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Bush's support in GOP slips

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- Wearied by the lack of progress in Iraq and by the steady stream of military funerals back home, a growing number of Republican lawmakers who had stood loyally with President Bush are insisting his strategy has failed and calling on him to bring the war to an end.

In the past two weeks, three GOP senators - including one of the party's leading voices on foreign affairs and one of Bush's strongest allies - have urged the president to change course so U.S. troops can start to withdraw.

And yesterday, in interviews with the Los Angeles Times, two more Senate Republicans bluntly voiced disappointment with the president's approach and pressed for change.

"It should be clear to the president that there needs to be a new strategy," said Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander. "Our policy in Iraq is drifting."

New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, who helped lead the charge earlier this year against Democratic efforts to oppose Bush's troop "surge," said: "We don't seem to be making a lot of progress." He said it is vital to have "a clear blueprint for how we were going to draw down."

None of these GOP lawmakers have embraced Democratic legislation to compel a troop withdrawal. But nearly five years after congressional Republicans overwhelmingly answered Bush's call for military action against Iraq's Saddam Hussein, some are doing what was once unthinkable: challenging a wartime president from their own party.

By publicly branding Bush's buildup a failure and calling for troops to begin coming home, they are forcing a reluctant White House to reassess how long it can maintain a large military presence in Iraq.

Administration officials had hoped that GOP lawmakers would stand with them at least until September, when the top generals in Iraq are to report on the effectiveness of the troop buildup.

The tide of Republican dissent grew two weeks ago when Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, former chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, delivered a plea for change from the floor of the Senate. Sen. George V. Voinovich of Ohio expressed similar doubts in a letter to the president the next day, and Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, praised Lugar for speaking out.

On Thursday, Sen. Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico joined the group of dissenters, which just a few weeks ago included only a handful of GOP lawmakers - led by Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel and Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith.

Several Republican lawmakers have predicted that defections will accelerate, despite repeated pleas from the White House and the military for patience. "It's as if the dike has burst," said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who until recently had been one of the few outspoken GOP critics of the president's war strategy.

Today, bills in the House and Senate to adopt the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group - an implicit rejection of current U.S. policy in Iraq - have the backing of 40 Republicans combined. Although it did not set a deadline for withdrawing American troops, the bipartisan commission's report advocated a series of substantial policy changes, including more regional diplomacy, to set the stage for a troop pullout next spring.

Alexander is the leading GOP co-sponsor of the Senate Iraq Study Group bill, which also has five Democratic co-sponsors. Other Senate Republican co-sponsors include Gregg, Collins, Domenici, Utah's Robert F. Bennett and New Hampshire's John E. Sununu.

Three other GOP senators - including conservatives Sam Brownback of Kansas and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, a close Bush ally - also have signed onto legislation calling for decentralizing Iraq, a direct challenge to the administration's position.

Bush continues to say he will resist pressure to withdraw troops prematurely, a position he reiterated in a defiant Fourth of July speech in West Virginia, in which he said such action would "hand the enemy a victory and put America's security at risk."

Noam N. Levey writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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