Chattanooga Times Free Press - Herman Wang
WASHINGTON — Criticizing President Bush’s Iraq war strategy, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., on Tuesday said a bill he co-authored that would change policy there will be offered as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act now being debated. “The problem with the president’s current strategy is, the surge seems to be the entire strategy,” Sen. Alexander said. “And there seems to be no answer to the question, what comes after the surge?” Sen. Alexander said the amendment, which he drafted with Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., could strengthen the case for the troop surge by putting it in the context of the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations. The legislation would make binding those 79 recommendations, created by a bipartisan panel last December to include benchmarks on eventual troop withdrawal, shifting the United States out of a combat role in Iraq and into a diplomatic one.
“Implementing the report would give the United States and the world a clearer picture of our long-term goal in Iraq, and it would allow the surge to continue as long as it needs,” Sen. Alexander said. “There are no fixed deadlines, which is one of the attractive (elements) to me. It says that the president’s plan should be subject to developments on the ground.” Sen. Salazar said the recommendations are the best pathway to extract the U.S. military from its role in Iraq.
“The principles laid out in our amendment provide a diplomatic, economic and military road map to end American combat operations in Iraq,” he said in a statement.
The amendment, which has gained 11 co-sponsors besides Sens. Alexander and Salazar — six Democrats and five Republicans — comes amid spirited debate over the fiscal 2008 Defense Authorization Act.
Several Democrats have offered or plan to offer their own amendments that would order the withdrawal of troops starting as early as 120 days from the bill’s passage.
Many Republicans, including Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., have said they want to see how the surge plays out before debating a change in war strategy. Sen. Corker said he wants to wait for a Sept. 15 briefing from Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, before making up his mind.
“I have a lot of faith in him and his efforts,” Sen. Corker said. “The majority of U.S. senators voted to support what he’s doing, and yet those components (for the troop surge) have only been in place for a few weeks.” Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said the Iraq Study Group recommendations are “a very thoughtful approach, but I believe we should wait for the progress report by General Petraeus in September before advocating a change in strategy in Iraq.” A spokeswoman for Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said the senator had not seen the amendment and does not want to comment on it prematurely.
President Bush said he has no plans to reconsider his Iraq policy before the September briefing. The president sent two top war advisers, Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute and Stephen Hadley, to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to assure several Republicans that he is not wavering on his military strategy.
Several Republicans recently broke ranks with the White House, urging a new course of action in Iraq.
Troop levels will be decided by our commanders on the ground, not by political figures in Washington, D.C., ” President Bush told an audience in Parma, Ohio, according to a White House transcript. “We’ve got a plan to lead to victory.” Sen. Alexander said his amendment would be a middle ground and that he hopes President Bush will embrace the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations.
“I have yet to see any other bipartisan proposal as attractive as this one,” Sen. Alexander said.
Senators co-sponsoring the amendment that would make the Iraq Study Group recommendations binding:
Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
Robert Bennett, R-Utah Robert Casey, D-Pa.
Susan Collins, R-Maine Pete Domenici, R-N.M.
Judd Gregg, R-N.H.
Mary Landrieu, D-La.
Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark.
Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
Mark Pryor, D-Ark.
Ken Salazar, D-Colo.
John Sununu, R-N.H.