HH: I’m so pleased to begin today’s program with United States Senator Lindsey Graham. Welcome back, Senator Graham, good to have you.
LG: Always good to be here, thank you very much.
HH: Let me start with the breaking news. The presidents of China and Taiwan are meeting Saturday in Singapore, the first time the leaders of those two nations have met since 1949. President Ma and President Xi are going to exchange ideas about improving relations. Did you know about this, Senator Graham? Do you think President Obama knew about it?
LG: I don’t know if the President knew about it, but I sure didn’t. And it’s interesting to see what happens. You know, in a world where there’s no American leadership, if I were living next to China, I’d probably start talking to them, too, because you can’t trust America anymore.
HH: You see, that’s exactly how I read this, is that our allies just don’t believe, even though we sailed through that 12 mile area around one of the fake islands, they’re not certain we’re there for them.
LG: Well, let’s put it this way. Nothing’s changed inside of China to make you believe they’re a better nation when it comes to democracy. They’re much more militaristic, they’re much more threatening to their neighbors, and we’re much weaker, so I would imagine Taiwan sees a growing China, militarily and economically, a retreating America, and are making accommodations. And that’s what happens when you lead from behind.
HH: Senator Graham, I just picked up the massive History of the British Empire by Stehen Sears over at BookBub, and the first thing it says, “In 1815, began Pax Britannica, a century free of major war, thanks primarily to the Royal Navy’s control of the seven seas. Behind this intimidating shield, 19th Century Britain shrugged off the loss of American colonies and expanded spectacularly around the globe.” That was because they had a navy. We haven’t got what we had for our Navy for 50 years after World War II, do we?
LG: NO, we don’t. I mean, numbers do matter. We’ve got much more efficient ships. Our virtual ships are, you know, they’re very, very modern, but you need capacity. 275 is not what you need. You just can’t have enough presence in the threat areas. So yes, I think we need 14 aircraft carriers, not 11, so the Navy over time gets to be very, very small, 1915 levels. And the next president needs to rebuild the Navy to make sure that the world does hold together.
HH: Now I spent yesterday at the Center For a New American Security, Michelle Flournoy’s groups, and it’s bipartisan. But they’re worried that our carriers are vulnerable to Chinese missiles, and that we don’t have the money to build any of this stuff. So where, what do you think the presidential candidates ought to be saying about specifics when it comes to our strategic backbone?
LG: Number one, build the military consistent with the threat levels. You know, you always have a defense structure around the threats to you country. So 350 ships versus 275 would allow you to make sure that the Marine Corps can actually land Marines without having to outsource and contract with landing crafts of other nations. 14 aircraft carriers gives you a presence in Asia and the Gulf that you can’t maintain today, and it allows for our sailors to have some time at home. So 500,000 person Army versus 420, where we’re headed by 2021, allows you to have an Army that can be more present in Europe, and give you the reach you need, and have more, have better role times for those who are serving and their families. So a 500,000 person Army, I think, is the minimum we need given the threats.
HH: And what did you make of the award to Northrop Grumman of the new long-range strategic bomber this week, 21 of them, I guess, called B-3s that we build?
LG: Well, the goal is, you know, the triad still is relevant. You know, we have nuclear submarines, you have land-based missiles, and you have manned bombers. But the B-2 has been worth its weight in gold. In the early 90s, I fought to build more than 22. The ability to have a stealth bomber that can penetrate any air defense system is a terrific advantage for any American president, and bad for our adversaries, good for our allies. And these planes can take off from America and come back. They don’t need forward basing. They’re like an aircraft carrier in that regard. They can launch from the ocean. So yes, it’s time, I’m not looking for a fair fight. We’re headed to spending 2.3% on GDP versus 5, which is the normal level of spending by 2021. What happens that you don’t have money to modernization. You have too few people, and old weapons. So I want to get back up to 5% of GDP, have a robust Navy, a robust Army, and I’m not looking for a fair fight. I want to have superior capability over any enemy.
HH: Now Senator Graham, compare our big ticket purchases with the small footprint of 50 special operators, I’m sure brave men, all.
HH: What did that move tell you?
