Two more GOP senators break from Bush on Iraq
Two more Republican senators have gone public with their dissatisfaction with President Bush's Iraq war strategy, but the White House still doesn't view the internecine feuding during wartime as a "hemorrhaging of support," since hardly any GOP lawmakers have aligned with Democrats to call for an immediate troop withdrawal.
"Wearied by the lack of progress in Iraq and by the steady stream of military funerals back home, a growing number of Republican lawmakers who had stood loyally with President Bush are insisting his strategy has failed and are calling on him to bring the war to an end," Noam N. Levey writes for Saturday's LA Times. "In the last two weeks, three GOP senators — including one of the party's leading voices on foreign affairs and one of Bush's strongest allies — have urged the president to change course now so U.S. troops can start to withdraw."
On Friday, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee told the paper, "It should be clear to the president that there needs to be a new strategy. Our policy in Iraq is drifting;" and "Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, who helped lead the charge earlier this year against Democratic efforts to oppose Bush's troop buildup, said: 'We don't seem to be making a lot of progress.'"
Gregg added that it was important that there be "a clear blueprint for how we were going to draw down."
"None of these GOP lawmakers has embraced Democratic legislation to compel a troop withdrawal," the paper notes. "But nearly five years after congressional Republicans overwhelmingly answered Bush's call for military action against Iraq's Saddam Hussein, some are doing what was once unthinkable: challenging a wartime president from their own party."
The article continues, "The tide of Republican dissent began to grow two weeks ago when Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, former chairman of the foreign relations committee, delivered an earnest plea for change from the floor of the Senate. Sen. George V. Voinovich of Ohio expressed similar doubts in a letter he sent to the president the next day, and Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, the former chairman of the armed services committee, openly praised Lugar for speaking out."
New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici, a senator for more than three decades, up for reelection in 2008, was the third Republican elder statesman to publicly turn against the president's troop 'surge' policy within 10 days.
"I am unwilling to continue our current strategy," Domenici said at a news conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, blaming the Iraqi government for not making sufficient progress to merit the sacrifices of US troops.
The Times notes that "another House Republican, conservative Rep. John T. Doolittle from Roseville, Calif., labeled the Iraq war 'a quagmire' and called for a reduced U.S. military presence, according to the Sacramento Bee."
During a White House press gaggle on Friday, spokesman Tony Fratto took exception when a reporter asked "what is the President going to do to stop the hemorrhaging of support from his own -- his fellow Republicans before the progress report even comes forth."
"I don't buy that characterization of what we're hearing from these leaders in Congress," Fratto responded. "I think what we are hearing is some thoughtful discussion of how we go forward. And what we're going to do, and what the President is going to do is going to continue to talk to them and continue to work together on ways forward as we work through this. So I don't buy that characterization of it."
Another reporter asked, "Is there no concern that these leading, influential Republicans -- Domenici, Voinovich, Lugar -- are basically parting with the President on many aspects of his policy? And I think that's undeniable. They're calling for timetables; the President doesn't want that. They're calling for withdrawal plans; the President doesn't want to provide that."
"If a withdrawal plan is tied to -- is tied to a specific date, I think that's not a wise way to go and that's not something that we would support and that's a conversation that we would have with them," Fratto responded. "We think that is -- that's fraught with danger. But that's part of the conversation that we would have with them."
Fratto added, "But I hope they do recognize -- and I think they do -- that we do want to get to the same place, and we share that goal. So that is a huge amount of common ground that we share, and again, distinctly different from where Democrat leaders are talking about -- where they are talking about pulling out troops in 120 days, which isn't even really possible, forgetting that it's not advisable. So what we're going to continue to do is work with them on where we go in a post-surge environment."
(with wire reports)