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Lindsey Graham on a Defense Funding Deal with Obama and the Syrian Conflict

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Senator Lindsey Graham joined me to start third hour of today’s show:

The audio: 10-06hhs-graham

The transcript:

HH: It’s Hugh Hewitt. Joined this hour by George Will at the bottom of the hour, and at the top of the hour by United States Senator, Lindsey Graham. Senator Graham, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show. Great to talk to you.

LG: Thank you for having me. I’m at the airport heading into South Carolina.

HH: How are things in your state? Are they getting under control? Lot of prayers for people down in your flooded part of the world?

LG: It’s pretty devastating. Waters are not going to crash yet until all the runoff from the upstate in the Greenville area makes its way down to Columbia and eventually the coast, so maybe a couple more days even without rain before we get the high-water mark.

HH: Well, God bless the people at your state. I have been watching the pictures. It’s devastating. Senator, I want to cover three things with you. First of all, there is a story this afternoon from McClatchy that the Clinton campaign attempted to influence the Platt River employees to reduce the amount of email on their backup after the State Department had requested the Clintons turn over their emails. Some of the Platt River employees voiced suspicions about a cover-up. And yet, Mrs. Clinton has released a 30-second ad attacking Kevin McCarthy for his statements and saying this is political. What do you make of this development and her rhetoric?

LG: Well, she’s overplaying her hand here and they took the bait. Kevin McCarthy sort of put his foot in his mouth and I don’t think ever really meant to suggest that this is a all politics. None of us but the server in her basement. You or I or no other Republican created this system that she’s now trying [not] to be held accountable for. But here’s the one thing I want to stress to your listeners – to you and anybody else. It is about the four dead Americans.

Here’s the problem. She’s now accusing Republicans of taking the deaths of four dead Americans and using it against her – their deaths for political purposes which now brings up the discussion, what did you do, Secretary of State, before and during and after the attack? Do you bear any responsibility before, during and after the attack for what happened. By bringing up the specter of four dead Americans and trying to use them for her defense, she has created a real problem for her because she needs to explain to us why the consulate was open when everybody had their’s closed.

HH: Now let me play for the audience in case they haven’t heard it, Senator Graham, the ad that Mrs. Clinton is playing today. Here it is.

Narrator: The Republicans have finally admit it.

Woman: Republican Kevin McCarthy saying the committee investigating Benghazi and Clinton’s emails was created to destroy her candidacy.

KM: Everybody thought Hilary Clinton was unbeatable right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee. What are her numbers today?

Narrator: Republicans have spent millions attacking Hilary because she’s fighting for everything they oppose from affordable healthcare to equal pay. She’ll never stop fighting for you, and the Republicans know it.

HC: I’m Hilary Clinton and I approve of this message.

HH: So do you think that is going to backfire on her because everybody knows it’s about the emails, not about the committee?

LG: Well, number one, it’s going to backfire because what she’s trying to do basically in my view is take what was incompetency on her part that lead to the death of four brave Americans and turn it into a poltiical event. The emails are important. None of us set this system. She did this on her own. So void the transparency that comes with the job. But please remember, on August the 15th, a cable was sent from Libya to Washington begging for more security, we can’t defend the consulate from a coordinated terrorist attack. The Al-Qaeda flag flies everywhere. During the attack, what did she do, and how can she tell the families two days when the bodies came back to Andrews Air Force base, “We’ll get the guy who made that video”? So she follows Susan Rice, Hugh, on television five days after the attack talking about Benghazi and not Hilary Clinton. Where was she at and why was she not on television?

HH: Do you expect her to turn the hearings, Senator Graham, into an attempt to go Ollie North and make it a political event?

LG: Yes and let me tell you why it won’t work. Five requests for additional security were sent to Washington virtually all denied. The British withdrew from Benghazi after their ambassador had been attacked. The consulate had been attacked on two previous occasions. The Red Cross withdrew. The people on the ground were begging for more help. She was completely tone-deaf, said she didn’t know about the additional security requests. On the night of the attack, where was President Obama? What did Hilary Clinton do? And weeks after the attack, they tried to blame this on not a coordinated terrorist attack but a protest caused by a video. She’s up to her eyeballs in incompetency. She’s the one that made the call to leave the consulate open. It was a death travel, September 11th, 2012. That’s what this hearing should be about. The emails are political intrigue. They are setting up a system outside of the law. She may have actually broke the law with classified information, but she’s the one responsible for the security of four people that were killed by a bunch of terrorist. Their country could not come to their aid for nine and half hours, and after their death, the Administration lied about what caused their deaths.

HH: Now the Republican members, whether it’s Trey Gowdy or Jim Jordan or Susan Brooks or Mike Pompeo, they are all very disciplined, Pete Roskam. Do you expect they’ll the take the bait or will they stay and focused through a long hearing?

