Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander

“Time for Serious Leadership, Not Partisan Games, on Iraq”

Posted on July 22, 2007

This week, the Senate Democratic leadership decided to keep the Senate in session all night to debate Iraq – a political stunt that heaped oil on the fire instead of providing a way for Senators on both sides of the aisle to come to a consensus about the foremost issue facing our nation. My experience with Members of the Senate began when I came to work in D.C. for the first time 40 years ago as a very junior aide to Senator Howard Baker. I’ve only been a Senator for a few years, but my experience then and now is that most of us prefer to conduct ourselves like grownups, to not engage in petty kindergarten games, not have partisan efforts where we taunt one another and try to put one another at a disadvantage. We want to actually recognize as Senators that we are here to look at big, difficult issues and to see if we can come up with solutions. No issue cries out for serious leadership and a willingness to work together than the question of America's role in Iraq. How can the Senate find a consensus when we obviously have strongly held different views? One way to do it might be to pick 10 people from outside the Senate, 10 of the most distinguished Americans, and say to them: We are stuck here. We have a problem. The country has a problem. We need a shift of direction. We have a Senate that is divided, a President who is insisting on his constitutional prerogatives, and we have men and women fighting and dying in Iraq -- what do we do? That is precisely what the Iraq Study Group Report did. It consisted of 5 Republicans and 5 Democrats led by former Secretary of State Jim Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton. They had meetings all over America and meetings in Iraq with a distinguished staff that consisted of an honor roll list of generals and experts. They unanimously agreed in 9 months about what to do in Iraq. So what did they recommend? One – move out of the combat mission to the support, equipping, and training mission over about a year, without a firm deadline. Two – maintain a long-term but limited interest in Iraq, with some specifics. Three – step up political and diplomatic efforts. I was very disappointed by the reaction to the report, especially when I saw that the recommendations were unanimous. I had hoped then that the president would use this report as something other than a bookend – I still hope for that. It’s not my proposal, it is their proposal. But because it is important to our troops and to our country and to the world that we move forward in a unified way, I have accepted their recommendations. I have developed a plan based upon their report. I have joined Democrats and Republicans and continue to ask the president and the Congress and our citizens to accept it. There are 14 of us in the Senate on both sides of the aisle who are cosponsors of my legislation with Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) to implement the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group Report. If this Congress and this President adopted together the recommendations in our legislation there would be a new consensus for our country. If we did we could say to our troops: We not only will fund you, but we can now also say to you and to the Middle East that we agree on your mission, on why you are fighting, and why you are being wounded, and why you are dying. If Harry Reid would spend half as much time working toward bipartisan consensus on Iraq as he does planning slumber parties, we might be able to come together on a new way forward.