Alexander seeks end to stalemate over Iraq

Hank Hayes • May 24, 2007 at 12:00 AM

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander touted proposed bipartisan legislation Thursday to use the Iraq Study Group’s (ISG) recommendations as a path to end a stalemate between Congress and the White House over America’s Iraq policy.

“It’s ironic that we spend a lot of time in Washington, D.C., lecturing Baghdad about not having a political solution when we can’t come up with one ourselves. We need to get the United States out of the combat business in Iraq and into the support, equipping and training business in a prompt and honorable way,” the Tennessee Republican said of the legislation in a conference call with reporters.

Alexander said his group of senators will introduce the “Iraq Study Group Recommendations Implementation Act” next month to set a series of benchmarks the Iraqis must meet in exchange for continued U.S. support.

Besides Alexander, the group includes U.S. Sens. Bob Bennett, R-Utah; Bob Casey, D-Pa.; Mark Pryor, D-Ark.; Judd Gregg, R-N.H.; and Ken Salazar, D-Colo.

“These are fresh voices in the Iraq debate,” Alexander said of the group.

Alexander and Salazar launched the effort as the Democratic-controlled Congress was locked in a standoff with President Bush over an emergency spending bill for the war.

The ISG bill calls for “a new diplomatic offensive in the region” that includes the creation of an Iraq International Support Group; giving the highest priority to training, equipping and advising the Iraqi military and security forces; establishing economic reconstruction programs in Iraq with oversight by a new senior official; ensuring that the president includes the cost of the war in his annual budget request; and setting conditions that could lead to redeployment of United States combat brigades as early as the first quarter of 2008 “if diplomatic, infrastructure and security benchmarks are met.”

Alexander called the bill a “modest but important beginning” to end debate over a costly and unpopular war.

But Alexander added he can’t be sure that the White House will embrace the bill.

“The president in the last couple of weeks has spoken more favorably about the Iraq Study Group report,” Alexander said. “The Democratic majority in the Senate has borrowed some of its ideas, so it’s almost by a process of elimination. We’re not going to put several hundred thousand more troops in Iraq. We’re not going to get out tomorrow, and we’re not going to continue a (troop) surge in Baghdad indefinitely. ... My sense is most senators are looking for a better plan of how to go forward in Iraq. ... This is not an adversarial but a friendly suggestion to give (Bush) an option.”

Ongoing debate over war funding has distracted lawmakers, he said.

“We have started arguing in an increasingly partisan way about how to fund the war ... while we’ve invested more than four years and 3,000 lives,” Alexander said.

The ISG was created in March 2006 at the request of a bipartisan group of members of Congress and was co-chaired by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Lee H. Hamilton. The ISG released its recommendations in December 2006.

For more about the ISG legislation go to http://salazar.senate.gov/images/pdf/070510iraqbill.pdf.

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