While President Trump issued an uncharacteristically measured response Tuesday night to Iran’s launch of more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi bases housing American troops, his vocal ally and golfing buddy Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) took a different approach: threatening Iran with the destruction of its oil industry.
“Your fate is in your own hands in terms of the regime’s economic viability,” Graham said on Fox News, addressing Iran. “You continue this crap, you’re going to wake up one day out of the oil business.”
Graham, while not saying he was reflecting Trump’s views, noted he had just gotten off the phone with the president, who refrained from overt threats Tuesday night.
In a roughly six-minute interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Graham alternated between taking a tough stance on Iran and praising Trump for his handling of the escalating conflict.
Though the administration has been widely criticized for a chaotic and contradictory public response to the Iran situation, Graham described the president as “very methodical in his thinking” and noted Trump has “one of the best national security teams I’ve seen since I’ve been up here.”
“I have complete confidence in President Trump and his team to protect your family member and to protect our nation,” Graham said. “This is the first president in the last 40 years who really understands the Iranians.”
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Graham’s comments supporting action against Iran clashed with the urgent calls from Democrats, who implored Trump to favor de-escalation over military action amid rising tensions between the two countries. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tweeted “America & world cannot afford war,” and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) stressed at a campaign rally in Brooklyn, “The American people do not want a war with Iran.” Trump did not address Americans immediately after Tuesday’s attack and instead tweeted, “All is well!” adding he would speak on the matter Wednesday morning.
On Fox News, Graham and Hannity, avid Trump supporters who both influence the president and often reflect his thinking, appeared to be busy making a case for retaliation against the strikes, which U.S. officials say targeted the al-Asad air base in western Iraq and a base in Irbil in the Kurdistan region. The attacks followed Iran’s promise to take revenge for the death of Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in Baghdad last week by an American drone strike. In a statement shared to Twitter Tuesday night, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the country “took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense,” adding, “We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.”
Hannity called Iranian leaders “stupid” and repeatedly touted U.S. military might, warning that Iran’s oil refineries “could soon go up in flames” and their “illicit nuclear sites may finally be annihilated.”
“There is a massive price to pay,” he said. “Their hostility will now be met with the full force of the greatest, most advanced, most sophisticated military this world has ever seen.”
The host continued: “Without boots on the ground whatsoever, the United States will be ready to decimate Iran’s rogue leaders with our superior weaponry.”
Later, when Graham joined Hannity, the senator was equally critical of Iran and urged Trump to think about how to “restore deterrence to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
“This was an act of war … by any reasonable definition,” he said. “The president has all the authority he needs under Article II to respond.”
Describing the Iranian regime as “a cancer in the Mideast,” Graham said the president should focus on dealing with Iran’s ballistic missile program, its support of terrorist organizations and striking a deal that does not allow the country to develop a nuclear weapon.
“He doesn’t want regime change,” Graham said of Trump. “He wants the behavior of the regime to change.”
Though he applauded the work of Trump and his administration, Graham cautioned against underestimating Iran.
“Never lose sight that we’re dealing with religious Nazis,” he said, later adding, “They’re never going to change until you make them change. For the last 40 years, they’ve been wreaking havoc on the world, and you got a new sheriff in town.”
The senator’s comments came just hours after he told reporters that if the United States has to hit back, “it will be a massive retaliation.”
“I think the president’s very intent on making it harmful and hurtful to the Iranians if they keep coming after us,” Graham said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: "If we have to retaliate because they continue to come after us, it will be a massive retaliation." pic.twitter.com/RLS6WDsyPz— The Hill (@thehill) January 8, 2020
Graham wasn’t the only Republican on Tuesday who appeared to support retaliation against Iran. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) tweeted, “The Iranian regime has made a grave miscalculation by launching these attacks.”
“I stand with President Trump, who has been clear that the United States will not tolerate such action against our forces,” Cheney wrote.
Other GOP leaders had more restrained reactions, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who joined Democrats in urging de-escalation.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted, “I am very confident [Trump] will pursue an appropriate response & act at a time of our choosing,” while House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called for unity “in the fight against terrorism and those who would do our country harm.”
“America’s full support is with our courageous servicemen and women standing the watch,” McCarthy tweeted.
But on Fox News, Graham appeared to go a step further than his colleagues.
“ 'America First’ means to me, now more than anything else: You kill an American, you’re going to be the first one we come after,” he said.