Republican support for the Iraq war is slipping by the day. After four years of combat and more than 3,560 U.S. deaths, two Republican senators previously reluctant to challenge President Bush on the war announced they could no longer support the deployment of 157,000 troops and asked the president to begin bringing them home.
“We must not abandon our mission, but we must begin a transition where the Iraqi government and its neighbors play a larger role in stabilizing Iraq,” Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, wrote in a letter to Bush.
Voinovich, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released his letter Tuesday â€” one day after Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the panel’s top Republican, said in a floor speech that Bush’s strategy was not working.
“The longer we delay the planning for a redeployment, the less likely it is to be successful,” said Lugar, who plans to meet later this week with Stephen Hadley, Bush’s national security adviser.
Lugar and Voinovich are not the first GOP members to call for U.S. troops to leave Iraq. Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Gordon Smith of Oregon made similar remarks earlier this year. But their public break is significant because it raises the possibility that Senate Democrats could muster the 60 votes needed to pass legislation that would call for Bush to bring troops home.
Their remarks also are an early warning shot to a lame duck president that GOP support for the war is thinning. The administration is not expected until September to say whether a recent troop buildup in Iraq is working.
“Everyone should take note, especially the administration,” said Snowe, R-Maine, noting Lugar’s senior position within the GOP. “It certainly indicates the tide is turning.”
Lugar told reporters Tuesday that he does not expect the fall assessment to be conclusive and would only fuel sentiment among lawmakers that Congress should intervene with legislation to end the war.
“The president has an opportunity now to bring about a bipartisan foreign policy,” Lugar said. “I don’t think he’ll have that option very long.”
The White House on Tuesday appealed to members for more patience on the war in Iraq.
“We hope that members of the House and Senate will give the Baghdad security plan a chance to unfold,” said White House spokesman Tony Snow.
Snow also said Lugar was a thoughtful man and that his remarks came as no surprise.
“We’ve known that he’s had reservations about the policy for some time,” he said.
Republican support for the war has declined steadily since last year’s elections, mirroring public poll numbers. In an AP-Ipsos poll earlier this month, 28 percent said they were satisfied with President Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq, down 5 percentage points in a month.
Earlier this year, Voinovich and Lugar said they doubted the troop buildup in Iraq would work. But they declined to back a resolution expressing opposition to the troop increase because they said it would have no practical effect. The two senators also refused Democratic proposals to set a timetable for troop withdrawals.
Other Republicans, including Sens. Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Susan Collins of Maine, expressed similar concerns about Iraq but recently have said they will wait until the September assessment before calling for a change in course, including possible troop withdrawals.
Voinovich and Lugar said they still would not support a timetable for troop withdrawals and are unlikely to switch their vote. But softer alternative proposals are in the works that could possibly attract their support.
After the Fourth of July recess, “you’ll be hearing a number of statements from other (Republican) colleagues,” predicted Sen. John Warner, R-Va., a longtime skeptic of the war strategy.
Warner spokesman John Ullyot said the senator is drafting a legislative proposal on the war, but declined to discuss the details. The measure would likely be offered as an amendment to the 2008 defense authorization bill on the floor next month.
In the meantime, Democrats say they will try again to set an end date on the war and cut off funding for combat.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called Lugar’s speech “brilliant” and “courageous” and said it would later be noted in the history books as a turning point in the war.
“But that will depend on whether more Republicans take the stand that Sen. Lugar took,” Reid added.
Also on Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted in favor of confirming Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute as Bush’s personal adviser on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Pete Geren as Army secretary. A full Senate vote on the nominations has not been scheduled.
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Senate Foreign Relations Committee: http://foreign.senate.gov/