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Horowitz: Lindsey Graham’s Candidacy Sharpens Foreign Policy Debate

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

 

Rob Horowitz

In the Presidential campaign so far, the many Republicans seeking the nomination have had the political luxury of criticizing President Obama’s foreign policy as weak without providing specific alternatives.

Senator Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) entrance last week into the Presidential race is going to change this dynamic, forcing the other candidates to elaborate on the too easy rhetoric of the need for more American strength to take on ISIS and other potential threats and say exactly what kinds of military action they mean.

An unapologetic voice for the use of American military force-- who refuses to concede that the Iraq War was a mistake-- Graham couples his neo-conservative foreign policy views with in-depth knowledge, strong convictions and the ability to cogently make his case. “I want to be president to defeat the enemies trying to kill us, not just penalize them or criticize them or contain them, but defeat them, “ said Graham in his announcement speech.

Graham backs up this bold statement with a plan to put 10,000 American troops back in Iraq. As Graham told Wolf Blitzer in an interview on CNN in mid-May, “"I am sorry it's going to take reengagement by the American people.  There no way to win the war without some of us being over there doing the fighting so they don't hit us here at home."

Recently elected to his third term in the US Senate, Graham is a close friend and ally of Senator John McCain (R-AZ).  Together, they continue to stand up for bigger defense budgets and more use of the American military as essential to protecting the homeland and rolling back “Radical Islam’- which they view as one in the same.   In the Graham worldview, there is little or no recognition of the limits of American military power and the often damaging unintended consequences of military action, such as the strengthening of Iran’s position in the Mideast resulting from the Iraq War.  Graham is not a nuanced balance of power strategist in the mold of Henry Kissinger or Jim Baker; he is an unapologetic neo-conservative whose foreign policy would be bold and certain-but not necessarily wise.

A Sunday show regular, Graham knows how to use the media to get his points across and how to make ‘news’.   His foreign policy experience, along with his willingness to take specific, tough stands,  provides his only opportunity to emerging as a credible, competitive Presidential candidate-and he knows it  He has already demonstrated by pushing for the return of American troops in Iraq that he will advocate for positions that are not popular in the nation as a whole, but appeal to at least a significant segment of the Republican primary electorate.

This combination of media skill backed up by provocative policy specifics give Graham the potential to in large measure set the agenda for the foreign policy discussion and force the other candidates to react to him.   In accomplishing this, even if his candidacy fails to take off, he will be doing the rest of us a public service.

Given the pressing foreign policy challenges the next President will face, the more specific candidates are forced to be, the better for the nation.   Senator Graham’s candidacy offers an opportunity to move the debate from platitudes to real world options and plans. That is reason enough to be pleased that he has joined the field. 

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island

Video wall courtesy of Flickr

 

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