South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham joined me today for some very blunt talk about the assassinations
HH: One of the first Americans to react to the slaughter in Paris, the assassination of journalists and police alike this morning was Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina. He put out a statement on the terror attacks. He was talked to by Dana Bash, and he joins me now. Senator Graham, welcome, thank you for joining us, and I think you hit the right note here, which is people have got to wake up. This is getting worse, not better.
LG: It is, and what should we learn from this? My condolences to the families and the people who were killed and injured, and to the French people, but it’s not an attack on our homeland, but it’s definitely an attack on our way of life. So here’s what I take from Paris. We should reevaluate our Defense policies on several fronts. Number one, this was definitely ISIL-inspired, if not directed. Here’s the first question. Is there a command and control capability from Syria and Iraq to direct people in France or other places? Was there a French franchise of ISIS that’s so organized they could direct this attack? Somebody planned this attack. Somebody directed it. It was very professional. Did that happen inside of France, or was there a connection to Iraq and Syria? The longer it takes to destroy ISIL, the more likely we are to get hit, because every day they survive and stay rich and entrenched in Syria and Iraq, the more likely a foreign fighter comes our way with an American passport or a European passport.
HH: Now earlier today, Senator…
HH: …you told Dana Bash over on CNN people in your business need to be concerned.
HH: I think this was a strategic attack by ISIS on a journalistic outlet to send a message to all media.
HH: Do you agree with that?
LG: Totally. They’re soft targets, and they get a big bang for their buck. But President Obama is really not engage in a strategy to degrade and destroy ISIL. I believe he’s trying to contain the threat and get it, you know, let the clock run out on his watch, because to destroy ISIL, you’ve got to have an American ground component. Mosul is a city of a million people. Fallujah was a city of a hundred thousand. And the only way we liberated Fallujah from Al Qaeda in Iraq was about 99,000 Marines and American Army personnel. Mosul’s ten times larger. How can the Iraqi Army do it without some American help? And the Syrian side is a complete mess. So number one, I think the President is consciously avoiding a policy to destroy ISIL, and that makes us less safe at home, causes opportunities to hit us. Number two, the President’s policies regarding high value terrorist suspects is to read them their Miranda rights. We no longer hold people as enemy combatants. We give them a lawyer, put them in federal court within hours or days of capture. We’re losing a lot of human intelligence because he’s abandoned an enemy combatant law of war model. And third, and we’ve talked about this a lot, the Defense cuts, the intelligence community’s budget is going to be devastated when sequestration kicks back in, in 2016. There’s a perfect storm brewing to have this country hit again.
HH: I want to play for you a couple of quick clips, Senator Graham, of the President talking generally about this problem of ISIS and radical jihad in ways that perhaps were not clear, cut number one:
BO: The future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam.
HH: And cut number two:
BO: Now let’s make two things clear. ISIL is not Islamic.
HH: Now on Sunday, on New Year’s Day, Senator Graham, the president of Egypt, al-Sisi…
HH: …went to the al-Azhar University in Cairo, and told the imams assembled there that you are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move, because this ummah is being torn, is being destroyed, it is being lost, and it is being lost by our own hands. He called for a reform of Islam. Why can’t our President and our leaders say, speak truth to this situation the way that the president of Egypt just did?
LG: I think the President of the United States is undercutting the president of Egypt. We’re in a religious war. These are not terrorists. They’re radical Islamists who are trying to replace our way of life with their way of life. Their way of life is motivated by religious teachings that require me and you to be killed, or enslaved, or converted. The President of the United States tip-toes around the threats we face, and he is trying to diminish the religious aspect of this war. Why? I don’t know. And he is not engaging the enemy in an aggressive fashion, which makes it more likely we’ll get attacked. What he’s doing is pretending to want to destroy ISIL when in fact, he’s trying to get out of office without having to commit American ground forces to do the job as part of a team in the region, because he made a campaign promise. His campaign promises, Hugh, are getting a lot of people killed.
HH: Now you know, Senator Graham, I know you were reported today to have been joking in an elevator with Jeff Flake about who was the RINO of the year, right?
