Alexander Says He Will Vote Against a Military Strike in Syria (Updated)



Sen. Lamar Alexander told reporters Monday that he will vote against authorizing a military strike in Syria, citing uncertainty about what would come after such an action.

Andrea Zelinski was there, and she has more at the Post.

Alexander's statements came just hours after a release from his primary challenger, state Rep. Joe Carr, in which the Tea Party conservative hit Alexander for "silence" on Syria.

Alexander just finished speaking to the Rotary Club downtown. We'll update this post with more shortly.

Update: More from Zelinski after the jump:

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander came out today saying he’ll vote no against a military strike on Syria. Here’s a takeout from his two Q&A sessions with reporters while at the Nashville Rotary Club’s luncheon.

Reporter: The knowledge of chemical weapons being used. Is there any doubt in your mind who did it at all, in any way, shape or form?

Alexander: There’s still some question. There’s strong evidence the Syrian government, someone in the Syrian government, used chemical weapons. Maybe that someone else in Syria used chemical weapons. But my conclusion is based upon the fact of a military strike in Syria by the United States alone at this time seems to me to carry too much risk of doing more harm than good. I want the focus to be on (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) Assad’s behavior, not on ours. I want to shame him and I don’t want us to be the target.

Reporter: What do you think of the Russian proposal to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control?

Alexander: I think the Russians should be badly embarrassed by their support of a regime that is one that two state-sponsored, two countries that sponsors terrorism along with Iran, and that obviously is using chemical weapons or has chemical weapons. I think if we do not strike Syria with military weapons and find other ways to register our disgust with the use of them, then that puts the spotlight on Russia as well as Syria, and should encourage Russia to be embarrassed or to stop supporting Syria.

Reporter: There have been various efforts to discourage Syria to do any number of things. What makes you think things will be different going forward? And what does this do to American credibility as well?

Alexander: I think America’s credibility is still, still strong. America’s credibility is not helped when we take a random military strike. America’s credibility is better served by following the Colin Powell doctrine which is have a specific and clear objective related to a vital military interest, number one; number two, assemble an overwhelming force; number three, have the stomach to see it all the way through to the end. I don’t think any of those characteristics fits this proposed military strike.

Reporter: From your constituency from what you’ve heard, is there’s just a general exhaustion with this time? Is that a factor in your decision this time?

Alexander: Sure it is. I’ve been all over Tennessee the last two weeks. Especially from retired military people. My experience is military men and women don’t complain about their service. We’ve had more than 10,000 Tennesseans who have been in Afghanistan and Iraq five, six, seven times over the last 10 years. They want us in the policy making positions to be absolutely sure of ourselves before we authorize any further action. The overwhelming feeling from Tennesseans is this is not the right thing to do.

Reporter: Your opponent in the Senate race has also spoken against this. Is this decision informed at all by your reelection bid?

Alexander: He can say whatever he like.

Reporter: Well, what do you say?

Alexander: I just said what I said.

Reporter: President Obama has said saying no on Syria is the easy choice politically. Would you push back?

Alexander: I take this very seriously. I respect the office of the president and his role as commander and chief. But I’m focusing on whether this fits our vital national security and I’m keeping in mind whether it’s worth the risk of involving more Tennessee men and women in a Middle East civil war after they’ve been there five, six times over the last 10 years. I’m taking it very seriously.

Reporter: You say risk. What is that risk?

Alexander: The problem is we don’t know what the reaction would be. If there is a retaliation by Syria or someone on behalf of Syria, who then responds to the retaliation? If they for example attack Israel, then by our agreements and treaties and friendships, are we then required to step forward? Or there could be other circumstances. The problem is there’s too much uncertainty about what the consequences would be and there’s not enough connection to a vital national security interest of the United STates to take the risk.

Reporter: Is putting the chemical weapons that Syria controls under international control enough? This latest proposal from Russia?

Alexander: I’ll have to see what their proposal is. Assad, if he’s using chemical weapons, should stop. Russia should stop supporting Assad who is a sponsor of terrorism. The spotlight now should be on Assad and Russia and others to do away with chemical weapons as international treaties say they should be. They should be shamed in every courthouse and post office in the world until they do.

And, from a second Q&A session with reporters after the luncheon:

Reporter: What are the other senators saying about this? Who else is backing with you?

Alexander: I haven’t talked to the other senators. I’ve been in Tennessee the last few weeks and I’ve talked to a lot of Tennesseans and I hear a lot of concern for the reason I just expressed. The concern is what comes next. Will we set off an unexpected set of circumstances. Surely, there must be a more appropriate action for us to take that is consistent with our vital national security interests than this.

Reporter: Does running for reelection affect your Syria position?

Alexander: Well I hope not. You could ask the same question about my immigration vote. I shouldn’t be a flip answer on that. I mean, I’ve thought about this very seriously. I know that this is a complex problem. This is a request from the commander in chief that deserves my attention. I spoke on the phone with his top advisers right after he made the decision. Had a good, long talk with (Defense) Secretary (Chuck) Hagel over the weekend. I’d like to be able to defer to an American commander in chief of whatever party on foreign policy matters, but on this case I cannot.

Reporter: You’ve said you’ve talked to a lot of Tennesseans about Syria. Do you believe that a majority of them agree with you on this issue?

Alexander: Almost everyone I’ve talked with, I’ve been surprised about how unanimous the feeling is in Tennessee, especially retired military men and women who’ve talked to me about it. I’ve rarely seen an issue about which there’s this much unanimity.

Reporter: Should foreign policy be based on a popularity contest?

Alexander: Foreign policy should be based upon our national security interest. But individual Tennesseans have an ability and have the right to make that judgement just as I do and I try to listen carefully to what they have to say. I’ve listened to them. I’m capable of making an independent judgement of what most Tennesseans are thinking at the time, but in this case, I think I’ve come to the same conclusion that most Tennesseans appear they’ve come to.

Reporter: Sen. Corker came to a different conclusion. Have the two of you talked, have you consulted or debated this?

Alexander: We haven’t debated it. I respect Sen. Corker greatly. I know he’s trying to show respect to the commander in chief. And we may come down to sides here, we occasionally do. But that doesn’t diminish in any way my respect for him. He’s trying to do what he thinks is right in America’s national security interests. I’m trying to do what I think is right. We have a different opinion.

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