WASHINGTON — Two Republican senators widely respected for their experience in foreign and military affairs — Sens. Richard Lugar and John Warner — on Friday called on the Bush administration to start planning for diplomatic and military changes in Iraq — including a withdrawal of forces.
President Bush has asked Congress to hold off on calling for changes in Iraq policy until Sept. 15, when a report is due from Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. He has said the increase of 30,000 troops needs more time to stabilize to the war-torn nation. But Lugar said that's no reason to wait to start planning.
"The surge must not be an excuse for failing to prepare for the next phase of our involvement in Iraq, whether that is withdrawal, redeployment or some other option," the Indiana senator said. "We saw in 2003 after the initial invasion of Iraq, the disastrous results of failing to plan adequately for contingencies."
The Lugar-Warner amendment would require the administration to present its post-September Iraq plans to Congress, including a reduction in force levels, by Oct. 16, and design them so that they can be put into action by Dec. 31.
It also would call on the Bush administration to send Congress a new rationale for military involvement in Iraq in September and to set up a regular meeting with countries from the Middle East on Iraq.
The White House said the Bush administration would review the Lugar-Warner plan.
"We believe the new way forward strategy, which became fully operational less than a month ago, deserves the time to succeed. We look forward to hearing from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker in September," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.
Lugar said he didn't think the politically charged debate in Congress over a withdrawal would change Bush's ideas about his Iraq strategy before September.
"But even President Bush understands that the current surge will not last forever," said Lugar, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "We need to lay the groundwork for alternatives, so that as the president and Congress move to a new plan, it can be implemented safely, effectively and rapidly."
The Senate is expected to vote next week on an amendment to a defense bill by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., that requires the beginning of a withdrawal in 120 days after enactment. It also would limit the American military mission beginning on April 1 to fighting terrorists, training Iraqis and protecting Americans in Iraq.
The House of Representatives voted 223-201 largely along party lines Thursday for a similar plan.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Reid appreciated that Warner and Lugar had expressed their discontent with current Iraq policy, but preferred the Democratic amendment because it would require a change of policy by force of law.
Warner, R-Va., the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he hoped senators from both parties would back his and Lugar's measure, which also is an amendment to the defense bill.
"We want to avoid a drift in Iraq policy that continually references the next report or milestone, even as the fundamental conditions of our intervention in Iraq remain extremely problematic and hazardous," Lugar said.
Lugar, in a June 25 speech, called for a reduction in the number of U.S. forces in Iraq and more emphasis on diplomacy. He warned then and again on Friday that the politicized debate could lead to a poorly planned withdrawal.