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Democrats hope debate will at a minimum stretch out the timetable for war and, if Congress does decide to send in the Marines, ensure the public is with them. But Biden's hearings served a partisan political purpose as well: they gave all sides a chance to gauge the position of the one Republican in Washington who can still stop a foreign-policy freight train. Senator Richard Lugar, the five-term Hoosier, is the pivotal G.O.P. voice in the Senate on foreign affairs; where he goes, the balance of the Senate usually follows. Lugar has long championed Saddam's downfall, but his questions last week suggested he now fears, as Bush's father once did, that toppling Saddam could lead to even greater instability in the region. "The thing I worry about at the end of the day," said Lugar, "is not that Saddam would fall, but...that there aren't people in Iraq that may be prepared for democracy as we know it. Suggestions are, in fact, [that] liberal democracy might even lead to more terrorists being spawned out of the process." He added, "I think we need much more concentrated thinking."
Doubts from Lugar, even if they are later allayed, signaled that mainstream Republicans are not yet ready to start singing Over There. "There has been a change in the ambient temperature in the party," said a longtime Bush foreign policy aide. "Bush may not sense it strategically, but he senses it politically."
So, for now, the planning continues. Central Command boss Tommy Franks, who has met with Bush more than 12 times this year, is expected in Washington this week for more meetings. A top defense official told TIME last week that none of the many scenarios leaked to the newspapers will resemble the plan eventually presented to Bush: "People don't want to accept this, but everything about it is going to be different. It won't be like Afghanistan, and it won't be like the Persian Gulf."
But Democratic Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, a West Point grad who spent 14 years in active duty, said the "palpable tension" between the two camps is growing, not fading. "All along, there has been this division within the Administration between those who see Iraq as something that has to be done regardless of the costs and those who ask, 'What are the costs?' It's almost schizophrenic, and Bush is caught in the middle."
But don't count Bush out on this one. He first called for "regime change" in Iraq in the 2000 campaign. He did not visibly budge from that goal last week: it's one of those vows that becomes harder to retract every time he repeats it. Yet with so many stars in motion, Bush has little choice but to slow down and start organizing the coalition against Saddam, inside his own Administration first of all.
--With reporting by Massimo Calabresi/Washington