JOHN BRUMMETT: Bush’s latest war loss

Richard Lugar ran implausibly for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996. He did so implausibly because he is a man of plodding substance who sorely lacks the requisite engaging manner of a Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. Nonetheless, some folks thought they ought to look for skeletons.

Here’s what they came up with: As mayor of Indianapolis more than two decades before, Lugar had championed merging the city with the county.

Libertarian-inclined conservatives were outraged by the idea of more centralized government. Some liberals suggested the proposal would deprive blacks of the political power they were accruing in the city.

That was it. Lugar’s lone skeleton was that he had advocated — and successfully pushed through — a sensible proposal that made local government more efficient. It perhaps saved Indianapolis from the decay besetting other urban centers abandoned to, and choked by, outlying growth.

Lugar was first in his class in high school and college. He was an Eagle Scout and a Rhodes Scholar. He is ranking member, and former chairman, of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

People respect his sober, reasoned, unassuming and credible manner. He is a classic salt-of-the-earth Midwestern guy. He represents one of our reddest states.

Some Republican pundits were grumbling last week that now Lugar will become the Democrats’ favorite Republican. But he was in the top tier already, right behind New England Republicans and New York Republicans.

Lugar took the Senate floor Monday evening to deliver in his plodding, ponderous way a potentially epic speech.

A Bush backer on the war in Iraq until that moment, Lugar said the surge was a likely failure with potential benefits outweighed by certain complications. He said we can’t wait until September to undo it. He said the pressures of the presidential election mean we face only a brief window, right now, to put partisanship aside and design something smarter.

What he recommended was not too different from what that bipartisan Iraq Study Group headed by Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton proposed.

Lugar said we can’t withdraw militarily, because our security interests are too great. But he said we should redeploy our troops, perhaps to bases in Kuwait or in non-urban places in Iraq, from which we could mobilize as needed to combat uprisings or terrorism.

He said we must accelerate diplomatic overtures, because the one thing we can’t allow is Iranian domination. The military realignment would please allies, calm foes and enhance diplomatic prospects, he said. He called for establishing a “consistent diplomatic forum related to Iraq that is open to all parties in the Middle East.”

Sensible. Straightforward. Honest. Sagacious. It was dittoed the next day by U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, Republican of Ohio. And it was summarily dismissed by White House spokesman Tony Snow.

Bush seems to want to leave the problem to his successor. Democrats either want to get out entirely or let the problem fester while they run against it.

That partisan divide invokes Lugar’s central point: that putting politics aside will become out of the question in a few months. It may well be out of the question anyway.

But there already were a dozen centrist senators, equally divided among Democrats and Republicans, proposing to impose by law the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. If Lugar gives other Republican senators a similar way out, and if there are enough Senate Democrats more interested in practical solutions than expedient politics …

Well, 60 votes, the threshold for getting anything important done in the Senate, can seem so distant sometimes.

John Brummett, an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock, is author of “High Wire,” a book about Bill Clinton’s first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@

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