Sometimes it takes an elder statesman to put a crisis in perspective.
U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar (R., Ind.) has taken a step back from the intractable partisan debate over Iraq, putting the stakes into perspective. His speech in the Senate last week provided fresh context and clear reasons why the Bush administration and the gridlocked Congress must find another way out of the crisis.
This senior member of the president's party, one of its wisest heads on global affairs, put it simply: The war in Iraq is not serving our national security interests. It has unleashed more terrorists, made the United States' dependence on oil from the region even more precarious, and worsened tensions around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The military "surge" begun in the spring stands little chance of succeeding in its stated mission, Lugar said. Diplomatic and economic solutions need to receive more emphasis, and they might go better if President Bush started drawing down troops in Iraq soon.
Many in Congress are content to await a progress report by the administration in September. But in the view of Lugar and a growing number of GOP lawmakers, the United States can't afford to wait that long to change course.
The political situation in Iraq is increasingly unstable, the U.S. military is overburdened, and the presidential race here will soon kick into high gear, getting in the way of a thoughtful new approach.
Essentially, Lugar told his colleagues, we're running out of time faster than you think.
"The issue before us is whether we will refocus our policy in Iraq on realistic assessments of what can be achieved, and on a sober review of our vital interests in the Middle East," Lugar said. "We are running out of time to implement a thoughtful Plan B that attempts to protect our substantial interests in the region, while downsizing our military presence in Iraq."
The gutsy, surprise comments by Lugar, the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, should have been a wake-up call to the Bush administration. The question, as usual, is whether the president and his senior advisers are willing to consider a point of view different from their own.
GOP lawmakers have tried before to get through to the president. In May, a contingent of House GOP members, including Reps. Charlie Dent and Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania, warned Bush that he'd lose their support if there wasn't significant progress on Iraq by September.
At the time, the administration's message was that such progress, if it occurs, would allow Bush to begin troop reductions. Now, however, Lugar and others are saying they aren't willing to wait for signs of progress. It's time to implement a new Plan B. That should include compelling the Iraqi government to act on sharing oil revenues, and redeploying U.S. troops to more limited assignments such as sealing borders against foreign fighters and battling the relatively few al-Qaeda followers in Iraq.
A residual military force, coupled with intensive regional diplomatic efforts to limit sectarian violence in Iraq, were proposals laid out months ago by the Iraq Study Group. At the time, Bush essentially ignored the call.
He should heed the senior senator from Indiana.