Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) Iraq Study Group

Posted on July 11, 2007

Mr. President, I thank the Presiding Officer, Mr. Salazar, the Senator from Colorado, for his impressive leadership in helping our Senate and our Congress and our President and our country find a consensus about where we go from here in Iraq. That is, as he said, truly our most urgent and difficult issue. It is on the minds of every single Senator every day. It is the first thing on my mind. It deserves to be. Adding up the lives, the dollars--$10 billion a month, 3,600 lives, and many wounded--it is a difficult situation. Mr. President, the occupant of the chair has said this himself. It struck me that we should spend less time in what we think of as the world's greatest deliberative body lecturing Baghdad about coming up with a political consensus and more time working together ourselves to come up with a political consensus about what to do in Iraq. After all, they are an infant democracy and we are the oldest democracy; we ought to be able to do more than make speeches and have partisan votes. Of course, we respect each other's positions, but at some point, there is consensus about where we go from here. We owe it to our troops fighting there, when they look at Washington, not to see us shouting at one another but saying, yes, we can agree on why you are there, where we are going to be in a while, what our goals are, and say to the rest of the Middle East that we know what we are doing in Iraq, give them a chance to flourish and say we in the U.S. have free debate, but we are capable of coming to a conclusion, especially on our most urgent issue. That is why this report is so important. When I saw this report in December, what attracted me about it was, first, the members of this group--Larry Eagleburger, Secretary of State for Bush 1; Vernon Jordan, National Urban League, a close friend of President Clinton's; Ed Meese, President Reagan's Attorney General; Justice Sandra Day O'Connor; Leon Panetta, President Clinton's Chief of Staff; William Perry, Secretary of Defense for Clinton; Chuck Robb, former U.S. Senator; Alan Simpson, the former Republican whip; and, at one point, Roberts Gates, who is now the Secretary of Defense in this administration. They unanimously agreed, after 9 months, about what to do in Iraq. In 9 months, they unanimously agreed. I thought that perhaps President Bush, in January, in the State of the Union Address, would invite them to sit in the gallery, as Presidents often do, and point to them and say: There they are, nine of our most distinguished Americans who have been working for 9 months trying to understand where to go on our most difficult issue. They say there is no magic formula. They say it is grave and deteriorating. They say the consequences of the cost, but they have a recommendation and it is a sensible recommendation, and the President might have said it is not my recommendation, it is theirs, but I accept their recommendation and I invite you to do the same. I think the President would have received a good deal of bipartisan support in this body had he done that. The President and our country need that. A President's job is to see an urgent need, to develop a strategy to meet it, and to persuade at least half the people he is right. Even if President Bush is right about the current strategy, he hasn't persuaded a broad enough number of Americans that he is right or a broad enough number in this body that he is right in order to sustain his policy in Iraq. A part of Presidential leadership is recognizing that adjustments have to be made to take into account the views of others and then, having done that, to go forward. That is Presidential leadership. It is not Presidential weakness. It is what I wish President Bush had done in January, and I said so then, and I said so in March on the floor of the Senate. I have learned sometimes you have to say things two or three times around here before anybody hears. Senator Salazar heard it. We talked about it and the outgrowth is this legislation that Senator Salazar worked so well on to develop, and so expertly, which Secretary Baker and Congressman Hamilton have told me accurately represents the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton group. Exactly what does Baker-Hamilton do? One, it establishes a long-term presence for the United States in Iraq but a limited one. Two, it says as soon as security conditions on the ground permit--and it estimates that would be a year--we would move our combat forces out of the combat business and into the support, training, and equipment business in Iraq. And third, it steps up regional and diplomatic efforts to cause others in the region to help Iraq succeed. That is it. Those three things. There are 79 recommendations in this book. I am not sure all of us would agree with all of them. But that is not the point. There is a new direction for the United States in Iraq in this book, and if we were to adopt it and the President were to agree with it, what our legislation says is the President should formulate a comprehensive plan to implement the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. That in plain English to me means the President would take all these recommendations, call together his advisers, come up with a plan, and do his best to implement it. Would he be able to implement every provision? I doubt it. Would he say this was recommended in December and I didn't get the law until September, so I am going to adjust some timetables? I would expect so. Would he have some improvements to make and some suggestions to make? I would guess he would. But he would come up with a comprehensive plan, and then he would proceed with it. Then, of course, we would have our constitutional duty to review it. We don't have to approve it under our recommendation, we just review it and we appropriate money and we have other things we could do. But what we could say to our troops, the world, and the country is that we have found a common way forward in Iraq. We know what we are doing, and we are doing it together. And that is the job of our Government. The Senator from Colorado dealt with a couple of objections that have been made. Let me deal with three or four very quickly. We will have other time to do that. I see the Senator from Arkansas is here. I am looking forward to what he has to say. One objection that was made was this may be dated. It was December. One Senator said this was a snapshot taken some time ago and times have changed. I don't see this as a snapshot. I see the war in Iraq as more like a movie. You go into it after 15 minutes or you go into it 30 minutes after it