Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 28, 2007

LUGAR BACKPEDALS....On Monday, Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) appeared to shake things up with a Senate speech in which he said Bush's war strategy is not working and that the U.S. should downsize the military's role in Iraq. Given Lugar's stature in the GOP, it was perceived as a seminal moment.

Lugar's spokesperson added, however, that the speech did not mean Lugar would switch his vote on the war. The senator crafted a high-profile speech on Iraq, sent shockwaves through the Hill, inspired Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) to also call for a troop reduction, but Lugar wasn't committing to anything. He's willing to break with his unflinching support for Bush's war policy, but that's about all he's willing to do.

Yesterday afternoon, Lugar made clear that his rhetoric may be the full extent of his actions.

Lugar has no intention of acting on his rhetoric. Speaking this morning with NBC's Matt Lauer, Lugar said that Congressional measures aimed at curtailing U.S. military involvement in Iraq, including "so-called timetables, benchmarks," have "no particular legal consequence," are "very partisan," and "will not work."

What are we left with? A conservative Republican senator who's willing to break with the president's policy, unwilling to embrace the Democrats' policy, and unable (so far) to offer some other alternative. What's this worth? Time will tell.

Swopa argues, persuasively, that Lugar can hem and haw now, but at a minimum, the Indiana senator has moved the debate forward: "The good news about the Lugar et al. statements is that by creating a media fuss about 'Republicans say it's time to leave Iraq,' they've kept the subject of withdrawal on the table and made it easier for Democrats to apply more pressure."

Perhaps. All the buzz this week is that leading Republican senators are breaking with Bush on Iraq. They see the White House pushing them over a cliff, and they're suddenly reluctant to go. This creates some momentum for opponents of the war, and will ratchet up the pressure when it comes time for these "serious" GOP lawmakers to actually cast a vote.

But this approach still counts on a sizable chunk on the Republican caucus to eventually act on their convictions (and fears). So far, a small handful are kinda sorta willing to talk the talk. I'll be impressed when any of them start walking the walk.

Steve Benen 8:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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I have little hope that any GOP Senator or Representative who might potentially face a primary next spring will vote against the war in September. They're still more afraid of their own base, and of the White House, than of the Democrats. And while the support of their base for the war and for Bush isn't as firm as it was, it's still strong enough to force an antiwar Republican to get serious heartburn over a primary.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist (formerly RT) on June 28, 2007 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

Not exactly the courage of his convictions is it?

Posted by: Sonny on June 28, 2007 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

if you are not against bush's handling of iraq...

you are for it..

Posted by: mr. irony on June 28, 2007 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

Repeat after me:

WE MAY HAVE LOST THE BATTLE (Iraq), BUT WE HAVEN'T LOST THE WAR.

What is it that makes some Republicans so scared to admit we've lost Iraq? Rather than focusing on new ways to combat terrorism around the globe, the hawks want to try to make everyone who wants to pull out look like whimps and call them defeatists.

Is an early exit on a failed business venture accepting defeat? No.

Posted by: ben on June 28, 2007 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

How many blogs does it take to keep Steve Benen busy?

Apparently at least half a shitload.

Are you following me Steve?

Posted by: OCD on June 28, 2007 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

From a purely political standpoint, come election time this Fall, when Republican incumbents will again become vulnerable to blindly siding with Bush, we will be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. Faced with either being loyal to a president who has failed them politically or losing their own congressional district, you will see more and more reps. from the GOP stepping out of rank and voicing similar concerns as Lugar. I'm sure you will also see the backpedaling after the fact as well. But it is becoming increasingly clear that it is political death right now to side with this president in a general election. Rhetoric and sloganism may well work well when you're preaching to the choir, as is the case during primary season, but when the whole populace gets a chance to look at your stance, it is suicide to parrot this Administration's disasterous positions and policies when it comes to foreign policy. Iraq has rightfully become an albatross around the GOP's neck.
They know it; the Democrats know it; and fortunately, the citizenry of this country kows it.

Posted by: ny patriot on June 28, 2007 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

From a purely political standpoint, come election time this Fall, when Republican incumbents will again become vulnerable to blindly siding with Bush, we will be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. Faced with either being loyal to a president who has failed them politically or losing their own congressional district, you will see more and more reps. from the GOP stepping out of rank and voicing similar concerns as Lugar. I'm sure you will also see the backpedaling after the fact as well. But it is becoming increasingly clear that it is political death right now to side with this president in a general election. Rhetoric and sloganism may well work well when you're preaching to the choir, as is the case during primary season, but when the whole populace gets a chance to look at your stance, it is suicide to parrot this Administration's disasterous positions and policies when it comes to foreign policy. Iraq has rightfully become an albatross around the GOP's neck.
They know it; the Democrats know it; and fortunately, the citizenry of this country knows it.

Posted by: ny patriot on June 28, 2007 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

Poor Lugar is stuck between the war profiteers (a rock) and his constituents (a hard place).

Posted by: elmo on June 28, 2007 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

Never trust a Republican to do the right thing.

All mothers should teach their children some simple facts of life like this.

Posted by: gregor on June 28, 2007 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

Amazing what waking up with a horse's head in the bed can do to a guy.

Posted by: Alan on June 28, 2007 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

No, elmo, Lugar doesn't have anything to fear from his constituents. He just won re-election.

There are 21 senators on the hook--and I think a dozen could fall. Allard's already out. Warner's not fundraising. Coleman, Smith, Collins, are all in trouble. McConnell and Stevens are in a different kind of trouble.

