South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham opened the show today talking about the combined efforts of House and Senate Republicans to break the sequester cap on the Pentagon:
HH: I begin this program with the United States Senator from South Carolina, and soon, I think, to be a presidential candidate, Lindsey Graham. You can follow Senator Graham on Twitter, @Grahamblog. Senator Graham, welcome, it’s good to talk to you again.
LG: Thanks for having me, Hugh.
HH: I want to talk Defense, and I will talk that with your colleague, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, John McCain, later. But it appears to me that Speaker Boehner today said we’re going to get rid of the sequester for a year, and I’m taking it to the floor, and he’s going to defy the cap absolutists who stand in his way. I applaud that move. Are you going to get this thing fixed in the Senate and the House?
LG: Well, my goal is to do it more than a year, but I applaud the Speaker, too. That’s leadership. Sequestration, the Defense budget cuts, are destroying our ability to defend the nation. As radical Islam rises in threats, we’re destroying the Defense Department through budget cuts that are insane. So yes, well done, Mr. Speaker, but I’m going to try to find a way to buy back all the sequestration, not just one year.
HH: Now if we get the Band-Aid, does that preclude bringing a freestanding bill to remove the sequester forever?
LG: No. No, a Band-Aid helps, but long term planning is being lost here. To modernize the airplanes that we’re using today, you’ve got to invest today, because the F-15, the F-16, and the F-18 are getting older by the day. They’ve been great platforms, but the F-35, the production rate, is going to go down if we don’t have long term funding available. So this one year at a time fix to sequestration destroys our ability to modernize our weapons.
HH: Now I had Tom Ricks on yesterday. He’s a smart guy. He’s sometimes a critic of the Pentagon, but he does agree that everybody agrees sequestration is stupid as a way of managing the Defense Department. Given that, what Republican is going to stand, whether in the House or the Senate against fixing this problem, and if they do so, especially in the House, ought they to be primaried?
LG: Well, they’re no longer Republicans, in my view. The Republican Party, if it stands for anything, it stands for national security, the party of Ronald Reagan. If you don’t get the Defense budget right, you can’t have economic security, social security without national security. If we’re not the party of national security, then what good are we to the nation? So the sequestration budget cuts that are going to give you the smallest army since 1940, the smallest navy since 1915, one contingency Marine Corps, 30 fighter squadrons grounded without the enemy firing a shot by the end of the decade. If we’re not willing to stand up and fix that, then what good are we to the nation?
HH: Well, I agree with that, and that’s why I think next week, if House members vote against the Speaker’s budget, which assists the Pentagon, I think they’re asking to be challenged, and I know there are a lot, I know you know these guys, of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who are in state legislatures and all across this country who are all but ready to run for Congress, and we could use them. I mean, they could win those primaries.
LG: I want the sons and daughters of the Reagan philosophy to flock to our party. Peace through strength was Reagan’s signature phrase about securing America. To secure peace, you’ve got to be strong. Well, my testing the waters committee is called Security Through Strength. You can’t have peace with radical Islam. You can’t peacefully coexist with radical Islam. But you can have security by having lines of defenses throughout the world. So this debate that we’re about to enter into is a defining moment for the Republican Party.
HH: Now you did mention your exploratory committee. How did your trip to New Hampshire go?
LG: It was a lot of fun. People laughed at the jokes when I hoped they would, they nodded when I hoped they would, so it means they at least understand what I’m trying to say. But it was very, very encouraging. And as to the budget, an $18 trillion dollar deficit is a national security threat. But here’s what I’m trying to tell people. The $1.2 trillion dollar supercommittee tasked to find $1.2 trillion over the coming decade is nothing in terms of our moving the national debt. We’re going to spend $47 trillion. So here’s what Congress was able to do. They were able to take $1.2 trillion dollars and destroy the Defense Department. They cut spending by $1.2 trillion in a fashion that would gut the military and not move the debt needle at all. That’s quite an accomplishment.
HH: It is. Now I’ve been talking to a lot of would-be Republican nominees, and I’ve been getting down in the weeds, and I want to know if you think it’s fair. If I ask someone, look, we’ve got 18 Ohio-Class submarines, and they’re going to start getting retired in 2029, and we don’t have a hull in the water, yet, to replace them, is that a gotcha question, Lindsey Graham? Or should someone who wants to be commander-in-chief know about that leg of the strategic triad?
