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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
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The panel was nominally on the meaning of the 2010 elections, but the room had clearly moved on. The last question of the session went to the chairman of the Turkish parliament’s foreign relations committee, Murat Mercan. Turkey, which has a 310-mile border with Iran, has recently been assiduously pursuing a “no problems with neighbors” policy that has caused serious indigestion in Washington, most notably over the May initiative of Turkey and Brazil to cut a nuclear deal with Iran intended to undercut support for tougher U.N. sanctions. A clearly troubled Mercan, who said he would soon be visiting Iran, wanted to know, “if the allies have to resort to the last option,” whether they had thought through the regional implications.

Graham didn’t flinch:

If I thought containment would work, I wouldn’t be saying the things I’m saying. So you’ve got two evils to choose from, I guess. And the evil that comes from the nuclear-armed Iran will affect the world as we know it far greater than whatever conflict would arise if you had to use military force. So at the end of the day, when you go to Iran, please convince them, if you can, that our country—the world at large—does not want this conflict, but that the regime has no credibility in my eyes. I think they’re duplicitous. I think they’re murdering their own people. I think they do not represent the hopeful nature of mankind. And if they acquire a nuclear weapon, they do so at their own peril because now’s the time to stand up before it’s too late.

Then came an ominously folksy admonition: “As to Turkey, I want to come to your country. I can’t figure where y’all are going. Y’all are a great ally. I’m worried about your position with Israel. I don’t know what’s going on in Turkey. I know you’re a member of NATO. I hope you get in the European Union. But you have a chance, my friend, to be a real force for the good. Don’t let it pass.”

All in all, Graham’s performance was a tour de force. First, it was a bucket of cold water in the face of anyone harboring the impression that the United States would drift without comment toward eventual acceptance of an Iranian bomb.

But Graham also seems to have calibrated his message for multiple audiences. For President Obama, it was a sincere promise of support for military action if the Iranian government persists in its nuclear quest, as well as a warning that he must take his own policy and rhetoric seriously: Iran can’t have the bomb. For the Iranians, the message was that a harder line would be coming out of the United States following the November elections, a point Udall reinforced with his affirmation of keeping “every option on the table.” For Europeans and other allies, not least Turkey, -Graham offered a display of bellicosity that would on one hand trouble them greatly, and on the other, remind them that if they don’t want an American attack, they must succeed with their efforts to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. For Republicans, Graham delivered a rebuke to any isolationist tendencies that might be struggling to emerge among the newly elected GOP members of the Senate and House.

And for John McCain, who led the congressional delegation to Halifax, the message was that he has groomed in Lindsey Graham a thoughtful and worthy successor as the Senate’s leading human rights- and democracy-oriented foreign policy hawk.

Tod Lindberg, a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, is a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and editor of Policy Review.

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