S.C.’s Graham disputes Obama claim U.S. is safer now than before 9/11

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), June 10, 2014. (Jeff Blake/The State/MCT)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), June 10, 2014. (Jeff Blake/The State/MCT) MCT

South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham took to the Senate floor Thursday, adding a new sense of urgency to President Barack Obama’s plan to combat the Islamic State and saying the group presents a far greater danger than the commander-in-chief acknowledges.

“What bothered me the most is the way (Wednesday’s speech) started. The president tried to tell us we’re safer today than we’ve ever been. Do you believe that? I don’t . . . we are not safer than we were before 9/11,” Graham said Thursday.

Graham was joined on the floor by fellow republican John McCain of Arizona, both of whom have long argued for arming moderate rebel groups against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Graham’s speech was, to a certain extent, a vindicating moment for him. Graham has pushed the administration for months to assist the Free Syrian Army in its fight against Assad. The president’s announcement Wednesday that the U.S. would provide training and arms to non-extremist rebel groups fighting the Islamic State validated appeals that Graham and McCain have been making since 2012.

Nonetheless neither Graham nor McCain seemed to think the president’s speech went far enough, and suggested that it was a decision handed down too late.

“Our lack of attention in not responding to the needs of those Syrians who would’ve defeated Assad . . . has cost us greatly,” Graham said.

He also slammed the president’s promises not to have boots on the ground, and said Obama’s plan suggests the White House isn’t taking the Islamic State seriously enough.

“There is no way in hell we are going to beat these guys without an American ground component in Iraq and Syria . . . you don’t need the 82nd Airborne, but we’re going to need thousands of troops over time on the ground, holding the hands of the Arab armies that are going to do the fighting along with the Syrians to make sure we win.”

Graham and McCain also challenged the president’s notion that the Islamic State posed no direct threat to the American homeland. Instead, they suggested, the U.S. is in more danger now than it has ever been.

“Because of a feckless foreign policy, America is in greater danger than it has been, in some respects, in my lifetime,” said McCain.

Graham added that while he does believes the president has the authority to strike the militants in Syria without congressional authorization, he promised his support if the White House would chose to seek a vote in Congress.

“If you need my blessing to destroy ISIL, you have it,” Graham said using the government’s name for the Islamic State. “If you need Congress to authorize your actions, let me know. . . . I will give you my vote.”