- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 28, 2007

Several House Republicans yesterday called on President Bush to reconvene the bipartisan Iraq Study Group to assess the war effort, the latest in a series of party moves to challenge the White House without aligning with antiwar Democrats.

Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, one of the more liberal Republicans in Congress, teamed with his party’s conservative stalwart, Rep. Frank R. Wolf of Virginia, and hawkish Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas to press for an independent review to rival the administration’s progress report in September.

“The Bush administration has nothing to lose and quite frankly everything to gain,” Mr. Wolf said. “Everyone wants to see an end to the violence and [to see] success in Iraq. Everyone wants to win the war on terror.”

The lawmakers stressed that they did not support Democrats’ plans for an abrupt pullout. They said they wanted options to reduce U.S. military operations in Iraq while preventing the country’s collapse.

It was third straight day in which Republicans voiced doubts about Mr. Bush’s war policy while simultaneously discrediting Democrats’ pullout plans.

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.

The next day, Republican Sen. George V. Voinovich of Ohio sent the president a policy proposal for Iraq that included “military disengagement” coupled with robust diplomatic and foreign aid efforts.

These careful moves to challenge Mr. Bush while keeping antiwar Democrats at arm’s length highlight the rocky political landscape confronting Republicans as the war they supported grows more unpopular.

Democrats say the trend shows that their plan to isolate Mr. Bush from his Republican allies is working.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, yesterday issued a statement that his party was “changing the debate on Iraq.”

But House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, said most members of the caucus were reserving judgment on the war until the September progress report by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.

The Iraq Study Group — which was headed by Democrat Lee H. Hamilton, a former Indiana congressman, and Republican James A. Baker III, former secretary of state under the first President Bush — took about nine months to finish the report that came out in December.

Mr. Shays said that Mr. Hamilton and key staff had agreed to get back together, and if they start now could update the report by September.

The group’s December recommendations included a slow withdrawal of U.S. troops while handing security responsibilities over to Iraqi forces and undertaking an aggressive regional diplomatic effort.

Mr. Bush at first discarded many of the recommendations in favor of the surge, which three weeks ago reached its full strength of about 140,000 troops. But last month, he endorsed the study group’s advice as a potential “plan B” after the summer offensive.