On October 3, Senator Lindsey Graham told Jeffrey Goldberg, editor of The Atlantic, that the "love crap" between President Donald Trump and North Korea's dictator Kim Jong-Un "needs to stop." Meanwhile, he also advised Trump to stay in Afghanistan and Syria. His argument? That not doing so would continue the mistakes of presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
But Graham has reinvented himself since the 2016 election. Once an ardent foe of President Trump, he's now his vigorous ally, making headlines for defending Trump's Supreme Court pick Justice Brett Kavanaugh. He also lead the way in trying to replace Obamacare and supports Trump's tariffs on foreign countries. But beneath this new fervor for Trump's agenda, Graham still remains a steadfast interventionist who has never seen a war he does not support.
Trump, for all of his faults, promised during the presidential election to draw back American involvement in foreign wars and from the world theater, calling it an "America First" strategy. Though he hasn't followed through on all of his campaign promises on foreign policy, he has succeeded in engaging diplomatically with North Korea and demonstrating that he isn't beholden to the neoconservatives who dominated Republican foreign policy for the last 20 years. He has also been hesitant to use military force to overthrow Iran, despite his own hawkish tendencies toward the Khamenei regime. Furthermore, Trump's administration has been relatively open to influence from non-interventionist figures such as Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky).
Graham, of course, is all for using military might to overthrow regimes we don't like. He called for an Iranian regime change should the Iranians refuse to comply with American demands on their nuclear program. He even suggested that conflict with Iran would be simple, telling former Defense Secretary Ash Carter that, in a hypothetical war between the U.S and Iran, "We win." Yet, there was no nuance in this discussion and no appreciation for the chaos another war would bring to the Middle East — as it did in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
Graham has actively fought against non-interventionist causes, calling for more money and troops to be dumped into the Middle East. For Graham, a constant American presence is what keeps terrorists from committing attacks in the U.S. and he said that Congressmen who opposed increasing troop numbers in Afghanistan would be responsible for the "next 9/11." While Graham fails to realize that homegrown terrorists are the real threat to American security, he continues to support wars that cost thousands of American lives in the Middle East. An estimated 3,000 Americans lost their lives on 9/11, yet more than 6,000 Americans have lost their lives in the wars that followed.
Graham has suggested that scaling back American intervention and not going to war would cost American lives. The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf summarized his arguments writing, "In each case, he argues that American deaths could result if his advice is not taken, but fails to contend with opportunity costs."
But if saving American lives is truly Graham's motivation for supporting American interventionism across the world, why would he continue to advocate for wars that have accomplished little outside of killing thousands of Americans and radicalizing individuals and populations against the U.S.?
Unfortunately, Graham's warmongering is not just limited to supporting American-led interventions. They also extend to our allies.
His recent firey words in defense of Kavanaugh by no means wipe out years of foolish and troublesome support for foreign policy.
Nowhere is this more apparent than his support for the Saudi Arabian intervention in Yemen, where tens of thousands have been killed in a civil war. American bombs dropped by Saudi warplanes killed thousands of Yemen citizens. And these aren't accidental deaths. Saudi Arabia intentionally kills its own civilians. The government has bombed weddings, factories, and hospitals with America-made munitions that Graham voted to give them.
A cynic can point out that Saudi money flows through Congress, and link it to the fact that Saudi Arabia continues to receive American support despite bipartisan concerns. The Center for Foreign Policy's Ben Freeman pointed out that Graham's office was contacted the most times by Saudi Arabian lobbyists during the debate over authorizing a $500 million arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
There's no denying it: Graham is a warmonger. Thus, no matter how close he inches toward Trump's camp, his formidable interventionist streak will muddy his rechristening as a MAGA advocate. His recent firey words in defense of Kavanaugh by no means wipe out years of foolish and troublesome support for foreign policy that has been responsible for the deaths of thousands. Trump supporters and Kavananugh fans alike would do well to keep that in mind—and, perhaps, forgo the standing ovation.