The Magazine

Speaking Truth to Mullah Power

At a conclave of big shots, Lindsey Graham steals the show.

Nov 22, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 10 • By TOD LINDBERG
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Speaking Truth to Mullah Power

Lindsey Graham

Thomas Fluharty

On a dangerously windy early November afternoon, a military plane carrying a delegation of six U.S. senators made four successive approaches attempting to land at Halifax airport before giving up and turning around. Rather than heading for home, though, the plane landed in Bangor, Maine, where senators and staff overnighted before trying Halifax again, this time successfully, early the next morning.

There was, then, a certain determination in their effort to get to the Halifax International Security Forum, an annual gathering of mostly Western policymakers and security specialists spearheaded by the indefatigable Canadian defense minister Peter MacKay and the German Marshall Fund of the United States. No one said why the delegation was so determined. But to judge solely by the effect, maybe the answer was: because one of the senators, Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, had a message he wanted to convey.

Asked about the effect of the GOP midterm victory on the Obama administration’s foreign policy, the hawkish Graham said, “Republican ascendency is probably good news for those that want to see it through in Afghanistan and have a good relationship with Iraq.” Then he added: “I think it’s good news for the president if he wants to be bold on Iran. .  .  . I can tell you this. If he decides to be tough on Iran beyond sanctions, I think you’re going to see a lot of Republican support for the idea that we cannot let Iran develop a nuclear weapon.”

Tough beyond sanctions. What are the Americans thinking? A journalist from the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, who described himself facetiously as a “European wimp,” asked exactly that.

Graham was happy to elaborate:

Nobody would like to see the sanctions work any more than I would because I’m still in the military [Graham is a colonel in the Air Force reserves who has served active duty during Senate breaks in Iraq and Afghanistan] and I get to meet these young men and women on a regular basis, and I know what it’s been like for the last nine years. So the last thing America needs is another military conflict. But the last thing the world needs is a nuclear-armed Iran. And if you use military force, if sanctions are not going to work and a year from now it’s pretty clear they’re not going to work, what do our friends in Israel do? So I would like the president to make it abundantly clear that all options are on the table. And we all know what that means.

Graham was just winding up: 

And if that day ever came, my advice to the president, in open session here, if you take military action against Iran as the last effort to stop their nuclear ambitions, you do open up Pandora’s box. But if you let them acquire nuclear weapons, you’ll empty Pandora’s box. So my view of military force would be not to just neutralize their nuclear program, which are probably dispersed and hardened, but to sink their navy, destroy their air force, and deliver a decisive blow to the Revolutionary Guard. In other words, neuter that regime. Destroy their ability to fight back and hope that people .  .  . inside Iran would have a chance to take back their government and be good neighbors to the world in the future. So that’s what I mean by being tough, sir, that everything is on the table and that we need to start talking more openly about that because time is not on our side.

Gulp. “Neutralize .  .  . sink .  .  . destroy .  .  . neuter.” The moderator, Susan Bonner of CBS News, rattled and apparently looking for a lifeline to haul her panel out of a George W. Bush-infested sea of rogue American militarism, turned to Graham’s co-panelist, Senator Mark Udall of Colorado: “Senator Udall, the Democratic view on that issue? Neutering Iran.” Udall was no help. “Most of the members of the Senate caucus agree that you keep all options on the table,” he said. “The steps that Senator -Graham has outlined are very significant, very serious, would have worldwide repercussions. I’m not willing to put my support behind that step here in a -theoretical context, but I think you’ve got to keep every option on the table and let the Iranian regime know that we’re deadly serious, not just as the United States of America, but as a world community.”

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 19 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers