Lugar on Bush: Nice speech, but…

Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Wednesday praised President Bush’s attempt to better define his military strategy in Iraq, saying the speech and the 37-page report on the White House Web site explain better what victory will look like. But he added, “Seems to me the president may spell that out some more.”

What’s needed next, Lugar said, is a “full-court press of information to elevate this debate.”

As he followed the Bush speech back in Indiana, Mike Brady of Newburgh agreed. He has two sons in the Army Reserves who are being deployed overseas. His oldest son, who is 24, was mobilized Monday, he said. And if the number of troops is greatly reduced next year, it may save his 19-year-old son from being sent to war.

Brady described the President Bush’s speech was “a little overdue, honestly,” because “it’s important for the population to know what he’s thinking … what’s going on.”

Lugar said it’s not enough just to find out how many Iraqi troops are in the field and where they’re holding territory. There also needs to be a discussion about whether the Iraqi army is a truly national army or whether it is composed mostly of former Shi’ite and Kurdish militias, and not necessarily representative of the country as a whole.

Bush, in the speech, said the number of U.S. troops in Iraq will decline as Iraqis grow more capable, but offered few specifics other than saying “these decisions about troop levels will be driven by the conditions on the ground in Iraq and the good judgment of our commanders, not by artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington.

“To all who wear the uniform, I make you this pledge: America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins so long as I am your commander in chief.”

Lugar agreed there should be no deadlines and no timetables. Some troops likely will be stationed in Iraq for many more years to come, he said, but added, “2006 is going to be a year of transition to Iraqis and for us.”

Bush quoted the farewell letter of a Marine killed in Iraq, who wrote: “It may seem confusing why we’re in Iraq; it’s not to me. I’m here helping these people so they can live the way we live, not to have to worry about tyrants or vicious dictators.”

Brady said the speech, which he liked, is “not going to win anybody over either way.”

Lugar also questioned whether some tactics conflict with the stated goal of building democracy in Iraq. On Wednesday, for example, The Los Angeles Times reported Army public affairs officers have written pro-American stories, paid to have them translated into Arabic and then paid Iraqi newspapers to publish them. The newspapers did not identify them as coming from the military.

“I don’t think it’s advisable to pay Iraqi papers to run American stories. It really sort of violates what we’re attempting to do, to begin with, given our emphasis on democracy.”

The strategy document posted on the White House Web site indicates one goal is a free, independent and responsible press in Iraq.

Lugar said the strategy could backfire with everyday Iraqis, too. “If you suspect the press has been bought, you might go to your mosque for information. We’d better think about that,” he said.

Bush maintained, too, that “We must recognize Iraq as the central front in the war on terror,” a rebuff to many critics who say it was the U.S.-led invasion that turned Iraq into the central front.

Lugar said history may say the critics are right, but added he felt that is irrelevant at the moment. “We have the problem now of dealing with the situation as it is. It is not an option to say: Iraq doesn’t matter.” If the U.S. withdraws now and leaves the country to its fate, Lugar believes, “We’ll leave a chaotic country where Al Qaeda can flower.”

(Contact Mara Lee at leem(at)