Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander

For the week of September 9, 2007

Posted on September 10, 2007

Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander September 9, 2007 “Speaking with One Voice on Iraq” A retired four star general from Tennessee recently told me our biggest problem in Iraq is we are divided and the enemy knows it. It is time for the American government to speak with one voice in Iraq. I believe that one voice would be a new strategy to change our mission in Iraq from combat to supporting, equipping, and training the Iraqi troops, and then stabilizing Iraq province by province, neighborhood by neighborhood, tribe by tribe. If we adopt this new strategy as a nation, and if we speak clearly to our troops and to the enemy with one voice, I believe this would likely bring home half our troops within a year or two. The first principle of a new strategy would be to change the mission of our troops province by province. General Petraeus and Odienero told a group of us Senators last month during our visit to Iraq that they believe that 6 or 7 provinces are on the way to being ready for this sort of mission change and this sort of stabilization. The second principle would be to maintain a long-term presence in Iraq but one that would steadily diminish over time. And the third would be to step up regional and diplomatic efforts to press others in the region to help Iraq succeed. Basically the new strategy I am describing would implement the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group chaired by former Secretary of State Jim Baker, a Republican, and former Congressman Lee Hamilton, a Democrat. It would also take into account the lessons and successes of the last few months under the leadership of General Petraeus in Iraq. What are the other options? I can understand the Democratic leader wanting to have a vote on withdrawal immediately with a deadline. But I would respectfully say we are not going to have a consensus on that approach. Too many of us believe it would strand people who had been loyal in Iraq. Too many of us believe it would not sufficiently honor the lives and the treasure we have invested in Iraq. Too many of us believe there is too great a risk of turning over Iraq to terrorists. And if none of those arguments make a difference, it is simply logistically impossible to move 160,000 American soldiers and marines and airmen out of Iraq overnight. I suppose there is another option that one could try. The President and some on the ground in Iraq might be tempted to simply say: Let's continue the surge for a while longer because already in some places there is demonstration that we are having some military success. But a surge would be open-ended, a surge by itself. A surge is a tactic; it is not a strategy. We need a strategy about where we go from here. I believe there is not sufficient public support for the President simply to go before the American people and say: Let's continue the surge. We know if we put our tremendous American troops in a particular place in Iraq, there will be some good results. We have already seen it. But a surge by itself does not answer the question. In fact, it never has answered the question: Where do we go from here in Iraq? How do we finish the job responsibly? That is the question. If none of those options are promising for a consensus within the Congress and the country, then where does that leave us? It leaves us somewhere in the middle, which is often, in a democracy, the right place to be. My father used to say: Finish what you start. We need to finish the job in Iraq. When I go back to Tennessee, I don't have Tennesseans rushing up to me to tell me what to do about Iraq. They expect me to have some idea about what to do about Iraq, to say where we go from here, and then they will critique that and tell me whether they agree. It is time to end this spectacle of the U.S. Congress lecturing Baghdad for being in a political stalemate when we are in one ourselves. We can speak with a single voice. We are elected to be able to do so. It is time for the government to speak with a single voice about where we go from here in Iraq. Our troops deserve it. The enemy needs to hear it. ###