Hank Hayes • Oct 9, 2007 at 12:00 AM

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander speaks to eighth-grader students on Tuesday at Mary Hughes School. Ron Campbell photo.


PINEY FLATS — U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander told Mary Hughes School eighth-graders Tuesday that he thinks it’s time for the U.S. military “to finish the job in Iraq honorably.”

The Tennessee Republican, while making a pitch for the importance of teaching American history and civics in schools, gave the response when he was asked by a student about his position on Iraq.

Alexander, who will seek re-election to a second term next year, told the students of his Iraq Study Group (ISG) legislation “to shift gears and get our troops out of the combat business and into the support, training and equipping business.”

In responding to the question, he also asked a history question to the group of about 50 eighth-graders inside the school’s auditorium.

“How many times has America gone into a country before they attacked us and deposed the person who is in charge of the government? I think the answer is none,” Alexander said. “Japan attacked us (in World War II). Germany attacked everybody.”

The Senate debate over his ISG bill, he said afterward, is still too partisan.

“Neither the president nor the Democratic leader (U.S. Sen. Harry Reid) supports our bill although it has the support of 17 senators, nine Democrats and eight Republicans, and I still believe it is a bipartisan consensus,” Alexander said of the legislation. “I still hope to bring it up when we come back and have a debate on Iraq because I think our troops deserve to hear a united voice on Iraq and our enemy needs to hear it.”

A separate bill Alexander is backing would require a report on the status of Iraq redeployment planning from the Bush administration. The bipartisan bill requires the Department of Defense to provide its report within 60 days to congressional defense committees, with updated reports every 90 days thereafter.

The bill is identical to bipartisan legislation co-authored by U.S. Rep. John Tanner, D-Tenn., that recently passed in the House by a 377-46 vote.

Alexander said Iran is more dangerous to the United States than Iraq.

“It would help if we could get the same kind of help in Iran that we got in North Korea from neighbors,” he said. “We’re making good progress dismantling nuclear weapons in North Korea because China especially is involved. It would be a big help with Iran if Saudi Arabia, France, Germany and Russia would get involved (with Iran).”

During his talk to students, Alexander recalled his successful 1978 gubernatorial bid marked by his 1,000-mile walk across Tennessee and the trademark red-checked flannel shirt he wore during the campaign. Alexander said he initially missed Piney Flats during the walk but noted that the late community leader Dwight Mason “told me I had to come back and meet everyone in Piney Flats.”

Three Mary Hughes students wore red-checked flannel shirts to honor Alexander during his visit.

In answering questions from students, Alexander said he’s supporting former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson for president and noted gay marriage is an issue that should be left up to the states although he voted for a constitutional amendment banning it. He also fielded questions about border security, global warming, agriculture and the federal No Child Left Behind act.

History, he said, isn’t just for old folks, and he was impressed by Mary Hughes students’ subject knowledge.

“United States history is our worst subject, but it’s not in Piney Flats,” Alexander said. “I like to remind the students that if we want to understand why they may have to go to fight a war, it’s helpful to understand history ... and the most interesting history in the state is right here.”

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