United States Senator Lindsey Graham joined me on Friday’s show to talk about the spreading menace of the Islamic State and Iran’s path to near-nuclear status:
HH: I’m joined now by United States Senator Lindsey Graham. Senator Graham, great to have you back, welcome.
LG: I did not know Leonard Nimoy died until you just mentioned that.
HH: Yes, he did. He slipped the mortal coil today, and the blue and the gold today is for the Star Trek colors. He was 83 years old. He had a great life. Were you a Trekker?
JG: Yeah, I mean, anybody our age grew up with the show. Yeah, absolutely.
HH: Yeah, he’s part of the cultural furniture, you betcha. Senator, well, so is the white and gold versus blue and black dress. Have you had a chance to look at that, yet?
JG: No, I missed that one. You can’t be everything to everybody, so I’m trying not to be.
HH: Let’s get serious. And I am now worried after watching IS rampage through the Assyrian Christian villages…
HH: …that the old cliché about the danger of fighting the last war has been replaced by a new concern that we’re emphasizing not fighting any war.
JG: Right, and yeah, I think President Obama has put himself in a box. He’s not going to be Bush no matter what, and to him, Bush represents the use of military force on the ground in Syria and Iraq. At the end of the day, ISIL is a direct threat to the United States. I believe that. What you see happening in Syria is the result of not having a ground component to stop their advances. And every Christian and every person who believes in just human decently should be appalled by what’s going on in Syria. And you can’t stop this rampage until you get a regional force with an American component to go in on the ground, kill and capture these guys. And I fear they’re coming here next.
HH: Now I talked to former Governor Bush two days ago, and he said it appeared to him as though President Obama’s slowly building back to the 10,000 American troops in Iraq that ought never to have left. Do you agree with that?
LG: Yes. Yeah, but in the worst possible way – slow and incremental. He doesn’t have the right troop mix. 3,000 are there today, too many to be hostages, too few to do the job. What do you need to go into Mosul? You’re going to have an Iraqi Security Force component, and you’re going to have the Kurds. The Iraqi Security Forces are basically now a Shiia army, because they’ve been dominated by the Iranians, and they’re seen by the Sunnis and the Kurds as not a reliable partner. If you don’t have an American component as you march into Mosul, I fear that you’re going to have a conflict not just between ISIL and the Iraqi Security Forces, but the Iraqi Security Forces and Sunnis in Mosul. America keeps that from happening.
HH: How big of a component does that have to be, Senator Graham?
LG: If you got to the battalion level in terms of trainers, you have forward air controllers. You have an aviation battalion, where you have Apaches, AC-130 gunships to make sure that the Iraqis when they get in a firefight they win, when you have the quick reaction force, when you add up all the intel/logistic guys, you’re somewhere in the eight to ten thousand range, if you put trainers and advisors at the battalion level. If you go to the brigade level, you’re probably six or seven thousand, but the higher the risk, the risk comes with less forces embedded with the Iraqi Security Forces. So I want to win. The worst outcome is to go into Mosul and get in a stalemate or lose. So I think somewhere between eight and ten thousand gives you the edge the Iraqi Security Forces and the Kurds would need to not only clear Mosul, but to hold it. That comes from General Jack Keane, who a lot of your viewers may see on, listeners see on Fox. I’m just not making this up. I’m a military lawyer. I ask people who have been in the fight for the last decade how do you win, and that’s what they tell me.
HH: Now last night, Charles Krauthammer on the O’Reilly Factor said the most unbelievable thing is that the Kurds lack. And that just is a blanket statement that they have needs that we’re not meeting. Do you agree with that assessment?
LG: Totally, because the weapons we’re shipping to the Kurds in Baghdad are intercepted by the Iraqi government that’s dominated by the Iranians. So they’re getting some weapons, but not the weapons we want them to have to go into Mosul and maintain the fight and win the fight. So you’ve got a problem in Baghdad where you have a Shiia-dominated government, with an Iranian influence that sees the Sunnis and the Kurds as potential adversaries. I’m going to introduce the Kurdish Emergency Relief Act that will allow $500 million dollars a day to go directly to Irbil, to the Kurds, so they can get what they need to make sure we win this fight. It is in our interest to defeat ISIL not just in Mosul, but Anbar Province, throughout Iraq. And I would just want to stress this. You can’t maintain your gains in Iraq unless you deal with Syria. And that’s when this strategy completely falls apart.
HH: Now this is a small side note, but I am curious. You use ISIL, and the President uses ISIL. I use Islamic State. Some people say ISIS. Why do you use ISIL? Why does the President use ISIL?
LG: I don’t know why he does it, but let me tell you why I do, and you picked up on that. That’s pretty good. The Islamic State in the Levant includes what countries?
HH: Syria, Lebanon, Iraq.
LG: Jordan, right.
LG: Yeah, so when you use ISIL, you’re recognizing that their ambitions are not just in Syria. They also include Lebanon and Jordan.
HH: I got it. Hold…
LG: I think that’s where they’re headed.
HH: Hold one second. We’ll be right back with Lindsey Graham, United States Senator from South Carolina.
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HH: When we went to break, he was explaining he uses ISIL because of the regional ambitions of the Islamic State, which extend at least into four states, and indeed maybe Turkey. Do you think Turkey is playing a double game here, Senator Graham?
