WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham criticized his party's presidential candidates and congressional leaders for increasingly advocating an international isolationism that he said repudiates the legacies of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
The South Carolina senator mocked seven GOP presidential candidates' discussion of foreign policy in Monday night's New Hampshire debate as "shallow" and full of "platitudes."
Graham, a military lawyer as a colonel in the Air Force Reserve, also criticized House Speaker John Boehner's threat to invoke the Vietnam-era War Powers Resolution against President Barack Obama over U.S. military involvement in Libya.
After delivering a speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank, Graham asked how many in the audience had watched the New Hampshire debate.
"I was very disappointed that no one articulated why it matters if we win or lose in Afghanistan," Graham said. "No one articulated what would happen if (Libyan strongman Moammar) Gadhafi stays in power. So we have Republicans talking about stopping our efforts in Libya."
Graham spoke as 10 House members — seven Republicans and three Democrats — filed suit against Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates for U.S. engagement in the NATO air strikes against Gadhafi for the last three months without congressional approval.
The lawsuit was filed a day after House Speaker John Boehner wrote Obama a letter protesting that Obama hadn't sought congressional support under the 1973 War Powers Resolution within 60 days of the March 19 start of the NATO air campaign in Libya.
"Either you have concluded the War Powers Resolution does not apply to the mission in Libya or you have determined the War Powers Resolution is contrary to the Constitution," Boehner wrote. "The House and the American people whom we represent deserve to know the determination we have made."
The White House sent Congress a lengthy memo later Wednesday justifying U.S. military involvement in Libya and saying the administration is complying with the War Powers Resolution because no American lives are at risk in the NATO air operation.
Graham aides said Boehner's stance broke with longstanding opposition to the War Powers Resolution — which a Democratic-controlled Congress passed to rebuke Republican President Richard Nixon — among many conservative lawmakers and scholars.
"Speaker Boehner is a good friend, but I don't remember all this talk (by Republicans) about the War Powers Act in the past," Graham said.
Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman, said: "President Bush sought and received congressional authorization for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq."
Democrats, though, criticized Bush on Iraq, saying his long ground war there exceeded the military action Congress had authorized before the March 2003 U.S. invasion.
Graham, the only member of Congress to have served active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, campaigned actively in 2008 for Sen. John McCain, the GOP presidential nominee who lost to Obama.
McCain, a former Vietnam War prisoner of war, backs strong U.S. military action in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Libya, and generally adopts muscular national-security policies.
Without naming him, Graham ridiculed GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, former chief executive of the Godfather's Pizza chain, for having said in the debate Monday evening that he wouldn't allow a Muslim to serve in his Cabinet.
"Everybody is for making sure we vet Muslims in the Cabinet," Graham said. "That is the least of my concerns. My concern is: Will the Republican Party come to grips with what it takes to win the very long struggle with radical Islam?"
Ellen Carmichael, a Cain spokeswoman, said the debate participants' allotted time was too limited for him to present his views fully.
"Since the candidates were only allowed 30 seconds to respond to questions, and since there were seven candidates on stage, this debate should simply serve as a preview of Mr. Cain's positions on the issues," she said. "He looks forward to expounding upon his ideas and listening to the concerns of voters across the U.S. in the months to come."
Graham upped the ante in saying the U.S. should consider military intervention in yet another Middle East nation and weigh joining an international effort to dislodge Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, who's responded violently to protests there.
"Ronald Reagan has got to be turning over in his grave in a lot of ways," Graham said. "I want to re-energize a Republican Party that can carry the banner for national security."
Gary Howard, a spokesman for Rep. Ron Paul, said the Texan making his third presidential run is following in Reagan's footsteps.
"Ronald Reagan had the courage and strength of leadership to admit that we do not understand the irrationality of Middle East politics and pulled our Marines out of Lebanon in the 1980s," Howard said. "Congressman Paul would show that same type of leadership and get our troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq and back defending this country."
Among the other debate participants, former Gov. Mitt Romney, Rep. Michelle Bachmann, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Sen. Rick Santorum declined to comment on Graham's criticism.
McClatchy Newspapers 2011