Lugar Hopes Shift Persuades Bush on Iraq

Sen. Richard Lugar i i

hide captionSen. Richard Lugar has broken ranks with the Bush administration over Iraq.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Sen. Richard Lugar

Sen. Richard Lugar has broken ranks with the Bush administration over Iraq.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, who has broken ranks with the Bush administration over Iraq, says he had hoped the president would have "come to other conclusions" about the war before now.

The Indiana lawmaker, a leading voice on foreign affairs, says in an NPR interview that "at some stage," the lack of support from Congress and the public should become apparent to the president, leading to a change in policy.

In a little-heard speech on the Senate floor Monday night, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee called for the United States to downsize its military role in Iraq.

"In my judgment, the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved," he said in that speech.

Lugar shared his criticism privately with the White House months ago. In an interview with Steve Inskeep, Lugar explains why he's speaking out now.

Was it a hard decision to take your somewhat private criticisms and make them public in this way?

Yes, simply because my hope had been that the president would come to other conclusions. But I think it's very serious that the timing be now. This issue of Iraq is running along parallel with a very vigorous presidential campaign and increasingly congressional campaigns — the fundraising and all of that.

If we are not thoughtful and careful, the president may believe that he can simply continue on with or without the Congress, but I think he is wrong in that assumption. And my fear is that at some point we will have a withdrawal from Iraq that is very disorderly and not very well planned. That would be a tragedy for the troops, a tragedy for Iraq, a tragedy for us with regard to all of the neighborhood out there that could become very, very volatile.

If the president does not see things your way and continues on the same course, should the Senate and Congress in general force him to change?

I'm not certain how that occurs. I would just say that at some stage it will become apparent that the lack of support for the president not only in the Congress but with the public would command such a change. Even the president will understand that.

If we have not reached that point now, when would we, given the lack of support for the war and the concerns that have been raised in Congress?

Well, there is still very considerable support for certain elements of our activities in Iraq. This is a very complex business as opposed to just simply being in or out. That is why the president really has to enter a dialogue that is a more extensive one than the current one we have.

Given what you said, the next time there is an opportunity for you to vote on the war, would you be a vote against the war?

I'm not going to have a vote for or against the war, at least I don't conceive of how this would occur. Most likely debate will occur once again when we take up money for the troops, for the prosecution of Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. I think the majority of the Senate, regardless of how they feel about the prosecution of the war, are not about to cut off funds that would jeopardize our troops in any way. That will be probably an overlying proposition.

Which sounds like you're saying that this is not going to change your vote.

Not with regard to support of the troops. I'm going to vote for the authorization and the appropriations. But there are many, many ways in which the Congress ultimately can influence even the president with regard to this war and we'll have to think through the most appropriate one.

Give me one — before we let you go — one thing that Congress can do.

Well, Congress could offer at minimum Sense of the Senate resolutions. They do not have the effect of law, but they clearly indicate how the country feels through its representatives. And that we really have not come to do simply because we have not really wanted to be ambiguous as a nation with regard to our foreign policy.

There have been amendments offered that we would demand the Iraqis meet certain benchmarks of activities, but they are pointing out to us this is inconceivable. Before we have these arbitrary resolutions, we really need to have a very serious dialogue as to what is doable and would bring about safety for everybody involved.

Do you think the White House listened to you when you spoke this week?

Yes, I think so. I have heard from the White House and that I will be having a meeting this week, at least with a representative or representatives of the White House.

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