National Security & Defense

Why America Needs Lindsey Graham

(Jessica McGowan/Getty)

Obama has dug America deep into a hole. We need a solid foreign-policy president to pull ourselves out. Graham is that man. Here’s why.

First of all, the basics: Graham has gravitas. He would fight to win.

Lindsey Graham has consistently spoken out on the troubles we are facing around the world, and he has put forward sound solutions. He has spoken out forcefully, on the right side, on the civil wars in the Middle East. He has described accurately the dangers facing us. He has identified our enemies truthfully.

He understood that Benghazi was not about 24 hours of incompetence — that it was the end result of a policy that sided with the wrong players, the Islamist militias that attacked us. He knew that it was Obama, not just Susan Rice, who was guilty of lying — perhaps to himself but certainly to others — when he put the blame on Americans and their supposed Islamophobic prejudices for inspiring the attack on America in Benghazi.

Graham has been clear from the start about the Islamic State. He recognized early on that the administration’s “war” policy was one of long-term stalemate. The administration says it needs three years to defeat the Islamic State; this parallels its policy of keeping Syria in a stalemated civil war for three years, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of lives and millions of refugees. That civil war is what turned the Islamic State into a serious force in the first place. Graham has warned, accurately, of the dangers of such stalemate, as it enables the Islamic State to increase its global reach and appeal. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has belatedly acknowledged the same thing: that time is not on our side, and the stalemate is helping the Islamic State metastasize.

Graham adds only one thing: the logical conclusion. He would not let this war drag on. He knows that every month that the Islamic State withstands our war effort and holds on to territory, it inspires more terrorism in Europe and America.

At the start of this war, Graham spoke courageously about the need for boots on the ground. He specified how many were needed to win. It was a serious number — 10,000 — but a limited one, not the limitless caricature of hundreds of thousands or more that the administration put forward as a straw man to burn. Graham has the character to carry through on a policy of victory in the war.

Next, the negative context: Obama is leaving the world in a dangerous condition.

When Obama leaves office, the world will be in a far more dangerous state than when he began his presidency. Obama’s legacy will be chaos on a global scale. The community of foreign-policy analysts mostly agrees on this, despite its political support for him. Most Americans see it, too, and are alarmed about it. Public-opinion surveys show that Americans are noticing the global crises, giving the lie to the slogan that foreign policy doesn’t matter to the (dumb, ignorant, provincial) American people.

Obama’s legacy will be chaos on a global scale.

Obama has indeed dug America deep into a hole, and not by accident. There has been a unifying principle at the root of his bad policies. This principle is espoused by Obama’s base (and his base is the Left, the global Left as well as the American Left): America is declining, America should decline, and America must decline.

Let us credit Obama with serious intentions. Let us credit the Left with sincerity in its belief that America’s decline will be good for the world, because it will empower the Third World peoples after all the centuries of American and Western domination. This doctrine translates directly into the administration’s support for the revolutions against pro-Western regimes in the Middle East. It translates more broadly into opposition to the world order that has been based on Western global predominance. Obama’s leftist cohorts oppose the collective organization of the West around American power, an achievement that American diplomacy built at a terrible price in the course of the global wars of the 1900s, It is this factor — the quasi-union of the West — that is the best thing in the world system, and that the Left is devoted to getting rid of. And here, fortunately, Obama has partly failed the Left.

Here, in fact, we can say something good about Obama. He has by no means been consistent in undermining the organization of the West around American power. He learned something about the virtues of the collective West, in the course of his first year in office. He came in wishing to abolish the Western G8 in favor of the global G20, but, after a few international meetings, he concluded that the G20 was not very useful even for his left-liberal purposes, and that he needed the G7 (with Russia’s expulsion) for his own agenda. And Obama has not taken any active measures to abolish NATO, or the larger extended West of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, as his base would have liked. He has even taken a positive step forward for the alliance system, promoting major new trade agreements with America’s allies in Europe and Asia.

The organized West will outlive Obama. That is something we could not have said with confidence in his first years. We have a basis for recovery of American and Western position in the world — if America elects a president committed to recovery. America will need a solid foreign-policy president to climb back out of this hole.

America is fortunate that it finally has such a candidate in Lindsey Graham. This is a welcome piece of good news, after six years of increasingly disastrous foreign-policy blunders.

Third: America can recover, but does it have the will to?

America has an inherently powerful global position, and we will probably be able to climb out of this hole without too much further damage if we elect a serious president. The organized extended West that America leads — through NATO, the G7, and the OECD — still holds a solid majority of global GDP and a commanding lead in usable global military power.

