Lindsey Graham, who is not a stupid person, can be so embarrassing. Speaking at a press conference alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem Saturday, Graham said the following in response to Bibi’s call for “more sanctions, and stronger sanctions” against Iran.
But you, above all others, have said that sanctions are what got Iran to the table, and it will be the only thing that brings them to a deal that we can all live with.
I’m here to tell you, Mr. Prime Minister, that the Congress will follow your lead. [Emphasis added.]
What a remarkable thing to say to a foreign leader when he’s hosting you in his country, especially when the president of your own country is clearly not happy with that prime minister’s approach to this particular problem.
But that’s not all he said. He implied that people in the US intelligence community, which has insisted for more than seven years now that Iran has not made a decision to build a nuclear weapon, should have their driver’s licenses revoked whenever they return from overseas assignments, meetings or vacations.
To those who believe the Iranians have not been trying to develop a nuclear weapon, if you come to America, you should not be allowed to drive on our highways. Clearly, this regime for years has been deceiving the international community, has been trying to pursuit [sic], in my view, a nuclear weapon.
And then there’s this little gem offered to a leader who, as prime minister or the leader of the opposition, has steadfastly opposed the peace-making efforts of three US presidents, including George W. Bush, and who enthusiastically encouraged the United States to invade and occupy Iraq, among other incredibly stupid moves.
And what brings me here so many times, is common and shared values and common and shared enemies.
The fate of one country determines the fate of the other.
God bless the people of Israel, and you can count on the United States Congress, Republican and Democrat, to be there for you when you need us the most. [Emphasis added.]
Now, to be fair to Graham, he did not explicitly endorse Netanyahu’s call for “more sanctions, and stronger sanctions” despite his promise that Congress will follow Bibi’s “lead” in dealing with Iran. Instead, he promised that Congress will vote on the Kirk-Menendez bill, or what I originally called the “Wag the Dog Act of 2014,” next month, the approval of which, according to virtually all knowledgeable observers, will result in the collapse not only of the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, but also of the international sanctions regime. (For a more specific analysis, you can examine Ed Levine’s assessment of the bill after it was introduced last year.)
Graham, like Netanyahu himself, also insisted that he supports the administration’s efforts to negotiate a deal. “I would love nothing better than a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear ambitions,” he said. “I support the Administration’s effort to try to bring this to a peaceful conclusion.” But then he went on to insist that any final agreement must include the abandonment by Tehran of its uranium enrichment capabilities—a demand that all of the P5+1 (US, UK, France, Russia, China plus Germany) consider totally unrealistic.
Now, Graham often has had a problem with getting a little carried away in his public rhetoric. Reacting to President Obama’s State of the Union Address last January, and particularly his remarks about imposing sanctions against Iran, the South Carolina senator warned that “the world is literally about to blow up.” At the 2010 Halifax International Security Forum, Graham reportedly stunned the audience—and apparently embarrassed his hosts—by calling for a full-scale attack on Iran beyond its nuclear facilities.
So my view of military force would be not to just neutralize their nuclear program, which are probably dispersed and hardened, but to sink their navy, destroy their air force and deliver a decisive blow to the Revolutionary Guard. In other words, neuter that regime.
But then last June, Graham, while on the rounds of the Sunday talk shows and apparently freaked out about Islamic State’s sweep in northern and western Iraq, called for Washington to work with Iran (and presumably with the hated Revolutionary Guard) to protect Baghdad. The US has to “have to have some dialogue with the Iranians that says, ‘let’s coordinate our efforts,’ but has some red lines,” he said on one show. “The Iranians can provide some assets to make sure Baghdad doesn’t fall,” he said on yet another. “We need to coordinate with the Iranians. To ignore Iran and not tell them, ‘Don’t take advantage of this situation,’ would be a mistake.”
More recently, Graham denounced the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee’s report on Benghazi as “full of crap.”
It’s pretty clear that Graham can sometimes get excitable, especially when the TV cameras are rolling.
Assuming that the Kirk-Menendez bill does come to the floor next month, however, the big question is whether it will attract enough Senate Democrats to render its passage veto-proof (because there’s no doubt whatsoever that Obama will veto it). That will take 33 Democrats and/or independents and/or Republicans. At this point, I think the president should not have too much trouble getting those votes, and the fact that Graham has now taken the lead on this while on foreign soil will likely make it easier for Obama to get the Democratic support he needs. But Graham’s assurance that a Republican-led Congress will “follow [Netanyahu’s] lead” (against a US president, if necessary) should prompt a few of his fellow-Republicans to reflect just a little on the implications of such deference by a powerful US senator to a foreign leader.
Graham also had a lot to say about Hamas and withholding funding for the United Nations if it becomes more involved in seeking an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. You can read the whole transcript of his appearance with Netanyahu here and judge for yourself.