Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Richard Lugar, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman and the Republican most trusted in Europe, went to the NATO meeting in Istanbul this weekend to scold alliance members for being too stingy with troops.

 A draft of Lugar's speech has him complaining about unavailability of troops for NATO operations. While NATO members have over 2 million troops under arms, Lugar said, only 33,000 are available for the alliance's military functions.

 Although Lugar often has been critical of President Bush's foreign policy, his NATO speech reflected the administration position. He is a leading candidate for secretary of state if Bush wins a second term.


 George W. Bush's campaign planners intend to shorten debate on the party platform at the Republican National Convention in New York in order to limit conservative opposition to the president's policies.

 In the past, platform committee members have arrived in the convention city early Sunday the week before the GOP convention begins. This time, however, several delegates have been alerted that there is no need to get to New York before Monday, with platform meetings not scheduled to begin until Tuesday. That would leave only two and one-half days of platform committee sessions during which conservatives could push their positions on prescription drug subsidies, education and immigration.

 Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the still-unannounced platform chairman, is expected to follow the administration line. The prospective co-chairmen -- Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and Rep. Melissa Hart of Pennsylvania -- are rookies in platform drafting.


 Veteran Democratic political operative Rodney Shelton has crossed over from America Coming Together (ACT), an anti-Bush 527 organization set up to evade the McCain-Feingold Act's ban on soft money, to become Arkansas state director of John Kerry's presidential campaign.

 The 527s and the Kerry campaign are not supposed to coordinate with each other, but top staffers have moved back and forth through a revolving door. Zack Exley has left the Bush-bashing to become Kerry's director of online organization. Moving in the opposite direction, former Kerry campaign manager Jim Jordan has joined ACT.

 A footnote: Shelton, a native Arkansan and a veteran of the last three Democratic presidential elections, raises Democratic hopes for reversing George W. Bush's 2000 win in Arkansas. Republicans are gloomy, fearing unpopular GOP Gov. Mike Huckabee is hurting President Bush's chances in the state.


Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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