Turning On The Anti-iraq Spigot

MAYBE ONE MORE REPUBLICAN, LIKE ARLEN SPECTER, CAN TURN THE TIDE

Posted: July 03, 2007

WATER IS STARTING to trickle through the dam on Iraq, and our own senator could help turn it into a flood.

Last week, two respected Republican senators came out against the president's "surge" in Iraq. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) was the first, delivering an evening speech on the Senate floor announcing his change of position.

He said, "In my judgment, the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved . . . Persisting indefinitely with the surge strategy will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our vital interests over the long term."

He went on to call on the administration to find a way to start finding our way out of Iraq.

Sen. Lugar is no slouch. He's considered the sharpest foreign-policy mind on the Republican side of the Senate, and maybe the entire Senate.

Whenever there is a secretary of state to be appointed, Lugar appears on the short list. His words carry a lot of weight with his colleagues.

That's why it wasn't much of a shock when, the next day, Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio joined in. He sent a letter to the president that read, "We must begin to develop a comprehensive plan for our country's gradual military disengagement from Iraq and a corresponding increase in responsibility to the Iraqi government and its regional neighbors . . .

"Though it may seem contradictory, I believe we can accomplish more in Iraq by gradually and responsibly reducing our forces and focusing on a robust strategy of international cooperation and coordinated foreign aid."

The cracks in the president's political support on Iraq began to show last year when Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a decorated Vietnam veteran, became highly critical of the plan for Iraq, and was joined by Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), the same guy who had the House cafeteria start serving "Freedom Fries" at the start of the war when the French protested our actions.

Those cracks became bigger, when just a few months ago, two former Iraq commanders, Maj. Gens. John Batiste and Paul Eaton, opposed the way the president was waging the war, and urged a responsible redeployment. Now, with Lugar and Voinovich, the trickle is starting to gush.

What Lugar and Voinovich haven't promised to do - yet - is to vote with Democrats (and with Republicans like Hagel). The first prominent Republican to announce he'll do so will bust a hole right in the dam, leading to a flood.

Then, we may finally see a change in Iraq strategy that will promise to bring our troops home.

Who would be a more fitting person to make that announcement than Sen. Arlen Specter?

Sen. Specter has long shown himself to be one of the deepest thinkers in the Senate and a man of unpredictable principle. At one moment, he may be defending Clarence Thomas, and in another, be taking Attorney General Gonzales to the mat. It's hard to imagine that he reads and listens to news of religious violence and casualty reports in Iraq and thinks the president's strategy is working.

Like members of any other tight-knit club, senators usually wait for someone to be the first to take the plunge on something that will mean a major change in course, which is why it's the deliberative body it is. Now that Lugar has opened the door to speak out on the war, we may be ready to see other Republicans who are ready to follow, like Voinovich.

But it will take votes to really change things. Almost all the Republicans in the Senate are waiting to see who will be the first to change their votes on the war before they make their move.

Sen. Specter, all eyes are on you. Will you lead the way? *

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