LG: Yeah, Turkey is basically not going to go all in against ISIL, because they’re not going to allow us to defeat ISIL and turn Syria over to Assad and the Iranians. No Arab force is going in on the ground in Syria, even if we go with them, until you promise to take Assad out of power, not just defeat ISIL, because the Sunni Arabs in the region and the Turks are not going to give Syria to the Iranians. So this Obama obsession with a nuclear deal with Iran is preventing a regional coalition to be formed, because he will not take Assad on. The people we’re training to in to fight ISIL, the Free Syrian Army being trained in Jordan and Saudi Arabia and other places, they’re being told by us you can only fight ISIL. And when I asked a question regarding the authorization for use of military force if Assad’s air power is used against the people we’ve trained to fight ISIL, can we engage that air power to protect the people we’ve trained, and they said no. The authorization to use military force does not allow us to protect the people we train, which shows we have a hands-off policy toward Assad, because we don’t want to offend the Iranians.
HH: So this week, the Iranians blew up a paper mache American aircraft carrier. Did you happen to see that?
LG: Yeah, okay, so we’re negotiating with the Iranians over their nuclear ambitions. If we get a deal with the Iranians, the sanctions will be relieved, billions of dollars, with a B, going to the Iranian economy. Look what they’re doing without a nuclear weapon. The Iranians, as I speak, have toppled a pro-American government in Yemen. The Houthis who took down the pro-American government are Iranian-backed. They’re a Shiite militia. And we’ve lost our eyes and ears regarding al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Assad is Iranian-backed. He’s dominating Syria. Hezbollah controls Lebanon. And Shiia militias are roaming all over Iraq, inspired and controlled by the Iranians. Without a nuclear weapon, they’re using their resources to topple four Arab capitals, and Bahrain is next. It is insane to negotiate with them regarding lifting sanctions. They’re not going to take the money and build schools and hospitals. They’re going to use the money to further destabilize the region and build advanced weapons like ICBM’s.
HH: Well, this goes to the nature of how foreign affairs work. I don’t know if you ever read Essence of Decision by Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow, or Robert Kennedy’s memoir, Thirteen Days. But it’s clear that the weakness in Vienna and the Bay of Pigs in the early Kennedy years led to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
HH: And I think this weakness is now cascading. Is that your assessment?
LG: Yes, totally. Three decisions the President, back to back, have caused this problem. You know, the rise of ISIL was a predictable outcome of not leaving troops behind in Iraq. Al Qaeda in Iraq were on their knees. They were just about decimated. If Obama had left a follow on force, Iraq would not have fractured. His decision three years ago, or two years ago, I guess, not to impose a no-fly zone recommended by his entire national security team, allowed Assad to hang on. It allowed the Free Syrian Army to be decimated by Assad. And it led to the rise of ISIL. Drawing a red line against Assad when he used chemical weapons and doing nothing about it, all of these things came together to allow ISIL to come from the ashes to be what it is today.
HH: Now Senator Graham, on Wednesday, I talked with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. And you began this interview by saying President Obama, whatever he does, he’s not going to be Bush no matter what. And I asked Jeb Bush if he was worried that if he became president, he would be burdened by the prospect of starting a third Bush war in Iraq, his father, his brother, then himself, and he said no, the legacy wouldn’t. But would you be concerned about that?
LG: No, if he articulated what we’re trying to do in Iraq. Here’s the question for your listeners. Is this a regional war that we’re interjecting ourselves in, for nation building exercise? Or is this an effort by America to protect America? I believe ISIL is a direct threat to our homeland. Over 4,000 foreign fighters have joined their ranks with Western passports. It’s just a matter of time until they infiltrate the United States and hit us here. The sooner you can disburse this group, put them on the run, and begin to decimate them, the safer we will be. So the argument I would make if I was president, that going in on the ground in conjunction with the Iraqi Security Forces, regional forces to make sure that ISIL is degraded and destroyed, is a necessary action to protect the American homeland. And once you clear Mosul, Anbar Province, and once you degrade and destroy ISIL in Syria, you’re going to have to have a long term commitment, the world, just not the United States, to hold that territory and build up the people who have been decimated so they can keep this from happening again. This is a generational struggle. The best way to protect America, Hugh, in my view, is to keep the war over there. And that’s going to require us to have a presence over there.
HH: Last question, I also asked Governor Bush, I want to ask you. What is the tap root of the Islamic State? Where is this coming from?
LG: The Islamic State is a direct result of al Qaeda in Iraq being allowed to regenerate. It is a separation between al Qaeda…
HH: But what attracts, I mean, what attracts young people in Brooklyn…
LG: Oh, I’m sorry.
HH: …what attracts young people in Brooklyn, and young London girls, 15 and 16 year old, and 4,000 Frenchmen to go and do this? What’s driving the attraction?
LG: It could be the acceptance of their religious doctrine, that as a good Muslim, they have to purify their religion. And I want to be part of an effort to bring about the pure religion that ISIL claims that is required by the Koran. It could be young people who are making foolish decisions, seeking an adventure, trying to find more meaning to their life. I can’t explain why Hitler was Hitler. I can’t explain what makes radical Islam adopt this brutality. It is a religious-motivated movement. They believe they’re compelled by God to crucify Christians or make them pay taxes. They’re compelled by God to purify their religion by killing all who refuse to accept their way of worshipping Allah. Don’t try to overly explain it. Defeat it. And the way you defeat it is you empower people who reject that way of thinking. And here’s the good news. Most Muslims are not buying what these guys are selling. Most fathers don’t want to turn their daughters over to ISIL. We need to give them the capacity to say no. This is a long struggle, the outcome of which matter to us.
HH: Lindsey Graham, always a pleasure. Thank you, Senator.
End of interview.