LUGAR BACKPEDALS….On Monday, Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) appeared to shake things up with a Senate speech in which he said Bush’s war strategy is not working and that the U.S. should downsize the military’s role in Iraq. Given Lugar’s stature in the GOP, it was perceived as a seminal moment.

Lugar’s spokesperson added, however, that the speech did not mean Lugar would switch his vote on the war. The senator crafted a high-profile speech on Iraq, sent shockwaves through the Hill, inspired Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) to also call for a troop reduction, but Lugar wasn’t committing to anything. He’s willing to break with his unflinching support for Bush’s war policy, but that’s about all he’s willing to do.

Yesterday afternoon, Lugar made clear that his rhetoric may be the full extent of his actions.

Lugar has no intention of acting on his rhetoric. Speaking this morning with NBC’s Matt Lauer, Lugar said that Congressional measures aimed at curtailing U.S. military involvement in Iraq, including “so-called timetables, benchmarks,” have “no particular legal consequence,” are “very partisan,” and “will not work.”

What are we left with? A conservative Republican senator who’s willing to break with the president’s policy, unwilling to embrace the Democrats’ policy, and unable (so far) to offer some other alternative. What’s this worth? Time will tell.

Swopa argues, persuasively, that Lugar can hem and haw now, but at a minimum, the Indiana senator has moved the debate forward: “The good news about the Lugar et al. statements is that by creating a media fuss about ‘Republicans say it’s time to leave Iraq,’ they’ve kept the subject of withdrawal on the table and made it easier for Democrats to apply more pressure.”

Perhaps. All the buzz this week is that leading Republican senators are breaking with Bush on Iraq. They see the White House pushing them over a cliff, and they’re suddenly reluctant to go. This creates some momentum for opponents of the war, and will ratchet up the pressure when it comes time for these “serious” GOP lawmakers to actually cast a vote.

But this approach still counts on a sizable chunk on the Republican caucus to eventually act on their convictions (and fears). So far, a small handful are kinda sorta willing to talk the talk. I’ll be impressed when any of them start walking the walk.