The South Carolina Senator and GOP presidential candidate talked about what he would do to handle the growing Syrian crisis.
HH: So pleased to welcome back United States senator, Lindsey Graham to the program. Senator Graham, welcome. I look forward to seeing you next Wednesday night in Simi Valley at the Reagan Library.
LG: That makes two of us.
HH: Well, tell me, first of all, about the announcement today that Democrats have forty-one votes in favor of the Iran deal and how that will impact everything.
LG: Well, hopefully we’ll get sixty votes for cloture to take up the debate. Then, we’ll have a motion of disapproval – if they all stick to their guns – we’ll have fifty-nine to disapprove. It will go to the President’s desk; he will veto. They will override his veto, and I will to continue to attack the Iranian nuclear program as effectively as I know how.
HH: Senator Graham, do you expect they will filibuster it, though, because forty-one votes–
HH: You don’t?
LG: Let me tell you, if they filibuster and deny the American people a chance to hear a debate on the most important foreign decision in my lifetime, I think it’d be the mistake for the ages. I do not believe – I cannot bring myself to believe – that we would be denied as the United States Senate a chance to dictate why we’re for or against the most consequential foreign policy decision in this generation.
HH: Have any of your colleagues on the Democratic side – any of them – said to you, “You know, Lindsey, I’m going to vote for this deal, but I will let that debate go forward.”
LG: We have fifty-eight – we have four Democrats. We’re two short of getting to sixty. It is my hope, Hugh – now I know the body fairly well – there will be at least two Democrats who will say this deal is important, it’s worthy of being debated. The American people deserve to hear both sides of the argument. I will vote for the deal, but I will stop it from coming up for a debate. I am hopeful that at least two Democrats will fall in that column.
HH: Well, if that happens, do you believe there is an opportunity to change minds?
LG: I don’t know if we can change minds, but we’ll have a historical record, and we’ll have something to build upon going forward as to why it’s a bad deal. Maybe you could change a mind or two. I don’t know, but I know it’s important to have the discussion if you truly believe it’s a good deal. You should welcome the opportunity to explain why.
HH: Senator Graham, do you regret voting for Corker-Menendez-Cardin now this has worked out this way.
LG: Oh no, not at all. It gives us the chance to have the debate. At the end of the day, I never expected the Democratic minority to turn over the entire Senate to us on the Iran deal. And let’s say, if you get a majority, then you can do anything you want. I never expected that, I would not have done that if that if I had been a Democrat. But I do expect, that we have the debate.
HH: But you could’ve had a debate at the same time about the executive agreement. Have you added stature do the Iran deal by virtue of Corker-Menendez-Cardin.
LG: Quite the opposite, I think we will have a congressional record of where a bipartisan majority voted against the deal which would be very important for the next president to reject this agreement. If we had no debate at all, it would have been a mistake. The price of having a debate was to get sixty votes, and I think we will get sixty votes. We’ll have that debate. The president will veto the legislation which will allow again the next president an opportunity to get a better deal because this deal will have been rejected by a bipartisan fashion.
HH: Alright, now tell me how the next president – if it’s you or anybody else on the stage at the Reagan Library – gets out of this deal once it is not rejected.
LG: Number one, it’s an agreement, not a treaty. It’s not binding on the next president. The reason it’s not a treaty is, I have come to conclude based on the Supreme Court case on point, that the executive branch has great leeway in determining what a treaty is, not the legislative branch. So as the next president, here is what I would do – I would give myself the leverage – I would create leverage, I would go to the Congress and say the following: Give me new sanctions. If a company does business with Iran, they cannot do business with the American financial system, the American banking system. I believe that if a company – French, German, you name it – had to pick between a four hundred and fifty billion dollar Iranian economy and the American banking system, I would have leverage as president to get a better deal. W
HH: When you say, get new sanctions from the Congress, though, that presumes you’ll have more than sixty votes. That’s highly unlikely given the math. That means the filibuster kills new sanctions. Are you willing to break the filibuster rules in order to get new sanctions.
LG: Just follow this through: I will have, one, gotten the nomination from the Republican Party, talking about more troops in Iraq, a ground component in Syria. I will openly campaign on I will send this deal back and get a better deal. I think if the American people make me president, I’d have the political ability to get sixty votes.
HH: But let’s assume you don’t. I ask tough questions, I want to ask you this one.
LG: I’m not going to go to the leadership of the United States senate on the Republican as President of the United States and say, “Set aside the filibuster on legislation for my benefit.” I believe that the sixty vote hurdle on important, big things has served the country well. I don’t want the Senate to become the House. In those hard questions, I’m giving you a direct answer.
HH: I appreciate that.
LG: I’m thinking of the long-term benefit of the country.
HH: Let me ask you, then, why it’s not right to draw the conclusion – if the filibuster is more important than sanctioning Iran. Why should we believe the opponents of the Iran deal now that say this is a – I think you used “a death sentence on Israel.” Didn’t you call it a death sentence on Israel?
LG: Yeah, I think it is. And I think as President of the United States, I’d have a lot of power as commander-in-chief in stopping a break-out by Iran. I would not be bound by this agreement because I didn’t sign it. It is not binding to the next president. I would ask Congress to give me more leverage, but as President of the United States, I’d have a lot of tools available to me to reject this deal, and I would tell the Iranians, if you try to break out, I will stop you.
HH: But then you’re clearly–
LG: I don’t believe that I have no choice but turning the Senate upside-down to be an effective president.
HH: But you’re clearly saying then the rules of the Senate – which are not constitutional, they are just an extra-constitutional – the filibuster, is more important than Israel.
LG: No, I’m not. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying, I don’t believe have to break the Senate to get a better deal. The way I would protect Israel is to make sure I rebuild our military and use military force if the Iranians try to have an nuclear break-out. I think Israel would be in good hands with Lindsey Graham as President of the United States. Do you think for one moment that I would have to use military force if I thought the Iranians were breaking out?
HH: Of course not. I do not, actually. But I do believe that a super-majority of Americans – I believe this in my heart, Lindsey Graham – a super-majority of Americans think increasingly that Washington is broken and they do not understand the reason it’s broken is that we have this extra-constitutional rule that you defend and that I have defended for years. I have defended it for years, but I’ve begun to believe the times are so urgent that we can’t afford it anymore.
LG: I can tell you, the lack of sanctions – if I had sanctions, that won’t stop an Iranian break-out, it gets you a better deal. What stops an Iranian break-out is that they believe the President of the United States will attack with such force and verocity to put the regime at risk. That’s the only thing to protect us and Israel. That’s why you need a president who the Iranians believe – if Obama sent the entire Air Force to the Middle East, people will yawn. If I sent one B-2 to the Middle East, people would stand up and take note.
HH: Let me turn to the subject matter that engendered some controversy with Donald Trump when I talked about with him.
LG: (Laughs) Yeah. I heard that.
HH: Well, you know, that partly was just the phone. He really did mishear Kurds for Quds, but General Soleimani–
LG: That’s okay.
HH: Yeah, and that’s okay. He’s entitled to that. But I want to know what you think the impact of a hundred billion dollars on the Iranian state sponsorship of terror which is led by General Soleimani will have. What’s that going to do?
LG: I think it’s the biggest strategic mistake by any president in modern times to separate Iranian behavior from their nuclear ambition. I would not have done that. I would have put the two together. I would have say, “You’ll never get sanctions relief regarding your nuclear ambitions until you change your behavior because what we’ve done is [that] we’ve taken the largest state sponsor of terrorism and fused it with a hundred billion dollars of cash. We will allow them to buy more weapons on the open market five years from now and you can go back to building a missile eight years from now. Nothing in this deal requires behavior change. I think the next fifteen years are going to be hell. You mind as well have written a check to Hamas, Hezbollah, and Assad. You’ll never have fixed Syria as long as Assad’s in power. But Russian and Iranian alliance keeping Assad in power keeps Syria broken up as far as the eye can see. The consequences of empowering the ayatollah with more money and more weapons means that if a terrorist organization that needs support will likely behead us or go after Israel, go after Jordan. This is a horrible, bad construct to give him more money and more weapons.
HH: Alright, now given that background, what is your proposal to European powers, especially those being flooded with refugees from both the Syrian disaster and the Libyan fiasco. What do you recommend they do vis-a-vis Syria and Libya other than make a safe haven for as many people as they can?
LG: Go to the source of the problem. These people are not coming to hungry Europe, America to find jobs. This is not illegal immigration. These are refugees fleeing rape, murder, torture. These are Christians leaving Syria because of genocide being committed in Syria. If I’m President of the United States, we would come up with a plan so people won’t have to leave Syria. They could go back to their homes. This is important. The next time you have a candidate on this program, please ask them how they expect to destroy ISIL and Syria. Where the does the ground force come from. I’ve come to conclude there’s nobody left in Syria that can effectively destroy ISIL and push out Assad. I would make a regional ground force of Turks, Egyptians, Saudis, [Jordanians] – large army will be part of it – will go in and pull the Caliphate up by its roots. We’ll hold the territory. We’ll push Assad out. If you don’t, this problem continues. The best way to fix the refugee problem is fix the problem that makes them flee.
HH: Let me “gotcha” myself, I think it’s Brigade Thirty, but I can’t remember for sure which was our first – is it Brigad Thirty?
LG: Say again now?
HH: Is it Brigade Thirty that we’ve tried to set up in Syria that got attacked?
LG: Yeah, okay. So this training program in Jordan and now in Saudi Arabia has been the biggest bust in the history of foreign policy. We’ve spent five hundred million dollars. We’ve trained – it’s not sixty – but we’ve trained less than a couple of thousand – covertly and overtly – Title 10 training is DoD, the other is the CIA. All I can say is that our program to train free Syrian rebels is a miserable failure because they’ve been destroyed. Three years ago, we could have done a no-fly zone, trained a Free Syrian Army, and it’s been completely decimated. So to those who want the Kurds to go into Syria – that magical force – the Kurds [are] not expeditionary. They can’t go in and destroy ISIL and Syria. You create a war with Turkey. To those who think you can train people inside of Syria, there’s nobody left to train. You’re going to need a big army to go into Syria, regional in nature, and if we don’t eight or ten thousand Americans in that army, it will get beaten.
HH: Where would you base that army? Would that be based in Jordan?
LG: You would have a regional force that would be willing to hit from both ends. Come from Turkey, Jordan would be a perfect platform. You’re going to need a regional army of probably around eighty thousand. There’s thirty to forty thousand ISIL fighters inside Syria alone. We’re not looking for a fair fight. So we would need an American ground component to do things that the regional army could not do. We’d need an air campaign to supplement ground forces. You would hit them from the north and the south, the east and the west. Iraq would sign up for this. At the end of the day, ISIL is a threat to the region. It’s a threat to mankind. We’re going to get hit with another “9/11.” It’s coming from Syria – if we do not destroy ISIL soon – the foreign fighters flowing to jihad in Syria are going to attack us just as sure as I am talking to you, if we don’t get in on the ground and destroy these guys. You can’t destroy them from the air.
HH: Now, Senator, last couple of questions. I don’t think you mean [to] disagree with Donald Trump and others that we have been miserable to the Kurds. They might not be an expeditionary force, but we have not been exactly been re-arming them.
LG: I agree with Donald Trump – and I don’t dislike Donald Trump – I just don’t think think he is ready to be commander-in-chief. The bottom line here is that the Kurds are under-resourced. They’re fighting around Mosul. They have actually done a pretty good job of taking on ISIL and the Mosul area near Kurdistan. They’re helping their Kurdish brothers and sisters inside of Syria, but these captured vehicles by ISIL are becoming deadly weapons. They need bigger guns, more artillery, a bigger punch to compete on the battlefield with ISIL. It is in our interest to arm the Kurds more effectively and Baghdad is now a proxy of the Iranians. One of the reasons I would send up to ten thousand American ground forces inside Iraq – about thirty-five hundred – is to neuter the advantage the Shia militias have for a control by Iran. Iran is the most effective fighting force through Shia militias on the ground in Iraq. You can never repair Iraq. I would change that by having a larger American ground component.
HH: Senator Lindsey Graham, always great to talk to you. I look forward to seeing you next week in Simi Valley at the Reagan Library.
LG: Hey thanks, pal.
End of Interview