08 could be a democratic lockstep government. Wingnuts may really want to consider their commitment to the unitary executive, and the elimination of oversight.

Posted by: jayackroyd on June 28, 2007 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

Why do I have this image of penguins crowding the edge of the ice floe waiting for someone else to go first?

Lugar looked like he was going to jump, but pulled back.

-- Tentakles

Posted by: Tentakles on June 28, 2007 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

"Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said Clinton should stop the fight over executive privilege. 'I think he should give up that contest,' Lott told reporters Monday. 'And I think he should be forthcoming. He should give us more information, not less.'" -- CNN, 6/1/98

"Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said yesterday that President Clinton's decision to invoke executive privilege in connection with independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's investigation was 'improper' and will damage the president's credibility because of parallels with the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard M. Nixon's downfall. 'It looks like they are hiding something,' Lott said on NBC's 'Meet the Press,' one of several Sunday television interview programs dominated by discussions of the sexual misconduct allegations that are swirling around Clinton." -- Washington Post, 3/23/98

"[C]ome forward. Tell the American people what has happened in these cases...What does he know? What is the truth? What is the whole truth?" -- Trent Lott, news conference, 3/9/98

"[T]hey've taken a step that really smacks of Watergate. It certainly looks bad -- like there's something there that they're trying to hide."-- Trent Lott, quoted in Washington Times, 3/23/1998

Posted by: Stefan on June 28, 2007 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

"It's very important that we get to the bottom of this...This is no small thing, and [Ken Starr's] been slowed down every step of the way by the refusal to give subpoenaed documents, by continual assertions of executive privilege, and all kinds of ... So I have to say, we've got to get to these facts, we've got to get to the the bottom of it, and, hopefully, they'll clear the president. But in all honesty, it doesn't look like they will." -- Orrin Hatch on Meet the Press, 2/1/98

"Undaunted, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Orrin Hatch, says he will issue his own subpoenas. 'If they say no,' said Hatch, 'we'll have to go to court. The court may very well hold that it's a political question. If that's so, then it's going to have to become a political event. And we're going to just have to show that these people don't shoot straight, they're not honest, they're not decent and they shouldn't be in the White House.' -- CNN.com, 9/17/99

Posted by: Stefan on June 28, 2007 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

The strategy was to disarm Saddam of the WMD he was addicted to, receive garlands of flowers from grateful Iraqis, and move on to Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia in the Judeo/Evangelical Crusade after a 30-90 day occupation. Took Lugar this long to figure it wasn't working? Is he retarded?

The strategy yarn has been spun many times since. I think the present strategy, which is also not working, is to preserve Bush's self-esteem some way.

Posted by: Luther on June 28, 2007 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

I'd bet good money that a key difference between Steve Benen's post here and Kevin Drum's brief post on the same subject a couple of days ago is that Benen had actually read Lugar's speech.

It's here -- http://lugar.senate.gov/press/record.cfm?id=277751&&year=2007& -- for those interested, and I hope there will be some. This is a more insightful review of our current position and options in Iraq and the Middle East that we'll be able to get from the administration, the Washington think tanks, or any of the candidates running for President.

On a number of points I think Lugar is wrong. But his main argument is that we'll need to greatly reduce the American commitment in Iraq soon, before the election campaign dominates all public discussion in this country -- and that doing this in a orderly manner is not a policy that can be imposed by Congress. Not that it shouldn't be imposed by Congress, but that it cannot, physically, be done.

He is right about this. Congress cannot direct military operations, and even the motions in Congress pointing us toward a funding cutoff wouldn't take effect until after Lugar believes we need to start withdrawing. Obviously this begs a key question: if the administration refuses to alter its Iraq policy in response to Congress, and Congress won't bring itself to cut off funds, won't we be stuck with the war as it is being fought now until 2009?

Lugar, against long odds given what we've seen over the last few years, is betting that the administration will respond to Congressional pressure if there is enough of it, especially coming from Republicans. He is betting in part on the counsel of administration officials who have gone along with the "surge" for the same reasons he and Warner did. In short, he is betting on the White House being completely isolated in Washington and even in its own administration, and responding to that.

I don't know if this is a winning bet. Much of what Lugar says in his statement could have been said as truthfully two years ago -- the point he makes about American interests in the world including much more than what happens in Iraq could have been made long before that. And following Lugar's own logic, the administration would not just need to change its policy to avoid all the consequences Lugar fears. It would need to change it soon, as in during the next few weeks.

As I say, Lugar is facing long odds, and to shorten them appreciably he will need to speak out forcefully and repeatedly over the next month or so, something he has not in the past always been willing to do. That said, his speech Monday provided a persuasive analysis of where we are and offered a way forward. That's more than most of the people in Washington are doing right now.

Posted by: Zathras on June 28, 2007 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

If Bush is NOT on board with leaving Iraq there will be no GOOD way to leave. There will only be messy ways to leave. Leaving requires a number of political and diplomatic efforts. Bush has moved forward on NONE of them because Bush wants to stay in Iraq permanently and has been hard at work removing good options for leaving. Lugar sees a train wreck coming. Congress will not vote enough funds to stay and Bush will play chicken with our troops. If Bush runs out the clock until 2009, there will be enormous pressure on the new president to leave tomorrow without first laying the political and diplomatic groundwork for getting out. Lugar is calling on Bush to change course.

Bush has not only made a mess in Iraq, he is a standing in the way of changing course. We are screwed.

Posted by: bakho on June 28, 2007 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK


bakho: We are screwed.


we told you so....

Posted by: gore voters on June 29, 2007 at 8:14 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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