Lindsey Graham’s Desperation

Just in terms of style, has there ever been a more obsequious opportunist than Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina? Here is somebody who voted for the bank bailouts, the confirmation of two liberal Supreme Court nominees, national ID cards, amnesty for “illegals”, and is known and loved by the liberal media for his penchant for “reaching across the aisle” – in short, a RINO – now trying to save his own neck in the midst of a conservative upsurge. How is he doing it? By warmongering, of course.

In front of an international audience at a security conference in Halifax, Canada, Graham declared that it’s time to go to war with Iran:

“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.”

No record of whether or not he was frothing at the mouth. Poor Lindsey: amid escalating rumors that the staunchly anti-gay Senator is himself “a little too light in the loafers,” as state Democratic Party Chair Dick Harpootlian put it, Graham is trying to go all macho on us, but will it work? And just how realistic is his war plan? The US military – in the midst of two wars, and a third one in the making – is hardly in a position to implement Commander Graham’s orders. After all, if he and his fellow GOP Senators don’t vote to raise the national debt limit next year, our warships may stop en route to the battlefield – because the nation’s out of gas, and ready cash.

In the case of a desperate politician like Sen. Graham, who is clearly in the Tea Party’s sights, what he’s trying to do ought to be clear enough: he’s trying to do what every politician spends most of his time doing – get reelected. And the only way he can do that, given his record of denouncing the tea partiers as “angry white guys,” is by splitting the rightist vote, and deflecting the threat to his political ambitions. In his remarks to the Canadian conference, Graham went on to say:

“Nobody would like to see the sanctions work any more than I would because I’m still in the military and I get to meet these young men and women on a regular basis and I know what it’s been like for the last nine years. And if you use military force, if sanctions are not going to work, and a year from now it’s pretty clear they’re not going to work, what do our friends in Israel do?”

It’s pretty obvious what’s up here: Graham is appealing to the Christian evangelicals of John Hagee‘s sort – the fanatical “Christian Zionists” – who go around waving Israeli flags and believe a war with Iran is prophesied in the Bible. That may sound like a marginal group, but it isn’t: millions believe this, and South Carolina has more than its share. Sen. Graham has a record in these circles: he’s appeared on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the principal outlet for Hagee’s propaganda, several times, and – more ominously – when Israeli “tourism” minister Benny Elon made a special trip to the US to discuss the prospect of forcibly “resettling” the Palestinians to Jordan, Graham met with him to plot strategy.

Senator Graham’s problem is that he just can’t help himself from talking like a RINO, the very thing the tea partiers and the GOP base have come to hate. As the Washington Post reports, his remarks to the conference were framed in the context of giving re-election advice to none other than President Obama:

“President Obama stands a good chance of being reelected in 2012 if he makes progress in Afghanistan, he adopts a tougher line against Iran, the economy improves and there are no major terrorist attacks in the United States, a senior Republican said Saturday.

"Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), who has become a leading GOP national security spokesman, said that if Obama is looking for cooperation with Republicans, a continued US military effort in Afghanistan is ‘one area where Republicans feel comfortable standing by the president’ and are likely to give him more support than many in his own party.”

While I’m sure the President is grateful for the advice and support, one wonders how members of Graham’s own party will see it. Yet the Senator from South Carolina is no fool: he knows what he’s up against, and that his chances of political survival are rapidly diminishing. So he’s doing what most of the “big government conservatives” not up for reelection until 2012 are doing these days: wrapping themselves in the flag – in Graham’s case, the Israeli flag – and hoping for the best.

Graham’s political calculations may be off: the hostility to him from the tea party grassroots is certainly strong, and no amount of warmongering is likely to neutralize it. Indeed, it’s likely to cause the tea partiers to ask themselves if all that warmongering is a smokescreen behind which big spenders like Graham are wont to hide. But you have to give him credit for facing the issue squarely, as he did in his extended remarks to the Halifax conference:

“Although Graham predicted Republican support for more aggressive U.S. involvement in the world, he acknowledged that some new members of Congress, particularly those elected under the tea party banner, are likely to have different foreign policy views.

“‘The Republican Party is going to have two wings,’ he said at a high-level security conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, sponsored by the German Marshall Fund and the Canadian government. ‘The isolationist wing, and the wing led by [Sen. John] McCain [Ariz.], Graham and [Sen. Jeff] Sessions [Ala.] that says you’d better stay involved in the world because if you do disengage, you’ll regret it.”

“‘If you ask Rand Paul about NATO and ask Rob Portman, you’ll get two different answers,” Graham said. Paul, just elected GOP Senator from Kentucky, is a tea party favorite. Portman, a former House member and George W. Bush administration international trade representative, has a record of foreign involvement.”

