2016 Candidate Hints at Waging War In Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq


Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks during a discussion hosted by the American Action Forum and the Foreign Policy Initiative about the topic "Will We Confront the Growing Security Threats?" on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 12, 2015.   (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Everywhere Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) looks in the world, he sees a crisis, and believes these combined crises could soon “throw the world into chaos we haven’t seen since WWII.”

In his first major foreign policy speech as a presidential candidate, Graham told a packed room at the Atlantic Council think tank in D.C. what he would do if he became Commander-in-Chief, a list that tilted heavily to where he would use military force.

Though he rattled off a laundry list of threats to U.S. national security throughout his speech, Graham called the current diplomatic negotiations with Iran “the greatest existential threat to world order” and “North Korea in the making.”

“I don’t mind Iran or any other nation having a nuclear power program for peaceful reasons,” he said. But if the current negotiations produce a deal that doesn’t include the ability for the U.S. to inspect Iran’s nuclear reactors “anytime, anywhere,” Graham would resort to “overwhelming” military force.

“I don’t want a war, but if that’s what you want you’re going to lose it,” he said, pretending to address Iranian leaders directly. “We’re going to sink your navy and shoot your Air Force down.”

The inflammatory remarks come the same week top U.S. and Iranian officials are down to the wire on a historic agreement to restrict Iran’s nuclear capabilities in exchange for lifting harsh economic sanctions.

It’s not the first time Graham has attempted to undercut the negotiations. In March, he was one of 47 Republican senators to sign onto a letter to the Iranian government warning that a future president could undo any deal they come to on the country’s nuclear program after President Obama leaves office. Like Graham, the other authors of the letter have expressed eagerness for war with Iran.

Though Graham cited the safety of both Iran’s neighbor Israel and the U.S. as motivation for this plan, military leaders in the U.S. and Israel have warned that striking Iran would be a terrible, dangerous idea. Even President George W. Bush backed away from a plan to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities after his advisers warned him it would “stir up Iranian nationalism against the U.S.” and destabilize the entire region.

In Wednesday’s speech Graham also touched on his other presidential goals, including sending thousands of U.S. soldiers back into Iraq and Afghanistan.

He promised to send at least 10,000 “special forces” to Iraq to “hunt leadership of ISIL morning, noon and night,” “decapitate their leadership,” and “drop bombs on the right targets.”

Not to be confined by international borders, Graham added, “You have to look at Iraq and Syria as a single battle-space,” and proposed sending additional U.S. troops into Syria as part of a “regional army” whose goal is regime change. “If [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] doesn’t go, it will be impossible to reset world order,” he warned. “If Syria is not addressed, it’s going to take Jordan and Lebanon down with it.”

Graham added that he believes it is also in America’s nation security interest to keep thousands of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan for “as long as it takes.”

“We’ll leave when we’re safe,” he said. “If you’re war weary, don’t vote for me.”

Like his close friend and political ally John McCain (R-AZ) did eight years ago, Graham is running for president on a platform focused intently on a hawkish foreign policy. Voters rejected this strategy and McCain lost decisively to Barack Obama, who ran on a platform of criticizing the Iraq War.

While Graham may be the most prominent hawk in the current election, he noted Wednesday that nearly every Republican running for president — except Rand Paul — agrees with him. Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) also signed onto the letter to Iran aimed at derailing the peaceful negotiations, while Jeb Bush has hired foreign policy advisers who helped plan the first invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan under President George W. Bush.


Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress