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Plan post-surge change Bush needs to exit a civil war without simply abandoning Iraq

If President Bush isn't already making serious plans for a post-surge change in tactics in Iraq, a prominent Republican senator last week made sure he would have no excuse for failing to understand the need.

With his pointed remarks about the failure of the surge, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana sent a clear message that congressional Republicans are not content to let the war continue as it is. With Democrats already solidly demanding change, that die is cast. The only question is exactly how things will change and if that transformation will be guided by partisan clamor, executive willfulness or a cool assessment of what is in this country's long-term interests.

Republicans already were skittish about Bush's policy, having lost their congressional majorities eight months ago and, facing another election in just 16 months, their political blood pressure was continuing to rise. So while Lugar's declaration fits within an emerging Republican consensus on the war, it still qualifies as a dividing line.

Lugar is a senior Republican in the Senate, and a reliably conservative one. He has consistently supported Bush's war policies. For an official of his standing to declare that the surge strategy is failing, more than two months before a report on it is due, sends an unmistakable signal to the president and his party.

This president, of course, has compiled a record of denying that which is unmistakable, so it's possible he will seek to continue his strategy, no matter the cost in American lives or congressional seats. But it will become harder. A core of Democratic members will continue to try to cut off funding for the war and Republicans will find it ever harder to resist, especially if they think their re-elections are at risk.

Probably the best outcome now is for Bush to use Lugar's declaration as cover to do what needs to be done. The Iraqi government, which thousands of Americans have died to create, shows little interest in taking the necessary steps to control violence in the country, and it is not possible for American troops alone to accomplish that necessary goal. We need to get out of the middle of a horrific civil war without simply abandoning the country.

If he hasn't already done so, Bush should begin crafting the change that must take place through discussions not only within his Cabinet, but with congressional leaders of both parties. The decision on this must rest with the president, but the country's well-being is at stake. He plainly needs to hear more advice than he gets from within the sealed environment of his disastrously incompetent administration.

He could start with the senator from Indiana.

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