LG: Very professional. I know Trey very well. He’s a good man, he’s a good prosecutor for trying to find out what happened. We still do not know the basics of Benghazi. If you put in one bucket all the evidence of the protest based on a video, it would be empty. If you put in the other bucket all the evidence coming from Libya about a coordinated terrorist attack in real-time, it would be full. So where did this narrative, that there was protest caused by a video come from? I have been looking at Benghazi for years now. An ambassador would not have gone to bed at nine o’clock in Benghazi if there had been protesters outside the consulate. There is not one report in real-time about a protest outside the consulate walls. Susan Rice said the consulate was strongly and substantially and significantly secured five days after the attack. We now know it was a complete joke with two Libyan guards with one gun. So at the end of the day, these types of questions have never been asked in a professional way. They will be. And why was she not on television. Susan Rice said that Hilary Clinton had a bad week so she filled in for her. If that is true, then she should not even think about being commander-in-chief.

HH: Now I want to switch to the coming impasse. There’s a continuing resolution until September 11th Senator Graham. If the President were to agree to some ratio of increase defense spending to domestic spending that was acceptable, is there a grand deal that would get us to October of 17 to a new president and skip all the debt limit maneuvering, just get the Pentagon some money to rebuild with.

LG: Yes, I think so. That’s my desire is to relieve sequestration of defense cuts for at least two years to give the Pentagon some breathing room. I am not going to vote for budget deal that does not do that.

HH: Do you have any objection to putting a sugar doughnut for the President. Honest to goodness, I do not.

LG: No, I do not either.

HH: . . . And is that the general–

LG: Some non-defense agencies that are vital to national security – the FBI is subject to sequestration cut. The CIA, NSA – their budgets are being hit very, very hard. Now is not the time to reduce the footprint of the FBI given the threats we face.

HH: Do you think there is support in the Republican caucus for a grand deal that would last through September 17 that would allow Ash Carter and Joe Dunford, the Secretary of Defense, the new Chair of the Joint Chiefs, some breathing room to get the rebuild underway?

LG: Yes, and I think Senator McCain and myself will be key to this. At the end of the day, and I don’t mean to blow my own horn, but John and I are sort of the carriers of the defense banner here and if we believe that the increase spending for the two year period in question is real, will relieve some of the pressure on DoD that has bee devastated and other money outside of defense that’s spent wisely, then I think we can get it through. We want to offset, we want to find offsets. We don’t want to just forgive, make it a debt situation. We want to increase defense spending and some non-defense spending, but find offsets in other places.

HH: And can that be coupled with a debt limit hike so that we don’t go through the kabuki?

LG: Yes, I hope so. I think we should use this as an opportunity to do two things that the country really needs – increased defense spending before we destroy the infrastructure necessary to defend the country at a time of great threat and get the debt ceiling off the table, but do it in a way that we don’t add to the overall debt.

HH: Now let me turn back to the subject, Senator Graham, that you and I talked about last week. It’s too important to let lay around. Earlier today, on CNN, Senator Rand Paul called for an immediate withdrawal and stopping of all American participation in the Afghan war effort. He was followed by John Kasich and Wolf Blitzer Situation Room saying, “Look, I wouldn’t have done it this way 15 years ago, but we can’t precipitously pull out.” What’s your opinion after the tragedy of hitting the Doctors Without Borders hospital – a terrible tragedy of war – is Senator Paul right or is Governor Kasich right, and what’s the right approach to Afghanistan right now, not Iraq, but Afghanistan.

LG: The right approach is having conditions based withdrawal, not based on some artificial political timeline. The hearing today with General Campbell ws very eye-opening. He sees a successful pathway forward with the new Gandhi government. We have had some setbacks, but he said without any hesitation, if you reduce the force footprint to 1,000 people at Kabal, Al-Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups will regenerate. ISIL is already present in Afghanistan, so anyone who suggests that we completely withdraw from Afghanistan given the conditions that exist today is delusional about the way the world is actually playing out, so John Kasich is right and Rand Paul is wrong. If you really want to have an Iraq on steroids and have a failed state next to Pakistan that has nuclear weapons, leave Afghanistan without residual force, that one will ensure the demise of all we fought for in Afghanistan and be another launching pad for a second 9/11.

HH: Now can switch then – I thought that would be your explanation, switch over to Syria – where the Russian build-up is continuing everyday. There are more planes, trains, trucks, automobiles, tanks, and personnel there.

LG: (Laughs)

HH: Is there in Lindsey Graham’s mind any opportunity to replay what happened in Afghanistan in the ‘80s? Is there a way to turn ISIS against the Russians or is that simply too dangerous?