LG: Well, I think they should understand the purpose of the triad. They should understand capability and capacity. How do you maintain security through strength? You’ve got to have capability, and you’ve got to have capacity. You have to have enough of the most capable weapons systems to defend the nation. So I’m not going to fault anybody for not understanding how many submarines we have, or how many airplanes. But what I do want to hear from a potential commander-in-chief is the idea that the only way to defend the nation is to have a robust military, intel community that can keep the war over there so it doesn’t come here, that you can deter rational actors, and that you can deal with asymmetric warfare, radical Islamists who don’t mind dying, by hitting them before they hit you. And that means a robust Defense capability forward deployed. And the nuclear deterrent has to be maintained. Look at what Russia is doing. Look at what China is doing with their militaries. So the triad, to me, is as relevant today as it was in 1965.
HH: Now you bring up Russia, and I had had a chance to talk with Dr. Ben Carson about this, and it was an uncomfortable exchange, because I asked him whether or not NATO would be willing to back up its commitment to the Baltic States, because they’re part of NATO. And he flubbed that a little bit. But now, Lindsey Graham, let me ask you, do you think we’ll stand by Estonia and Lithuania and Latvia if Putin pushes there? They’re part of the club. They’ve signed the deal. They inked it with us.
LG: NATO is no stronger than an American leadership. Did you hear what I just said?
HH: Yup. NATO is no stronger…
LG: NATO as an organization is no stronger than the president of the United States, because the capabilities that NATO possesses are mostly American. They are about 22 nations, 26, I can’t remember the number, in NATO. Five are less than 2% of GDP on defense. If the American commander-in-chief doesn’t show the will to invoke Article 5, then other countries will not. So NATO as an organization is no more capable than the commander-in-chief of the United States. So here’s the question. Would Barack Obama invoke Article 5 if the Russian population in Estonia all of a sudden claimed to be repressed and wanted to be freed, and Russia came in to free them? The question is what would Barack Obama do?
HH: Would it be your recommendation to him, we have some elements forward deployed in the Baltics. Would it be your recommendation to increase the number of American troops in that region to deter Putin?
LG: Absolutely. What I would do, remember, this all started with Poland. Remember the missile defense system?
LG: …that Putin got Obama to back down and take out missile technology, radar systems, that could combat a rogue missile attack from the Mid-East against European interests? The missile defense batteries had no ability to neuter a first-strike capability of Russia against the United States. They were deployed in a manner to protect our European allies and our bases in Europe against a rogue attack coming from the Mid-East. But Putin convinced Obama to take that technology and that infrastructure out after Poland agreed to do it, really putting Poland in a bad spot, and the Czech Republic, too. So what I would do is I would put those missile defense systems back in. I would have a basing in Eastern Europe. I would get NATO bases with an American component larger than we have today. I would move at least a brigade of Americans that could operate in the Baltic region along with other NATO members, and I would begin to build capacity all throughout the region around Russia to let them know that we’re serious about their ambitions here.
HH: Last question, Senator Graham, ISIS today rising in Libya. There are reports that the Tunisian killers yesterday were trained in Libya. Iran is on the march. Al Qaeda blew up a bunch of people in Yemen today, and the President is threatening Israel in the UN. Marco Rubio made a great speech about that yesterday. What do you make about the President’s threat to allow Security Council resolutions demanding 1967 borders to get through?
LC: I am chairman of the Foreign Operations subcommittee on Appropriations, and appropriations that funds the United Nations, that funds our aid to Israel and every other foreign aid program in the entire budget. It is one percent of our spending. If the Palestinians join the International Criminal Court in April, and they begin to bring cases against the IDF alleging they’re war criminals for defending the state of Israel, I will lead the effort to cut off all aid to the Palestinians. If the president of the United States sends a nuclear deal with Iran to the UN Security Council and bypasses the Congress, takes the deal directly to the UN Security Council, and they act on the deal before Congress gets a look at the deal and vote on it, I will suspend all assistance to the UN, because they will have acted in such an irresponsible manner. I will have Isarel’s back.
HH: On that very, that is a clear and important message, Senator Lindsey Graham, thanks for sending it on the Hugh Hewitt Show.
End of interview.