LG: Well, it tells me that number one, he’s put 50 brave Americans in a no-win situation. Now those who serve in the military expect to take risks for their country. But every commander-in-chief owes it to those that they send into battle, or into harm’s way, to give them a chance to win. So from an ISIL point of view, this is less than being all in. So when the President says I’m going to degrade and destroy you, and the enemy hears 50 people, that means they’re emboldened. They know that he’s weak. When our allies hear 50 people, that’s the signal we’re not committed. And the 50 people are in harm’s way without a chance of winning. And here’s a good question for Congress. Does this new strategy, is it, should we approve it? Should we authorize and appropriate money? The old Syrian training strategy has been abandoned, so I’ll make a little news on your show. I’m going to write a letter to the Department of Defense asking them to give me a detailed plan as to how these 50 people will be used, and how we’re going to train the Free Syrian Army in the future before I throw good money after bad.
HH: Do you think they will be forthcoming with any kind of details? Or will they hide behind the necessity of strategic secrecy?
LG: Well, what I would say is you know, you don’t have to do it on your radio show, but every member of Congress should demand from this administration a plan as to how they’re going to use these 50, and what they’re going to do with the money. We’ve taken a couple hundred billion dollars to train 50-something people, and got nothing for it. So here’s my point. Does the authorization and the appropriation bill that exists today, does it allow them to change strategy without Congressional consultation? I would say no. I am all into winning. You know what I would do. There would be three ground components if Lindsey Graham were president – a Free Syrian Army, we would have a no-fly zone to train them to give them more capability, a regional force made up of regional armies with an American component to make sure we win. There’s 30-40,000 ISIL fighters in Syria. This Syrian Kurds and Syrian Arab army that we’re trying to train is not big enough. They’re outgunned. This will never work. And so this new strategy or new addition to the old strategy is doomed to fail. You’ve got to go in on the ground, and you need more than 50 people.
HH: Now Senator Graham, I want to turn to the debates. I think Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer have been getting a bad deal, because you can’t get inside of a moderator’s head.
LG: I agree with that.
HH: You can’t make them be fair, and I don’t think they were fair to the debaters the other night. But I think the previous two, I thought mine was excellent. I may not be perfect, but I’m pretty good.
LG: I do, too.
HH: But nevertheless, I don’t think we ought to change the whole thing. We need the audience. We just need more serious conversations, don’t we?
LG: Well, here’s been my beef, that you have too many in one, and too few in the other. The differences between who’s in one debate versus the other is an abuse of polling. The difference between fourth place and last place is within the margin of error. To keep it clean and simple, you’ve got 15 talented people. Break it up into two tranches. Give everybody an equal say. Have more time, better questions, a chance to test the candidates in a more effective way. That’s all I’ve ever asked. I don’t care who asks me a question. I can handle anything thrown my way. If I do well, great, if I don’t, I’ve got nobody to blame but myself. But the structure of this debate system has, I think, shut down some voices like mine. And I’m trying to test candidates as well as prove to you that I’m best qualified to be president. I want to have a discussion with Donald Trump. He says let Russia fight ISIL. ISIL is a direct threat to our homeland. They make al Qaeda look like the Rotary Club. There’s no way on Earth we should allow Russia to fight ISIL. They want to keep Assad in power. We need to destroy ISIL, because it’s in our national security interest to do so. Withdrawing from Syria is a huge mistake. I want to have the discussion. What would you do differently in Syria than Obama, and be specific.
HH: There are reports today that Iran and Russia are failing to reach agreement about what to do about Assad. How much credibility do you put in those reports? And is that good news or bad news for us?
LG: Oh, well, none. Here’s what they’re going to do. You heard it on this show first. At a minimum, the regime survives. So Russia and Iran have won. The Syrian people have lost. And we have lost. Russia and Iran will fight for Assad. Obama has a hands-off policy when it comes to Assad. The people we trained at the CIA have been bombed by the Russians. Their goal was to take Assad down. The Russian president killed the people we trained, and the response by our president is to say we’re not going after Assad in the future. So the regime is intact. Russia and Iran will say who runs Syria. It may be Bob Assad rather than Bashar Assad, but they’re in the driver’s seat, because Obama’s refusal to help the Syrians go after Assad, and Russia’s insistence that he will stay in power. We have given Russia and Iran control over Syria. That’s bad for us, because it means the war never ends.
HH: Very quickly, are you upset at the results in the Turkish election and the consolidation of power by Erdogan?
LG: It’s something that should bother all of us.
HH: Lindsey Graham, more on that the next time you’re back, Senator, always a pleasure, thank you.
End of interview.