What was striking about last week's Senate hearings on Iraq was the deep unease of Republican legislators at the prospects of a U.S. military attack.
Now, you might expect Democrats to be skeptical about another Iraq war (even though no Democrat wants to appear soft on Middle East Bad Guys). But Republicans? Sens. Richard Lugar (R., Ind.) and Chuck Hagel (R., Neb.) - their party's two top foreign policy heavyweights in Congress - seemed more dubious about an Iraq attack than Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee.
The questions they asked, especially Lugar, indicated they didn't believe the administration was leveling with the Congress - or the public - about the scope or cost of its Iraq plans.
"You are talking about a lot of money and a lot of risk and no precedent," Lugar complained. "This is a whole lot more than I hear anybody in our administration talking about."
Lugar's skepticism points to a big problem this administration is going to have with selling its Iraq policy to the public and Congress. The very way the policy has been promoted so far raises doubts about the administration's ability to handle another Iraq war.
For months the President has been promoting the policy of Iraqi "regime change" (meaning the ouster of Saddam Hussein). The implication has been that the job will be sure and easy.
But the mantra of "regime change" has been glib and vague.
Meantime, senior Bush officials have squabbled over the policy, and their disputes have become public. Top Pentagon brass are so unnerved by the way the Iraq issue is being handled that word is leaking out to the media.
Legislators have yet to be briefed - even in closed hearings - on the reasons why regime change is imperative and why now. For example, does the administration have firm evidence that Iraq has links with terrorists or is handing them biological or chemical weapons?
"I suspect that al-Qaeda elements are in Iraq," Senate Republican minority leader Trent Lott said this week. But experts at the Iraq hearings, like former U.N. arms inspector Richard Butler, doubted that Saddam would pass his most essential weapons to terrorists and risk U.S. retaliation.
"We need evidence on this issue, or we could base governmental action on a supposition," says Lugar. Yet all that has come out of the administration is leaks and hints.
Lugar was troubled by the risk of going into another Iraq war without allies. "Ten years ago," he said, "the United States had done the military and diplomatic spadework in the region. Allies in the region permitted U.S. forces to launch attacks from their territory."
Our allies also footed 80 percent of the war costs that have been variously estimated at between $60-80 billion.
This time, we will be going it virtually alone, with Europeans skeptical and Arab allies urging us to focus first on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Without the use of Saudi bases and air space, military planners fear the operation will be far more risky.
Without allies, moreover, American taxpayers will be footing the whole war bill - along with a possible spike in oil prices. This, at a time when deficits are rising and the Bush administration won't consider rescinding large tax cuts for the wealthy.
What also distressed Lugar was testimony by experts that Iraq will require a long and large U.S. presence in Baghdad to ensure democracy. Some administration sources compare this to the U.S. occupation of Germany and Japan after World War II.
Lugar wants to know whether the administration has plans for such a long-term commitment of people and treasure. "The parallel with Germany and Japan is a real leap, absent institutions that might produce real democracy," he contended.
The bottom line is that President Bush has a huge task ahead to convince thoughtful Republicans - and Democrats - who are confused about Bush war plans and concerned that the public is unready.
"This is not an action that can be sprung on the American people," says Lugar.
The Indiana senator is no kneejerk dove. He was a strong supporter of U.S.
military action in the gulf war. His is a message the administration can't afford
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