WASHINGTON -- In a sign that Republican congressional support for the White House's Iraq strategy is starting to wane, two senators who have stood with President Bush are calling on him to plan for a U.S. troop withdrawal.
Sen. George V. Voinovich of Ohio sent a letter to the president yesterday stressing the need for a "comprehensive plan for our country's gradual military disengagement from Iraq."
And Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana - a former chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee whose views on international affairs are widely respected - went to the Senate floor Monday night and urged Bush "to downsize the U.S. military's role in Iraq."
"Our course in Iraq has lost contact with our vital national security interests in the Middle East and beyond," Lugar said in an anguished address, expressing deep reservations about the president's policy as well as disappointment with the highly partisan debate in Washington over the war.
"The prospects that the current surge strategy will succeed in the way originally envisioned by the president are very limited within the short period framed by our own domestic political debate," he said.
Voinovich, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he believes a nonmilitary strategy would do more to bring about stability in Iraq.
Neither senator indicated he would support Democratic legislation to force Bush to withdraw most U.S. combat troops.
White House spokesman Tony Snow played down Lugar's comments, saying: "He's somebody who has had reservations."
But the newly voiced views of the two Midwestern senators may portend more trouble for the Bush administration's efforts to keep Republicans on Capitol Hill united behind the current war strategy through the summer.
Republican Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, a former Armed Services chairman who has been a critical voice in the war debate, told reporters yesterday that he expects more Republican lawmakers to follow Lugar and Voinovich in coming weeks.
Even as administration officials plead for patience, public disaffection with the war continues to grow. A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll showed that nearly two in five Americans now favor withdrawing U.S. troops.
Despite the escalation in troops, violence remains high in Iraq. The Pentagon reported that May was the third deadliest month for U.S. troops since the invasion in 2003.
At the same time, senior U.S. officials have conceded that the Iraqi government is failing to take the political steps the troop buildup was meant to encourage.
Bush's top commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, is due to deliver a progress report to Congress in September outlining the results of the president's strategy, at which point many Republican lawmakers have said they will reassess their positions.
With Voinovich and Lugar, at least six Republican senators have publicly expressed support for some kind of withdrawal.
Noam N. Levey writes for the Los Angeles Times.