Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) declared Tuesday that if nuclear negotiations with Iran didn’t soon make headway, he would introduce a resolution in Congress authorizing the use of force against Iran.
The startling threat was made at the annual gathering of Christians United For Israel (CUFI), taking place in Washington, D.C., this week. The right-wing group boasts over a million members devoted to all things Israel, with its website offering Israel-themed E-Cards and UN petitions, among other goodies. The group is headed by wingnut televangelist John Hagee, whose past pronouncements on current events have included such gems as the statement that Hurricane Katrina was divine punishment for New Orleans’s sins.
To a cheering crowd, Graham declared, “My goal is to avoid war, and the best way to avoid war is to let the Iranians know they're going to face one and lose.” Graham’s loose talk could have harmed delicate negotiations, but apparently back-home politics trump foreign affairs.
Graham, who is up for re- election in 2014, has become a bête noire among the right wing base, for such actions as voting for President Obama’s two Supreme Court nominees, as well as supporting immigration reform. These sins, among many others, have angered the far-right grassroots. Just this week, a group called Carolina Conservatives United began a campaign to oust Graham in the Senate primary next year in favor of a more conservative candidate. Right now, it doesn't appear that their efforts will be successful, as Graham has a healthy war chest and respectable poll numbers, but he cannot afford to ignore the danger of being primaried, which cost former Republican Senators Dick Lugar and Bob Bennett their seats.
As for Iran, U.S. officials have said that no option is off the table, but obviously diplomacy is to be greatly preferred and military action does not appear imminent. Iranians just elected a new, more moderate president last month, Hasan Rowhani. A former nuclear negotiator for Iran, he actually stepped down because of disputes with Iran's last president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Although he does not have the final say on the nuclear program — Supreme Leader Khamenei does — many hope that he will have a moderating influence on the ruling clerics.
But Graham’s saber-rattling may have complicated matters abroad. Even though any domestic observer could see Graham’s loose talk was just that — talk — that isn’t necessarily clear to outside observers who are unfamiliar with the U.S. right-wing’s feverish but common rantings. Hillary Clinton’s motorcade was attacked last year in Egypt because Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), hardly considered an authority on anything, said publicly that Hillary Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Graham may think his remarks will have no real world effect, except to demonstrate his conservative bona fides, but experience suggests otherwise. He may have put Rowhani in a box, forcing him to up his own rhetoric lest he look weak in front of the Iranian people. Graham should know better than to play politics with our foreign relations.