Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Statement of Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) on Legislation to Implement the Recommendations of the Iraq Study Group

Posted on May 10, 2007

There is too much partisan game playing on the issue of Iraq. We owe it to our country and our troops to find a bipartisan consensus to support where we go from here. We need a political solution in Washington, DC, as much as we need one in Baghdad. We need to get out of the combat business in Iraq and into the support, training, and equipping business as soon as we honorably can. That is why Senator Salazar and I have drafted legislation to implement the recommendations of the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. We will introduce our legislation after Congress and the President have worked out the Iraq supplemental appropriations bill. We invite our colleagues -- both Democrats and Republicans -- to join us. We believe the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group offer the best opportunity for a bipartisan consensus on a new course in Iraq. In fact, these recommendations seem to already be guiding the President's efforts and the efforts of those on the other side who were calling for change. For example, the administration has begun to act on these recommendations by increasing the number of troops embedded with Iraqi forces, using milestones to help chart progress, and by meeting with Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria. The President's national security adviser has pointed to the Baker-Hamilton report as authority for the surge of troops in Baghdad. Just last week, the President himself told the Associated General Contractors of America at their convention that he liked what Baker and Hamilton had to say. "It is something we should seriously consider. Their idea was that, at some point in time, it makes sense to have a U.S. presence configured this way," the President said. "It is an interesting idea." At the same time, Democratic proposals in Congress have also been guided by the ISG report, for example, working on milestones for improvement in Iraq, limiting the role of the United States to one of training, equipping, and counterterrorism operations, and stating as a goal a drawdown of combat forces by March of next year. In short, the seeds of bipartisan consensus about how the Unite States should go forward in Iraq are best found in the Iraq Study Group report. Former Secretary of State Jim Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton prefaced their report by saying this: Success depends on the unity of the American people in a time of political polarization. Americans can and must enjoy the right of robust debate within a democracy. Yet U.S. foreign policy is doomed to failure -- as is any course of action in Iraq -- if it is not supported by a broad, sustained consensus. The aim of our report is to move our country toward such a consensus.” Yesterday and today, I talked with Secretary Baker and Congressman Hamilton. Each said the Salazar-Alexander legislation accurately reflects the recommendations of their report. I have learned that sometimes a Senator has to say something two or three or more times on the Senate floor before anybody pays much attention. For example, on March 14, I said that it was time for the President to take the Iraq Study Group report down off the shelf and use it for something other than a bookend. Today, I am making that same suggestion again, and I am going one step further. The Senator from Colorado and I are offering to our colleagues on both sides of the aisle -- and to our country -- a way to go forward on a bipartisan basis. I was surprised and disappointed that the President didn't take advantage of this opportunity during his State of the Union Address in January. He knew then that a majority of Americans didn't support his strategy. Fewer do today. He knew then his strategy cannot be long sustained without that support. That is still true today. The President could have invited the distinguished members of the Iraq Study Group to sit in the gallery during his speech and, as Presidents often do, introduced them, 10 of America's most distinguished citizens from the Reagan, Carter, and George H.W. Bush administrations, and the U.S. Supreme Court. One of these is now the Secretary of Defense. They are ideologically and politically diverse. They spent nine months, met nine times, went to Baghdad, interviewed 171 individuals, and made 79 recommendations. They are all in this book. They didn't shy away from the unpleasant facts. They told us 79 percent of Iraqis have a mostly negative view of U.S. involvement in their country. Then they said 2,900 American lives were lost, and another 21,000 wounded; $400 billion was spent, with estimates as high as $2 trillion for the final cost. They said this is not a perfect option, but it is the best option. The President could have said in January, “This isn't my recommendation, it is theirs, and I accept it for the good of our country, and I ask the American people to accept it.” That is not Presidential weakness, that is Presidential leadership. The President's job is not only to see urgent issues and lay out a strategy. The rest of his job -- at least for a sustained military strategy -- is to persuade half of the people he is right. It is not too late. The President has the option before him today, and we are trying to make it easier for him. What we are respectfully saying in our legislation is, if the President should choose to develop a way forward based upon the Iraq Study Group's recommendations, we will support that plan and we will encourage our colleagues and our country to do so on a bipartisan basis, so that Iraq, the Middle East, our troops, and the world will know that in the United States we are unified in our purpose. Such a plan will not satisfy everybody. It will not pull out our troops tomorrow. It will not get us out of the combat business immediately. It won't add 100,000 or 200,000, or 300,000 troops for "victory" in Iraq. It will get us out of the combat business in Iraq and into the support, training, and equipping business, in a prompt and honorable way. It will reduce the number of forces in Iraq. Because there will still be a significant but limited military presence in Iraq, it will signal to the rest of the Middle East to stay out of Iraq. It will give support to General Petraeus and his troops, who are in the midst of a surge. It will expand diplomatic efforts to build support for Iraq national reconciliation and sovereignty. It will recognize, as Prime Minister Blair said, it is time for the next chapter of Iraq's history to be written largely by the Iraqis themselves. As a Republican Senator, my message with respect to the President is that I hope he and the White House seriously consider this. We are not introducing this bill today. It will be introduced in 2 or 3 weeks. Then, we hope other Senators will support it. I hope the President will embrace it. There is plenty within this report that gives him the opportunity to continue our mission in Iraq. The difference is that this is not the President's report, and that is its advantage. It has a better chance of success, in terms of developing bipartisan support here and in our country. Finally, there are some issues that are simply too big for one party to solve. Iraq is, as the Senator from Colorado has said, the foremost among these. Here we are, the oldest democracy, lecturing Baghdad, an infant democracy, for not coming up with a political solution, when we ourselves cannot come up with one. Until we do come up with one, we should spend less time lecturing Baghdad and more time working together to fashion a way forward on the foremost issue facing our country.