Graham argued on Iran, “I think it is the challenge of our time. We are really going to be defined by Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon.” He characterizes himself as “skeptical” that diplomacy would work. In sponsoring a Senate resolution that passed overwhelming that containment is not an option, Graham said, “I think we helped bring [Obama] to the dance.” Now, “the real issue is making it clear all options are on the table and that we have Israel’s back. That’s what the president said at AIPAC last year; ‘We have Israel’s back.'” That leads to his current proposal, which he thinks will garner wide support: “If Israel acts in its own defense — even preemptively — we will support Israel economically, diplomatically, and politically.”
I asked the senator if the president’s pull-out from Iraq, quick withdrawal from Afghanistan and selection of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary is sending a mixed message to Iran. He says, “I don’t even think it is a mixed message. I hope to make it a mixed message!” He blames “the collective leading from behind” as creating in Iran considerable doubt about our seriousness, adding “Hagel is a two-for. It’s a message to Israel and to Iran. He’s taken the most antagonistic senator [toward Israel] in my lifetime and made him secretary of defense.” Graham said that they were able to hold his nomination up for 10 days, but argued, “We’ve never filibustered a secretary of defense. It was very disappointing not one Democratic senator saw we were not sending the right message.”
On his Iran resolutions, Graham favor step-by-step approach. “You have to build a case,” he explained: First, you rule out containment, then pledge support to Israel, and if that doesn’t work, tell Obama, “Mr. President, here’s authorization.” He does not take lightly the consequences of using force. “If we hit Iran, we open Pandora’s box. If they get a nuclear weapon, we empty Pandora’s box,” he said. Iran in the long-term, he argued, does not have the capability to withstand American force. “We win, they lose,” he said, echoing Ronald Reagan’s admonition about the Cold War. He also suggested that if we do need to act, “you are not just going to hit one mountain. You’d try to take down the country’s defense system.”
Shifting to Egypt, Graham made the case that “as long as they are moving toward democracy” we have to continue to stay engaged. He argued, “The day we cut off aid is the day we don’t have leverage.” Furthermore, “the Egyptian military is one of our most stable relationships in the region.” He does worry, however, about “an unholy alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military.”
And on Syria, the senator asserted, “We need to be seen by the Syrian people as being helpful in their hour of need, not sitting on the sidelines.” “The worst possible danger,” he said, “is for Assad to be thrown out and for us to have no leverage.” He added, “The longer we sit on the sidelines the longer Assad stays in power.” He worries that the ongoing violence and refugee problem will destabilize another ally: “The biggest casualty could be the king of Jordan.”
On John Brennan, he said, “I’m doing what senators have done for the last 100 years,” namely holding up the nomination to get more national security information from the White House. “It is important to get the information for me and the American people.” On range of issues but particularly Benghazi, he said, “We’re being stonewalled. We’re being filibustered.” He said, “I can only imagine what would have happened [under] George Bush. . . They’d be drawing up articles of impeachment.” On this and the refusal to come clean on the investigation of national security leaks, Graham said, “The double standard is breathtaking.” In addition to Democratic lawmakers, “The media is incredibly compliant,” he said.
Graham ended the interview on a positive note, praising the president’s upcoming trip to Israel. “The biggest thing is that is shows engagement. It shows leading from up front.” He concluded, “I applaud him for going. There is no substitute for American leadership.”