LG: Well, number one: ISIS is going to turn their attention against Assad. They don’t need our help to do it, but the last thing we want to do is empower this group [and] their military capability because they are a bunch of religious fanatics. The people to help and rely upon are the vast majority of Syrians who want two things: Assad to be gone because he has been so brutal and ISIL to be destroyed because they are not radical Islamists. Here is what Russia has successfully done. They have slapped our president around like a young boy. Barack Obama has been completely incompetent as the Commander-in-Chief, and Putin has sized him up and found the following, that if I go in on the ground with Russian forces, Iranian soldiers, Syrian soldiers, Hezbollah units, I can destroy the opposition to my man, Assad, and I’ll have a place in Syrai as far as the eye can see, and I’ll have new respect in the Mid-East. He has successfully doing what I wanted us to do in reverse, and this is a very bad moment for American interests in Syria and their region as a whole.

HH: Okay, given that it is a bad moment, what do we do? A, we increase defense spending to get the tools available to use in a smart way, but B, what is that smart way? I know you want the regional force, but very specifically, where do you base that, who commands it. What is the proposal that Lindsey Graham has?

LG: Okay, number one, what has Putin done? He has created a mini-regional force of his own. Hezbollah units, Syrian units, Iranian units, some of his own soldiers with air power. He now has the military advantage over anti-Assad force. What would I have done? I would have gotten the region that has a large army – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey have very large armies – all of them want the same two things that we want: the destruction of ISSL, which is detrimental to their interests and to pushing out of Assad who is a puppet of Iran, their chief antagonists. So what would Lindsey Graham have done? What would Lindsey Graham do? I would rally the region to come up with a ground component to destroy ISIL where their headquarters exist inside of Syria, and I’d make it my goal to push to Assad out and tell the Russians if you want to fight for him, you can, but Assad is going to go because, Hugh, if he doesn’t, the war never ends.

HH: Well, that is what we said last week. Where do you put that regional force? Where does it go?

LG: Well, you go to your military commanders, and you got launching pads from Jordan. You got launching pads from Turkey. You have two really good air platforms in Jordan and you have one in Turkey, and you know, the Jordanian army, the Egyptian army, the Saudi army, the Turkish army are large military forces, but will have to be integrated to make sure of success. First goal would be to destroy ISIL, which is Germany. Assad would be Japan because if we don’t accomplish these two tasks, Syria never repairs itself, the refugees continue to flow and this war never ends, which is bad for the king of Jordan, our ally, and it is eventually bad for us.

HH: Does Prime Minister Erdogan show any openness to that in your view? Have you seen evidence that Turkey would join us in that?

LG: Absolutely. The now-king of Saudi Arabia, one of his chief lieutenants, I was in a meeting with him with Senator McCain three or four months ago. He said, “You can have our army.” The problem is that nobody in the region is going to give us their army just to fight ISIL. Obama will not Assad on. He has had a hands-off policy against Assad because he doesn’t want to upset the Iranians because he needed a nuclear deal with Iranians. At the end of the day, training the Free Syrian Army fell apart because we put restrictions on their ability to fight. We said we’ll train you, but you can only fight ISIL. Guess what? They want to fight Assad. Assad is the person who has killed 250 of their family.

HH: So could an expeditionary force stage out of Turkey into western Iraq and into Syria without upsetting our friends in the Iraqi government, however few they might be and without running into the Russians?

LG: Here’s what I would suggest, that a ground component is necessary to destroy ISIS. Do you agree with that?

HH: Yes.

LG: Okay. Where’s the ground component going to come from? If you can show me an indigenous force inside of Syria that has the capability overtime to destroy ISIL and push Assad out, I would forgo the regional approach. I have come to conclude that since that doesn’t exist anymore, that the Free Syrian Army has been decimated, that if you armed 25,000 Kurds of the PKK, then you are running into a problem with Turkey. Now I’m doing by default. There are no good options left. Three years ago, we could have avoided this entire mess. I’m trying to be as honest with you and your listeners as I know how to be. I don’t see a ground component within Syria, so where does the ground component come from? I don’t want it to be just all us? The good news is the region has the same interests that we do, except for Iran.

HH: And Iraq might not welcome a Jordanian or a Turkish force, correct?

LG: All I can say is that the Sunnis in Iraq have to be pulled away from ISIL, that the prime minister of Iraq is now lining himself with Iran and Russia mainly because he doesn’t trust anymore. That the moving parts inside of Iraq would prefer ISIL be destroyed, the American leadership, not Russian, Iranian leadership.

HH: Senator Lindsey Graham, it’s useful to keep going over this and I appreciate your willingness to do so and good luck on getting the mega deal done because it really does need to get done. Safe travels back to your flood-stricken state and I’ll talk to you again next week. Thank you, Senator.

End of Transcript

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