“Where the hell is the commander in chief?” That was the question Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked of DNI chief James Clapper and Gen. Keith Alexander about the risk to national security posed by the shutdown, which has furlough about 70 percent of NSA personnel:
The president’s passivity in the face of the shutdown is just one of Graham’s concerns. After circling the Russell building to find the one open door (for those visiting it is marked “staff” but they let non-staff in), I spoke with Graham shortly after the hearing from which the clip above is taken. He was still exercised. “There were shutdowns before 9/11 and there are shutdowns after 9/11,” he cautioned. “We are going down a dangerous path.” He said with “terrorists on the prowl” the president should not be “watching,” as former adviser Robert Gibbs advised.
Even more than the current shutdown and its implications on national security, Graham is nervous about Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations yesterday expressed concern that the West would lift sanctions before Iran destroys its nuclear weapons program. “The danger of a phony deal is my biggest concern,” he says. “To ensure we won’t have a phony deal should insist Iran comply with the 4 U.N. resolutions.” He is skeptical that Iran would take the steps to comply with the U.N. resolutions. He said, “If they refuse to comply it would tell us all you need to know.” And if in fact they surprised us by complying, “The Israelis would have a different view of things. I certainly would.” That means Iran must cease all uranium enrichment, remove stockpiles of enriched uranium, Qom and the advanced centrifuges in Natanz and end work on plutonium enrichment.
He is making a point, which Netanyahu noted yesterday: So long as the Iranians can talk, talk, talk and get sanctions relief they will obtain their nuclear weapons objective. “You allow the Iranians to control the process,” he says about that approach.
Graham’s concern is the least partisan issue I can think of facing Congress. Most congressmen and senators, even those who voted against the Iran authorization of force, understand that the Iranians may now feel confident, correctly or not, that the president will not hold firm on our position on its acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability. That leaves it up to Congress to try to stop what Graham calls the phony deal.
It’s quite simple really: Congress can take a vote (it should be overwhelming) saying that talks should not begin until Iran complies with existing U.N. resolutions. Graham himself asked rhetorically, “Shouldn’t they abide by existing resolutions before we talk about anything new?” Congress can’t literally prevent Obama from authorizing talks, nor should it. But what it can do is put those talks in proper context and make clear to both Iran and to the president that sanctions will remain in place until the U.S. can verify compliance with existing agreements. The president should welcome that sort of message, a show of spine and determination. Whatever talking Obama does, Congress should insist the U.N. resolutions be complied with before any sanctions are lifted or relaxed.
Maybe after the shutdown gamesmanship both parties can get on to more vital things, like preventing a nuclear-armed Iran.