Corker, Alexander advocate contrasting positions on Iraq

Hank Hayes • Jul 21, 2007 at 12:00 AM

10,000 Tennessee members of the National Guard and the Reserves have been to Iraq and Afghanistan - almost all of them more than once.

U.S. Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander are on the same side of the political fence, but they have different positions about what America should do in Iraq.

The two Tennessee Republicans indicate there is no conflict between them on Iraq, although they are pursuing separate political paths amid a contentious debate over Iraq troop pullout scenarios between Republicans, Democrats and the Bush administration.

Corker, during a conference call to tout his recent appointment to the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he still wants to hear recommendations from U.S. military commander Gen. David Petraeus on Sept. 15 about what the future should hold in Iraq.

"At the same time, I continue to have concerns about progress being made..." Corker, a Senate freshman, said. "As I said even before I was sworn in ... that we needed to focus far more heavily on diplomacy in the area. I still believe that needs to occur. I'm still concerned about the economic progress on the ground there and certainly know any solution we have there in Iraq is not going to be simply a military solution."

Alexander, during Senate floor speeches and in interviews with the news media, remains firmly behind his bipartisan legislation to adopt the Iraq Study Group Report (ISG) recommendations "moving our troops from a combat mission to a support, equipping and training mission" as soon as possible.

"My guess is that if the Democratic Senate leadership would back off a little bit, if the president would be more flexible, there are probably 60 votes coming from both sides of the aisle for the (ISG) report, and if that should be adopted by the Congress, we can move forward," said Alexander, who will be seeking re-election next year.

But even President Bush does not want to embrace ISG's recommendations, Alexander admitted.

"I respect that. He has an absolute constitutional right to say: Our framers created the executive, I am the commander in chief, we cannot have 100 generals, I will develop the plan, and I will command the troops. That is my job."

Corker said he has read the ISG report twice and called it an "outstanding piece of work," but noted he isn't ready to support it.

"I, like many here, believe the president missed a tremendous public relations opportunity when this was presented by not thanking them for their work and saying to the country that he was going to adopt many of the proposals put forth," Corker said of the ISG report. "The thing that has troubled me - and I have talked with Senator Alexander and others about this - is if you look at the ... report in a vacuum ... for instance, on Page 73 it says there needs to be a (troop) surge in Baghdad. If you look at another page, it speaks of withdrawal. ... The only thing that troubles me about what it says is that you can send mixed signals to the military and Americans ... and to the neighbors in Iraq. For that reason, I have hesitated to be a co-sponsor.

"I haven't been opposed to Senator Alexander. I just have looked at it from a little bit different perspective."

Alexander pointed out 10,000 Tennessee members of the National Guard and the Reserves have been to Iraq and Afghanistan - almost all of them more than once.

"We are the ‘Volunteer State.' We have sent more men and women to fight, we think, than almost any state, and we instinctively have great respect for the president of the United States," Alexander said.

For more about Corker go to www.corker.senate.gov.

For more about Alexander go to www.alexander.senate.gov.

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