Speaking of Rand Paul, he was interviewed on “This Week,” by Christiane Amanpour, and it was fascinating to see him come out of the closet, so to speak, as what Lindsey Light-Loafers would describe as an “isolationist,” i.e. someone who wants to isolate us from bankruptcy and unnecessary foreign wars. Amanpour asks him if his fervor for budget-cutting extends to the military, and he says “yes” not once but twice. He is then asked for specifics, and wisely fails to give any – what is he, a military expert? – whereupon Amanpour throws him a question one might expect of Hugh Hewitt:

“AMANPOUR: Pay for soldiers? Would you cut that?

“PAUL: I think that’s something that you can’t do. I don’t think…

“AMANPOUR: You cannot do?

“PAUL: Right. I think that soldiers have to be paid. Now, can we say that gradually we don’t need as large of an Army if we’re not in two wars? Yes, I think you can say that. You can save money there. You can bring some troops home or have Europe pay more for their defense and Japan pay more and Korea pay more for their defense or bring those troops home and have savings there.

“AMANPOUR: Have you thought much about foreign policy? Does the Tea Party have a foreign policy?

“PAUL: I think the Tea Party believes in a strong national defense, that it’s a priority for our country, that the Constitution exemplifies and says that national defense is one of our priorities. But, no, primarily the Tea Party is about the debt. It’s concerned and worried that we’re inheriting or passing along this debt to our kids and our grandkids, is the number one thing of the Tea Party.”

Shame on Amanpour for throwing him that curveball, and kudos to Rand Paul, whom I seem to have seriously misjudged. I guess that meeting with Bill Kristol and the neocons didn’t mean what I feared it meant. His remarks not only validate his anti-interventionist credentials, but they also show what a good politician he is becoming: in these war-weary days, you can’t say “bring the troops home” often enough. I’m glad to admit I was wrong about Rand Paul because I can breathe a lot easier, now, knowing he’s going to be a credit to the libertarian movement and his father’s legacy.

Oh, to be sure, I don’t agree with his opposition to the renewal of the START treaty: does he really think we need to spend billions on nuclear rearmament and re-start the cold war? Is there really a possibility of a Russian nuclear attack on the United States – which is what our nuclear posture is geared up for? To ask the question is to answer it in the negative, to be sure. But then again, as I said, Rand Paul the politician is coming into his own: he owes a lot of chits to Jim DeMint, who is making opposition to START his signature issue in the Senate, and it wouldn’t do to cross him, just yet. Very crafty, or too crafty by half: we report, you decide.

While we’re on the subject of Rand Paul: I predict it won’t be long before we start hearing about his presidential prospects. After all, I seem to recall another freshly-elected US Senator who made it to the White House without serving out his term. Rand is young, he’s very presentable, and, although he does a good job of hiding it, he’s just as radical as his father. Why, he even had me fooled.

Radicalism may seem like an undesirable trait in a potential candidate for the White House – and that would be true if we weren’t in the midst of America’s Second Great Depression, and we weren’t fighting two wars at once. That’s why the movement founded by Rand’s father has picked up so much support lately: the Campaign for Liberty is now a major factor in GOP politics – while Rudy “One Delegate” Giuliani, who unsuccessfully tried to marginalize Ron Paul, is yesterday’s news. That’s also why Ron may run again in the GOP presidential primaries: if he does, you can be sure the foreign policy issue will be front and center.

Yet Ron Paul is 75. While he’s in great shape (he works out every day!), I wouldn’t blame him if he decided to forgo running in favor of staying at home and enjoying the company of his rather large family. Besides which, you never know: another member of that family may hear the call of duty, if only to make sure there’s a Paul on the 2012 primary ballot.


The Autumn Winter tour continues. Next up:

NOVEMBER 10, 6:30 p.m. Western Connecticut State University (Westside Classroom Building, WS Room 218, 43 Lake Avenue Ext., Danbury, CT 06811). Hosted by the Ridgefield Liberty Co-op. $1,000 prize essay contest encourages students to submit a thoughtful essay after the talk. Free admission.

On November 11th, the Boston Chapter of Come Home America will be hosting my talk on “How We Can Organize a Left-Right Alliance Against the War Parties — and Why We Must.” The event will be held at the Arlington Street Church (351 Boylston Street, Boston, MA) at 7 p.m. Free admission.

NOVEMBER 18, 7:30 p.m. University of California at Berkeley (20 Barrows Hall, Barrow Lane and Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94704). Hosted by Students for Liberty. Free admission.

To book an event, please contact Wendy Honett

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].