started and it is the same movie. You see the same characters. It is the same story. A few adjustments might have to be made, but it is the same story. And as Lee Hamilton said, the recommendations are as relevant today as they were in December. And I would say that February would have been a better time than March to adopt the recommendations. April would have been better than March. Today is better than last month, and last month would be better than today. The sooner they are adopted, the better. A second point. One Senator said this doesn't have many teeth in it. I used to work in the White House for a wise man named Bryce Harlow 40 years ago. I was an impatient young man. I said: Mr. Harlow, we need to do more of this or more of that. I forget the issue. He said: Lamar, in the White House, just a little tilt here makes a great big difference out there. That was a very wise statement. If the President of the United States and the Congress of this country were to agree this month on a new course in Iraq that defined a limited long-term role, shifted the mission from combat to training, support, and equipment over a period of months, subject to unexpected developments on the ground, and stepped up our diplomatic and political efforts, that is a major shift in strategy. Next, I have heard from the other side that it has too many teeth, too prescriptive on the President. That is not the way I read it. Sometimes that comes from this side. The White House has some worries about that as well. But that is not the way I read our amendment. It is the sense of the Congress that the President and the Congress should agree that the way forward in Iraq is to implement this and the President should formulate a comprehensive plan to do so. I assume the way the President does that is he gets the law in September, and he sits down with his advisers. I suppose the first person he would sit down with is General Petraeus whose advice we are all looking forward to. He would ask his advice about the surge, ask the Joint Chiefs what they think, ask a lot of people, and then within a few weeks, send us his plan. That is what we ask him to do. It is not so prescriptive either about the changes in troops on the ground because it says in another section, section 1552, that while we intend to move our troops out of the combat business into support, equipping, and training business--and the goal is within about a year to do that--that it is subject to unexpected developments on the ground. Here is what the report itself actually said: By the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq. At that time, U.S. combat forces in Iraq could be deployed only in units embedded with Iraqi forces, in rapid-reaction and special operations teams, and in training, equipping, advising, force protection, and search and rescue. Intelligence and support efforts would continue. Even after the United States has moved all combat brigades out of Iraq, we would maintain a considerable military presence in the region, with our still significant force in Iraq and with our powerful air, ground, and naval deployments in Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar. In other words, when we move out of the combat business into these other areas, we still have troops there, we still are able to go after al-Qaeda, we still can protect the troops who are there, and we are sending a message to the rest of the Middle East: Stay out, give Iraq a chance to flourish. The other thing I have heard, and I say this in conclusion--I thank you, Mr. President, for your time--is that all people hear in the debate in the Senate is discord. I hear another message. It is not as loud as the discord, it is not as loud as the partisan votes, but I hear a lot of consensus. It may surprise some people to hear me say that. I hear a lot of consensus and the seeds of that consensus are in the Iraq Study Group report. For example, the administration has already begun to act on some of the recommendations in the Iraq Study Group report by increasing the number of troops embedded in Iraqi forces, using milestones to chart progress, by meeting with Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria. The President's National Security Adviser has pointed to the Iraq Study Group report as valuable. The President himself has spoken well of it. Across the aisle on the Democratic side, where there is a great desire by many Members for a fixed timetable, which is not a part of the Iraq Study Group, the Democratic proposals still have been guided by this document. For example, working on milestones for improvement in Iraq, limiting the role of the United States to one of training and equipping and counterterrorism operations and stating as a goal the drawdown of combat forces by a year from now. That is all part of over there. I hear more consensus than I do discord. I guess my message to my colleagues is much the same as the Senator from Colorado said. We have a responsibility to vote and state our convictions, but we also have a job to do, and our job to do is to look for a way to come to some consensus about where we are going from here in Iraq and agree on it so when our troops look back, they know we support them, we really support them because we know what they are doing. And when the Middle East looks it up, they know to stay out. And when the rest of the world looks at this great deliberative body, they know occasionally on the foremost issue facing our time, we can come to a conclusion, we can join hands with the President, even though we may debate with him and say, OK, Mr. President, let's have a new strategy, one on which we agree, we together, and that we need to do. We have an opportunity that is very rare, and it is impressive to have seven Democratic Senators and six Republican Senators on this subject at this time supporting a comprehensive recommendation. One of our former colleagues, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, wrote a book about Boss Plunkitt of Tammany Hall. Since I said some respectful advice to my colleagues about what I thought our job was, I say to the President respectfully: Mr. President, one of Boss Plunkitt's favorite maxims was: When you seize your opportunities, you take them. This is an opportunity for the President to develop bipartisan support for a way forward in Iraq that has a long-term presence there, but limited, with a different mission for our combat troops and enhanced political and regional support. I respectfully suggest that January would have been the best time to seize this opportunity, but today is a much better time than September. I thank the Chair and I congratulate him for his leadership. I yield the floor.