Why the GOP Should Ignore Lindsey Graham

In one of the least anticipated political events of this election cycle, South Carolina Senator and neocon war hawk Lindsey Graham announced his candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination because the world is “falling apart” and apparently he is the only one who can save it (I’ll take the end of the world, please). Lindsey Graham also claimed it would be “devastating” for the GOP to nominate Rand Paul. Rand Paul responded to Graham’s criticisms by correctly pointing out that it was Graham and his fellow congressional hawks that helped ISIS grow by advocating for sending weapons to Syrian rebels that ended up in the hands of ISIS.

It is frightening that Lindsey Graham thinks his record on foreign policy is strong enough to run for president on. Beyond a deep-rooted obsession with squandering American lives and resources to force “democracy” all over the Muslim world, there is no consistent foreign policy platform to be seen from Graham. He seamlessly went from endlessly pounding the President for not going to war against the Assad regime to endlessly pounding him for not launching a ground war against ISIS – which would necessitate cooperation with the same Assad regime he so deeply despises. His misguided approach to Syria and his open adulation of questionable Syrian rebels should be enough to preclude from holding the presidency.

There is no shortage of events in the last four years that raise questions about Graham’s actual foreign policy expertise and, more importantly, about his judgment to be president. There is the meeting Graham had in September 2012 with Libyan Islamist militant and ex-Taliban member Abdelhakim Belhadj who later resurfaced as the leader of ISIS in Libya. In Syria, Lindsey Graham continued to insist that the U.S. arm Syrian rebels and even intervene militarily in Syria even after it had become abundantly clear that most areas under rebel control were dominated by militant Islamist groups. Not surprisingly, it did not take long to confirm that U.S. weapons sent to the rebels at Graham’s behest were ending up in the hands of ISIS and that the Free Syrian Army factions that he and McCain supported were defecting to ISIS en masse. So basically, Graham claims that radical Islamic groups like ISIS are the most dangerous, imminent threat to the U.S. (which may be true) even though he was the chief advocate of policies that materially helped ISIS grow in Syria, he publicly met and expressed support for the future leader of ISIS in Libya, he openly expressed support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and he wanted the U.S. to forcibly overthrow the Assad regime, thereby removing the only military force battling ISIS on the ground in Syria.

Rand Paul, however, has had a much more consistent view of events in the Middle East. He rightly identified radical Islamist groups as the key threat in the region and has acknowledged that many U.S. interventions in the regime, from the overthrow of Saddam to the arming of Syrian rebels, have been completely counterproductive to the goal of fighting radical Islamist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Paul’s stance is clear – he opposed interventions against groups that are not allied with violent extremists, but supports interventions against groups that are. This is a logical, common sense extension of the belief that violent Islamist radicals are the true enemy. It is exactly this type of realist, restrained, and rational foreign policy that has been lacking in the White House for the past16 years.

Of course, many might say that my concern over Lindsey Graham is misplaced since he doesn’t really have a shot at winning the GOP nomination anyway. Judging by the polls, where Graham barely registers a percentage point, they would be right. After all, this is a guy who faced stiff challenges in his last GOP primary –he won with about 57% of the vote. However, we have already seen evidence that Graham’s direct attacks on Paul will dissuade other GOP candidates from embracing Paul’s wiser foreign policy and will encourage candidates to shift to a more hawkish direction. That would be unfortunate. An examination of both candidate’s recent foreign policy records leads to a clear conclusion – Rand Paul has displayed better judgment on foreign policy than Lindsey Graham, and it is time for the rest of the GOP to take heed.

Patrick Elyas, Egypt/USA


Patrick Elyas is a JD/MBA candidate in the Class of 2018 at the Wharton School and University of Pennsylvania Law School. Patrick, an Egyptian-American from Los Angeles, graduated from the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 2012. His senior thesis, "No Longer Dhimmis: How European Intervention in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries Empowered Copts in Egypt" was published in the College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal. Patrick went on to spend two years working as a management consultant for McKinsey & Company in its Dubai office and one year in a secondment role as Chief of Staff of a U.S.-based education reform organization. Patrick has a deep interest in American and Egyptian politics and private sector development in the Middle East and Africa.

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