GOP doubts on war widen

THE WASHINGTON TIMES Ohio Sen. George V. Voinovich yesterday called for a “military disengagement” from Iraq, the second Republican this week to voice doubts about President Bush’s troop-surge strategy while simultaneously discrediting Democrats’ plans for an abrupt pullout.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a speech Monday that the president should “downsize the U.S. military’s role in Iraq” and forge a new Middle East strategy.

Democratic leaders and antiwar groups seized upon the remarks, especially Mr. Lugar‘s, as evidence their plan to isolate Mr. Bush from his Republican allies was working.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who vows by fall to pass a troop-withdrawal bill, called Mr. Lugar’s speech “a turning point” in the war debate.

But Mr. Voinovich and Mr. Lugar oppose Democratic alternatives, including pullout timetables they say would undermine U.S. credibility.

“Such a withdrawal would compound the risks of a wider regional conflict stimulated by Sunni-Shia tensions,” Mr. Lugar said. “It would also be a signal that the United States was abandoning efforts to prevent Iraqi territory from being used as a terrorist base.”

Mr. Voinovich, in a letter yesterday to Mr. Bush that outlined a policy proposal for Iraq, said it was “absolutely critical that we avoid being forced into a precipitous withdrawal, whether it is because of world events or our own political atmosphere at home.”

The lawmakers’ careful moves to challenge Mr. Bush while not outright joining antiwar Democrats highlights the rocky political landscape confronting Republicans as the war they have loyally supported grows more unpopular each day.

Republican leaders say they want to give the troop surge now under way in Baghdad time to succeed and are waiting for a September progress report by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.

“There are signs of improvement, but al Qaeda understands the stakes as well as we do,” House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said of the recent bombings and attacks in Iraq.

Mr. Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, plan in September to pursue more measures to end the war.

They backed downlast month when Mr. Bush vetoed a timetable to pullout troops by April. Next time, they hope enough Republicans will defect to give them the two-thirds majority vote needed to override a veto.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said the administration has long been aware that Mr. Lugar had reservations about the war.

“We take seriously his point of view because he is a serious guy,” Mr. Snow said. “On the other hand, we also take seriously the efforts and the advice that the president has gotten from his commanders on the ground.”

Mr. Lugar, who told reporters yesterday that he wasn’t presenting his own Iraq plan and looked to the administration to come up with a new strategy, criticized the tenor of the war debate in the Democrat-controlled Congress.

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