As one of the leading advocates for bipartisan immigration reform, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., had already firmly affixed himself to one cause deeply unpopular with conservatives heading into a re-election year.
Now as a war-weary Congress weighs a military strike in Syria, he finds himself championing another policy that risks antagonizing the base.
Graham is on board for launching targeted missile strikes in Syria to diminish its chemical weapon capacity and assist the rebels who have been stuck in a three-year slog with President Bashar Assad that’s resulted in more than 100,000 dead.
Next to Sen. John McCain, there’s no more forceful and visible advocate for a muscular response. Graham half-jokes about his ubiquitous appearances on the cable networks to talk foreign policy, but says he’s a highly-sought out guest because “I speak with an accent, but without a doubt.”
Nonetheless, as he seeks a third term in 2014, Graham appears fully cognizant of the risks of his hawkish posture.
“My problem is I’m trying to explain to the American people why Syria matters while my commander-in-chief is AWOL,” he told a gathering of supporters at a creekside restaurant Wednesday morning. “But here’s the other dilemma I have: I know it matters. At least in my mind in matters.”
In a 45-minute talk here, Graham guided the crowd through the history, stakes and consequences of the strife in Syria. He spoke plain enough to relate but detailed enough to showcase his expertise. The argument is a heavy lift. After all, even Republicans — by a 12-point margin — oppose missile strikes, according to this week’s Washington Post-ABC poll.
Graham never engaged his foes directly, but his comments to the largely friendly crowd encapsulated the arduous sell to the public.
“I don’t want another Iraq or Afghanistan war because that’s just not what we need to do,” he said, before outlining his support for a contained military strike designed to degrade Syria’s ability to deliver chemical weapons in the future and assist those who want to overthrow President Bashar Assad.
“Rebel opposition forces are our sworn enemies. We’ve spent billions of dollars in one country trying to wipe them off the face of the planet al-Qaida. And yet we employ the strategy of funding them and giving them weapons in Syria to get Assad?” asked Jesse Graston, who traveled nearly three hours from Rock Hill, S.C., and forked over the $12 in order to corner the senator.
“I believe that if we get Syria wrong, within six months — and you can quote me on this,” Graham said, pausing for dramatic effect. “There will be a war between Iran and Israel over their nuclear program.”
But it wouldn’t even end there, Graham surmised. Undoubtedly, he said ominously, the Iranians would share its nuclear technology with U.S. enemies.
“My fear is that it won’t come to America on top of a missile, it’ll come in the belly of a ship in the Charleston or New York harbor,” he said.
Read more at US NEWS.COM