- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on Wednesday issued a blistering critique of the Obama administration’s handling of the Middle East, accusing the administration of “rewriting history” in Iraq.

Mr. Graham, a 2016 GOP presidential candidate, called Mr. Obama’s decision to pull troops out of Iraq “a conscious choice he made … to fulfill a campaign promise to get us to zero, and every military commander said if you go there, you’re going to have hell to pay, and hell has been to pay.”

“If you’re too tired to defend this country, you’re too war-weary, don’t vote for me,” he said in an address at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C.

CNN host Jake Tapper, who moderated a question and answer session after Mr. Graham’s address, said one of the White House’s reasons for winding down troops in Iraq was the issue of the Iraqi government granting immunity to U.S. troops.

Mr. Graham said immunity for troops would be a priority for him.

“I wouldn’t leave any U.S. forces behind in any foreign country that would be subject to being prosecuted by [a] weak, ineffective government,” he said. “That’s all a bunch of b.s. At the end of the day, the Iraqis were willing to accept troops — I was there. I went there a bunch.”

“To anybody who thinks that the Iraqis took the number from 18,000 to below 3,000 — that’s not true,” he said. “The White House would not commit to a number — they kept changing the number. They wanted the results they got; they wanted this thing to go to parliament, which would have been a disaster. He wanted out and he found a way out.”

“They’re rewriting history,” he continued. “And they’re doing the same damn thing in Afghanistan.”

As part of his foreign policy plan, Mr. Graham is proposing a force of 10,000 troops in support of a “coordinated regional effort” to combat the Islamic State terrorist group through training and advising Iraqi forces as part of a strategy that also includes arming the Kurds and aggressively applying air power.

He also said the Afghani government would accept 9,800 troops or more, and his plan calls for leaving in place the current force of 9,800 troops and keeping them there until conditions on the ground warrant their withdrawal.

His plan also includes preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability, developing a regional solution to combat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and providing humanitarian assistance, notably in Syria. His plan also called for an end to the sequester cuts he says are harming the country’s military, an expansion of sanctions against Russia, and engaging in the Asia Pacific region amid advancement by China, among other items.

In addition to criticizing the administration’s foreign policy endeavors, Mr. Graham also name-checked two of his Republican rivals in the 2016 GOP presidential race, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

“To those who want to rely upon the Kurds as the exclusive ground force, you don’t understand the Mideast. Now I hear people [on] our side of the aisle, Senator Cruz often talks about ‘just arm the Kurds.’ Does anyone really believe the Kurds have the capability, the will, and the desire to go and liberate Syria?” he said.

“If you want to create another conflict, arm the Kurds to the point that they create friction with Turkey and other regional problem areas,” he continued. “So this idea that the Kurds are going to go into Ramadi as a ground force is not gonna happen. The idea that the Kurds could be the liberating force inside of Syria is a fantasy.”

As he has in the past, Mr. Graham also went after Mr. Paul.

“He is the one voice in the Republican party that I think has been weaker on national security than that of President Obama,” Mr. Graham said. “We will never get a good deal with the Iranians as long as President Obama is president of the United States, ‘cause he’s viewed as weak in the eyes of the Iranians and uncertain in the eyes of our friends. I think everybody running except Rand Paul could get a better deal with the Iranians.”

In response, Paul adviser Doug Stafford said in a statement that Mr. Graham showed how little he understands about foreign policy and how to stop making the same mistakes.

“The greatest threat to American national security is our debt, and unlike Sen. Graham, Sen. Rand Paul does not think the US should continue sending our hard-earned tax dollars to war lords and nations that persecute Christians, women and minorities,” Mr. Stafford said. “What funds make it past the kickbacks, fraud, and embezzlement often end up supporting programs like French pastry classes in Iraq, or worse they fund the actions of oppressors. Meanwhile Sen. Graham supports the failed solutions of the past — more spending and more counterproductive nation building and policing the world.”

Mr. Graham said Wednesday he has learned from his own mistakes, as well as the mistakes of Mr. Obama and former President George W. Bush.

“The first thing I’ve learned [is] that radical Islam is not going to be compromised with — they are religious Nazis,” he said. “Somebody better go over there and hit them before they hit us. There is no alternative to going in on the ground and pulling the caliphate up by the roots. If that scares you, don’t vote for me.”

“I think most Americans understand that if they’ll cut a three-year-old kid’s head off, that’s not good for us,” he said. “I think most Americans see radical Islam as an existential threat to just humanity. That it’s not a regional war — that it’s a war against humanity. I think most Americans are ready to take the fight back to these guys.”

Code Pink protester Madea Benjamin stood up at one point, asking a series of questions and saying she was “horrified” by Mr. Graham’s foreign policy and that it’s a “prescription for endless war.”

“I think people like you make the world incredibly dangerous,” Mr. Graham said. “I think people like you are radical Islam’s best hope.”

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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