Tough talk on Iraq, but will any action follow?

A Republican senator says it's time for the president to change course.

Published June 26, 2007 4:29PM (EDT)

When George W. Bush announced his plan to "surge" more U.S. troops into Iraq, Republican Sen. Dick Lugar said he was "not confident" that the plan would work but declined to vote for a resolution opposing it. When the Senate voted in April to tie funding for the war to a timeline for bringing the troops home, Lugar joined most Republicans in voting no. And when Bush demanded that the Senate go back and pass a war funding bill without any timetable for bringing the troops home, Lugar cast his vote in the way that Bush wanted.

So you'll have to forgive us if we're underwhelmed by the power of the good words Lugar uttered on the floor of the Senate Monday. In a move CNN is characterizing as a "significant crack" in Republican support for Bush's war plan, Lugar said that "our course in Iraq has lost contact with our vital national security interests in the Middle East and beyond," and that it's time to begin a "downsizing and redeployment of United States military forces to more sustainable positions."

The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny says Lugar's floor speech represents "the first time" the senator has "publicly distanced himself" from the Bush administration's policy on Iraq. That's just not true. On Jan. 24, 2007, Lugar said that he shared "many of the concerns" that were leading some of his colleagues to propose a resolution opposing Bush's "surge."

"Militarily, the plan may achieve initial successes," Lugar said then. "But the premise that clearing and holding high-risk areas of Baghdad will create enough space for an effective political reconciliation is dubious. The plan is likely to be encumbered by the unwillingness of the Iraqi government to confront Shia militias, the questionable loyalty of many Iraqi army and police units, the resilience of the Sunni insurgency, the meddling of Iran, the ineffectual history of our economic aid, and the political and military limits of our ability to hold indefinitely large swaths of urban landscape in hostile circumstances ... Even if the initial military operations go well, there is little reason to assume that this 'breathing room' will have any impact on the Sunnis plans to continue the fight or the Shias' plans to dominate Iraq ... If we undertake the tremendous investment that sending more American soldiers to Iraq represents, it should be in support of a clear strategy for achieving a negotiated reconciliation. We should not depend on theories or hopes that something good may happen if we dampen violence in Baghdad."

Are Lugar's words harsher this time around? Sure. But do they mean that Lugar will actually do anything to stop Bush from doing whatever he wants in Iraq? That's another question, and one we probably don't have the answer for yet.

Or maybe we do. As Lugar himself explained as he declined to vote for the anti-surge resolution in January, there's a difference between talking tough on Iraq and actually doing something about it. "In an open democracy, we voice our agreements and disagreements in public, and we should not be reticent to do so," he said. "But official roll-call votes carry a unique message."

Call us when you're ready to send one.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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