Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has a plan to bring peace to the Mideast. It’s called war. Open-ended, U.S.-led war. To his credit, Graham is willing to level with those among the electorate who might want to know when and how we will ever get out:
“You don’t get out,” Graham told NBC’s Chuck Todd in an interview taped in a bar and continued in the back of a moving car. “You don’t get out.”
Graham, like his best friend and ally in the U.S. Senate, John McCain, is a neoconservative dream candidate. His plan is likewise a neocon dream plan that, in my view, is discredited by the U.S. experience in Iraq since 2003. It is a plan that continues to rely on a version of the sale jobs that held that the Americans would be welcomed, greeted with candy and flowers, and accepted as a model for new or reorganized nations that would be born of our renewed intervention.
But as regular readers of this space know, I’m desperate for straight talk in politics and Graham may be the straightest talker in the nine-going-on-15-or-more Republican presidential field. I give him big points for this, and he answered Todd’s questions forthrightly. But his answers beg some follow-up questions that I hope he will deal with in some forum.
Here’s my possibly flawed transcription of the key points:
Lindsey Graham: “If I were president the first thing I would announce is that we’re going to arm the Ukrainians so they can fight for their own freedom. I’d leave a residual force behind in Afghanistan. And I would send more troops into Iraq to facilitate their ability to reconstitute their army so they could deny ISIL some safe havens in Iraq.
“Now Syria’s the hard one. I’d ask Egypt, I’d ask Turkey and the other regional allies that we have to form an army, and we’d be part of that army and we’d go in and take territory back from ISIL. And we’d hold it. And we’d try to get political reconciliation between the Alawites and the rest of the population of Syria.
Chuck Todd: “How do you get out?”
Graham: “You don’t get out. You don’t get out. [Here Todd tries to ask him if he’s prepared to tell America that they will never get their troops out of the Mideast but Graham answers on top of the question with, “We’re still in Japan.”]
“… I think we have to be involved in the Middle East politically, economically, militarily. If you’re not, you’re making a huge mistake. If we’d have left Germany and Japan after a certain period of time, only God knows what would have happened.
“Here’s the good news: With a small number of troops, probably less than we have in Korea, you could bring stability back to Iraq. I think you could get together an army to go into Syria…
“You’re going to have to leave some troops behind. And here is what I’m going to tell America: It’s not the day we leave that matters, it’s what we leave behind. And I don’t see this ending in my lifetime. I don’t’ see us being able to disengage from the Mideast.
“But I do see this. The military side will go down in time. But building a small schoolhouse in Afghanistan can do more damage to the Taliban than a 500-pound bomb.
“I’ve got to convince the American people that if you disengage from the region, if you do what we did before 9/11, just let it all go to hell, you’ll pay a price.
“So I’m trying to be smart. Trust me. I believe economic aid is just as valuable, even more valuable, than hard power. I’m a soft-power guy. But the one thing I can tell people in South Carolina and the country at large is that I don’t see a path forward where we just walk away.”
Now here are a few questions that Sen. Graham should address:
You propose to put U.S. forces back into Iraq. You do not mention that President Obama was willing to leave a residual force in Iraq if he could negotiate a “status of force agreement” (SOFA) with the Iraqi government, but the Iraqis refused. The Iraqis did this in the face of heavy popular pressure to get the U.S. troops out, and would not agree or even discuss the U.S. demand that U.S. troops be granted immunity from prosecution by local Iraqi authorities (a provision that is standard in U.S. SOFA agreements around the world). How would you, as President Graham, get around this problem? Would you insist on immunity for U.S. troops? Do you have a plan for solving Sunni-Shia hostility within Iraq that has prevented the Shia-led national government from trusting Sunnis with a military role in Anbar Province where Sunnis predominate and where ISIS now occupies much of the province?
Have Turkey, Egypt or other U.S. allies agreed to provide forces that would fight and die under U.S. leadership in Syria? What happens to your vision if they do not agree?
The Alawite minority of Syria (an estimated 16 percent of the population) has ruled Syria under the Assad family for decades, brutally and in their own interest. It has alienated, repressed and murdered members of most of the other groups. Please specify your plan to “try to get political reconciliation between the Alawites and the rest of the population of Syria?”
Is there any way to estimate the cost in U.S. blood and treasure for your vision of indefinite military occupation of various regions of the Mideast?
Your view seems to rely on the United States being welcome to play a large role in running and managing the Mideast with military power, indefinitely and with license to kill as U.S. presidents may deem necessary. Recent experience since the invasion of Iraq suggests that hatred of the United States is widespread in the region, as is the tendency to see the U.S. role there dominated by interests in oil, U.S. domination and Israel. Do you have some reason to believe that the region wants and would accept U.S. troops in the role you envision?