national security interests in the Middle East and beyond," Lugar said in a speech delivered on the Senate floor on short notice Monday evening. "We risk foreign policy failures that could greatly diminish our influence in the region and the world."

The Bush administration so far has shown little inclination to adjust its Iraq policy to suit the judgments of congressional leaders of either party.

But Lugar's criticism adds an influential Republican voice of opposition at a time when support for Bush's Iraq policies is eroding among congressional Republicans. Lugar's views on foreign policy are widely respected among Republican moderates and within the foreign policy establishment.

"This is a terrible blow to the administration," said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.). "It will get a lot of Republicans thinking about the way forward. Dick Lugar is one of the most respected members of Congress. He is very thoughtful. He studies things. He analyzes things. He's not a knee-jerk guy."

Another leading Republican spokesman on national security matters, Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), the party's senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also has voiced reservations about Iraq policy. Warner said in September that Iraq is "drifting sideways" and that action would have to be taken "if this level of violence is not under control and this government able to function."

Lugar had refrained from public criticism of the Bush administration's troop build-up, though he has never shown enthusiasm for it. Shortly after Bush announced the policy in January, Lugar said that he was "not confident" of its success but that the plan deserved a chance to work.

An aide said Lugar privately counseled the administration for much of the year to consider a troop drawdown and a greater focus on regional diplomacy. Lugar decided to speak out because he came to the conclusion that the U.S. should no longer wait for a policy change, the aide said.

"A course change should happen now, while there is still some possibility of constructing a sustainable bipartisan strategy in Iraq," Lugar said. "If the president waits until the presidential election campaign is in full swing, the intensity of confrontation on Iraq is likely to limit U.S. options."

Many Republicans in Congress have said they will wait to judge the success of the troop surge until the U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, delivers a congressionally mandated report on progress in September. But the presidential primary campaign is expected to intensify after Labor Day.

Lugar cited the report of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, led by former Republican Secretary of State James Baker, as a "useful starting point for the development of a Plan B and a template for bipartisan cooperation."

The panel recommended a shift in focus to training Iraq troops, an intensified regional diplomacy effort and withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq by March 2008.

Lugar suggested drawing down U.S. troops and redeploying remaining troops to Kuwait, Kurdish territories in northern Iraq or defensible positions outside urban areas of Iraq.

Lugar said that sectarian strife in Iraq, stresses on the military and domestic divisions over the war "are converging to make it almost impossible for the United States to engineer a stable, multisectarian government in Iraq in a reasonable time frame."

He said the current strategy in Iraq is hindering U.S. ability to support allies in the region and protect long-term access to oil supplies while allowing Iran to enhance its influence.

"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," Lugar said. "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."



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IN THE WEB EDITION For more on Lugar's speech, plus a link to the full text, go to chicagotribune/lugar


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