Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander

“A Way Forward in Iraq”

Posted on May 21, 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, D.C. as much as we need one in Baghdad, and that means getting 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 (D-CO) and I have drafted legislation to implement the recommendations of the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. We’ve invited 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. 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.” In fact, these recommendations seem to already be guiding the President's efforts and the efforts of those on the other side of the aisle who are calling for change. On May 2nd 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." 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. But it will get us out of the combat business in Iraq and into a more sustainable, reduced role in a prompt and honorable way. 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 British Prime Minister Tony 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 respectful message to the President is that I hope he and the White House seriously consider this. There are some issues that are simply too big for one party to solve. Here we are, the world’s oldest democracy, lecturing Baghdad, an infant democracy, for not coming up with a political solution, when we ourselves cannot seem to do so ourselves. Until we do, we should spend less time lecturing Baghdad and more time working together to fashion a way forward on the foremost issue facing our country.