HH: Good joke. But on the other hand, you just spoke with more clarity than any elected official, well, Senator Cotton was on last hour. He spoke with clarity, too, when you said we are in a religious war.
HH: American politicians from George W. Bush forward hate that, because they don’t want to be misunderstood as declaring war on all of Islam. But this is a religious war. It is with a faction of Islam.
LG: Well, see, this is the point. We can’t be neutral observers to this conflict for the heart and soul of the Sunni religion or the Shiia religion. The Iranian regime is a terrorist regime that practices the form of the Shiia religion that has no space for us or Israel. Al-Baghdadi, all of the al-Qaeda types under the Sunni banner, represent a threat to every Christian, every moderate Muslim, everybody who’s a non-believer. We have to take sides. You have to admit that it’s a religious struggle, and you’re going to take sides. If you don’t, you’re going to allow the enemy to continue to grow.
HH: Now this afternoon and evening, hundreds of thousands of people have swarmed into Paris, and many are holding up pencils. And I am not a big advocate of blaspheming the religion of Islam by publishing cartoons. But I do believe in press freedom, and I believe in what they’re doing there. Nevertheless, do you think France is shocked by this in the way that England was shocked by the 7/7 bombings, and we were by the 9/11 bombing, will urge us to go in and eradicate ISIS? Or will they continue to support the containment but not really strategy the President is employing?
LG: I think every Western leader, and really, quite frankly, Sunni Arab states in the region, need to come to grips with the idea that if you don’t take ISIL down, if you don’t have a strategy to destroy them, the likelihood of your country being attacked by them is great. You can’t put a Band-Aid over the problem. Whether this was directed out of Syria or Iraq, or there was a franchise of ISIS in France who did this, as long as ISIS is around in the fashion they are today, we’re not safe. So take the fight to them. You don’t have to do it by yourself. I’m not suggesting 100,000 Americans or French soldiers. But I am suggesting a coalition of regional armies, Western armies, to dislodge them from Iraq and Syria, and destroy them as much as possible, because every day they survive, every day they’re able to be entrenched and recruit foreign fighters, is a day that we’re likely to be attacked. You can’t wish them away. You can’t appease this away. You have to go after them. I hate that we have to do this again. I hate the fact…
HH: Do you think that the media will now understand this in a way that I’ve been trying for fifteen years to get my colleagues to understand, that this is a metastasizing problem? Do you think a lot of the elite media will finally wake up to this?
LG: I hope so, because this is not a cartoon problem. Our way of life doesn’t fit into their scheme of how the world should be. If you stopped talked about radical Islam, if you never did a cartoon again, that’s not enough. What people need to get is they can’t be accommodated. They can’t be negotiated with. They have to be eventually destroyed. And the way you destroy them over time is to have the people within the religion turn on them, have the capability to keep them at bay within the countries where they exist. That requires capacity building. That requires partnerships. But the way you defeat radical Islam is the way the KKK was defeated. People in the South over time turned against them. They got more educated. They rejected the extreme philosophy. And we’re going to have to invest in countries and people that would reject radical Islam, side with them, partner with them to keep the war over there. And here’s what I would say to President Obama. Your strategy of containing or destroying ISIL will not work. Your goal of containing them until you get out of office puts our country at risk. You’re not a very good commander-in-chief. Your policies to take the intelligence gathering process and destroy it by treating terrorism as a common crime is going to hurt this country. And to my fellow members of Congress, you’re part of the problem, too. If you don’t find a substitute for these Defense and intelligence cuts, you’re reducing our ability to defend this nation. There’s a perfect storm brewing, and I am going to keep talking about this until we get some action.
HH: Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, thank you. Good luck on the Defense budget. I talked to Scott Walker about ships yesterday. He’s clearly running for president. You think, we’ve got 30 seconds, you think this issue of preparedness is going to be front and center in the Republican primaries?
LG: I hope Scott takes it up. I certainly will. We’re going to have the smallest Navy since 1915, the smallest Army since 1940, the smallest Marine Corps and Air Force in modern history. This is nuts. We’re destroying the CIA, the NSA under these budget cuts. This is insane. We need to change it now.
HH: Thank you, Lindsey Graham.
End of interview.