Can America Afford the Foreign Policy We Need?

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A Conversation with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) - Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee & the Senate Budget Committee

Moderated by Robert Kagan - The Brookings Institution & Foreign Policy Initiative

Photographs  | Summary  |  Transcript  |  Video

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Summary

Focusing on defense spending, Senator Graham argued that the solution to defense sequestration was to ensure that politicians do not destroy the finest military in the world.  He emphasized that lawmakers, who are opposed to the sequestration cuts, should recall and repeat Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s warnings of the catastrophic consequences of these cuts.   He added that, even if the Department of Defense were completely eliminated, there would still only be a negligible effect on America’s spending.

Graham urged Republican candidates to embrace a message that the United States needs a strong military to protect us against the real threats of Iran, North Korea, and China.  He urged his party and congressional colleagues  to embrace the view that defense spending is the number one duty of federal government.  He further implored Republican presidential candidates to embrace a message that the Department of Defense will be held to account for spending and procurement arrangements.

Graham added that if Republican candidates adopt a “Fortress America” approach to foreign policy, then they will be in trouble.  The United States should embrace the Arab Spring, he said, as they should support the winning the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and fully funding America’s foreign aid budget.  While these expenditures are certainly costly, he said, they do have potentially revolutionary outcomes that are of enormous benefit to the United States.  Specifically in regards to foreign aid, Graham noted that the United States could reform and revise how it spends foreign aid, but emphasized that the foreign aid was critical to advancing American ideals abroad without resorting to violence.

Regarding Egypt’s post-revolutionary politics, Graham said that he was not surprised that Islamist parties were performing well in the country’s parliamentary elections, but said that he would be concerned by liberals being shut out of the political process.  Ultimately, he believed that the Arab Spring would result in an acceptable equilibrium of religious influence to the democratic process.  However, he cited the example of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and noted that such an outcome in the Middle East would likely take time.  He lamented that the Obama administration has not embraced a vision of the significance and potential of the Arab Spring in its policy, and urged the United States to seize the unique opportunity of the moment to remake the region’s politics.

Graham called the failure to secure a follow-on force of 10,000-to-15,000 U.S. troops in Iraq after 2011 a “strategic blunder”.  The failure to achieve that agreement between the United States and Iraq will create a security vacuum in Iraq, resulting in increased Iranian influence, and a return of sectarianism in Iraq.  The Obama administration, he charged, never agreed on an offer of troop levels to present to the Iraqi leadership, and never seriously wanted to maintain a follow-on force to begin with.  While he hoped that he was wrong, Graham worried that the United States effort in Iraq will have been for naught. 

Graham said that the United States lives in troubled and dangerous times, and that those trying to alter America’s role in the world do so at their own risk.  He urged his Republican colleagues to stress that now is not the time for America to withdraw from world leadership.  While the consequences of engagement are costly, he noted, the consequences of withdrawal would be much more severe.

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Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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