But the vulnerabilities of the West today are twofold. First, we are increasingly vulnerable to asymmetrical warfare. We need more active countermeasures and a more united West and industrialized world so that terrorists and proliferators will have less space to hatch their plots. Second, we are weakened by the ambivalence — sometimes the outright ill will — of Western elites toward the West’s global predominance. This is a sickness of the soul that could be fatal.

James Burnham wrote of “the suicide of the West,” but at the time, the danger was primarily murder, not suicide: murder by a large, external, Communist nuclear superpower. It was a danger only abetted, not created, by a liberalism that overlapped ideologically with Communism and didn’t like to fight it. Liberalism’s lack of seriousness about power, as Burnham noted, bespoke an inclination toward suicide.

But since the end of Communism in Europe, that impulse toward suicide has only increased. In the current administration, we have seen something close to a full-fledged drive to suicide: a left-liberalism that yields quite unnecessarily to enemies with which it has no ideological overlap except insofar as they are anti-Western.

We have an administration that has actively built up America’s enemies.

It has actively helped their ideological base (Islamists) come to power in the Mideast, most brazenly in Egypt and Libya. It has passively allowed their rise elsewhere. And it has discouraged those who have been trying to fight against them.

The administration and its backers have even criticized allies such as Jordan for wishing to fight more vigorously against the Islamic State than is contemplated in their own lackadaisical schedule. It has come to the point where our allies in the region are banding together to fight Islamism — but their alliance is directed in part against America, because they see America as being on the wrong side of the fights in the region. This new alliance will be a boon for a normal American president — one who has the normal instinct to support America’s allies, not just cozy up to its enemies.

In sum: What kind of president do we need for the job facing America?

In these conditions, climbing out of the hole need not be as hard as it seems, certainly not as hard as it would look to those who have accepted the doctrine of inevitable American decline. But there will be many a difficult mess to clean up. It will take years to re-establish a tenuous stability in the world.

We have a war on our hands and a crisis situation throughout the Middle East. Islamism and terrorism are both on the march. This is the main fruit of six years of the Obama presidency. It will take at least another full-length, two-term presidency to force even some of the genies back in the bottle; and it will take a fully determined, skillful president at the helm

It will not do to have a half-hearted conservative president. It will also not do to have a wholesale conservative who knows where his heart is but doesn’t know where the bones are buried, or who our NATO allies are, or what countries are fighting in the war against the Islamic State.

It will not do to have an ideologue so committed to his arguments that he repeatedly sabotages his own party for the sake of making a point. The presidency is about governing: taking responsibility for achieving outcomes, using the actual political forces. Foreign policy requires nothing less.

It will not do to have a libertarian such as Rand Paul who plays up to the left-liberal hegemony in the media and lets himself get used by that media against America on foreign-policy matters, the better to win applause for his “principles.” This is an ugly social game, one that garners libertarians favorable media exposure and tolerance in academic positions where real conservatives are unwelcome. It is a temptation that few libertarians have been able to resist; certainly not Rand Paul or his father. America has already paid a high price over the years for the way libertarians have made themselves useful to the agenda of the Left in its fight against Western power.

America needs a president who knows how to talk back to the media, countering its racial and libertarian demagoguery on public-security affairs. We need a president who knows how to go around the media to connect directly to the American people — framing the security issues frankly rather than demagogically.

America needs a president who knows how to talk back to the media, countering its racial and libertarian demagoguery on public-security affairs.

Ronald Reagan used to do this well. Lindsey Graham has done it in recent years. Graham is not the only person capable of it, but he is the only solid one among the current crop of candidates. John McCain has also often been capable of it in foreign-policy matters, but he has sometimes lacked judgment on the use of force and played up to media demagoguery on other matters. Graham has shown better judgment.

Rudy Giuliani has talked well to the American people on domestic-security affairs. He has shown that he knows how to turn the tables when journalists try to frame him. He has courageously told obvious and important truth about the Islamic State and Obama and love of America. He is a conservative who fights for America and speaks to the point, without dancing around it when the media tries to make it sound odious; and yet he retains his air of moderation and good judgment. His libertarianism has lacked the media-coddling aspect we have seen in McCain or Paul. But Giuliani is not running, and he is not as experienced in foreign policy.

Lindsey Graham may well be the best choice of the three for America. And he is the only one of the three who is running. Indeed, of all the myriad candidates running today, he is the only reliable choice for America.

— Ira Straus is an independent foreign- policy analyst, director of the Democracy International, and U.S. coordinator of the Committee on Eastern Europe and Russia in NATO. He has also been Fulbright professor of international relations in Moscow.

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