Sen. Graham fans the flames of religious nationalism

Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.CX.) presence and remarks at the Christians United for Israel Washington Summit this year, whether motivated by political strategy, personal religious belief, or both, undermine U.S. efforts to stabilize the Middle East by demonstrating leadership through political moderation.

His presence provided undeserved political legitimacy to an organization whose central pillar is uncritical support for the State of Israel, regardless of the fact that its expansionist settlement policies are sabotaging the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians as well as the U.S., Iran and Israel.    

Founded by an apocalyptic cult leader who has perversely declared that the Holocaust was part of God’s plan to draw the Jewish people back to their ancestral homeland and fulfill their divinely ordained destiny, CUFI has nevertheless been courted by Israeli and Jewish American militarists in order to bolster U.S. domestic political support for Israel’s continuing West Bank settlement expansions.

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While it is unclear whether Graham shares CUFI’s superstitious fear of divine judgment against the U.S. if it does not support the State of Israel unconditionally, his presence at the conference was at best a cynical exercise in political manipulation to build pressure on Congress for an Authorization for Use of Military Force.

Religious nationalism should simply have no place in national security policy.  If policymakers wish to make the case for authorizing the use of military force against Iran, they should do so on the basis of rational analysis backed by sound intelligence, not a demagogue’s interpretation of biblical prophecy or their own assumptions.  Graham’s description of Iranian leaders as suicidal or apocalyptic is contradicted by the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community, briefed to his committee earlier this year, that “regime preservation is [their] top priority.”

While the U.S. should be prepared to come to the aid of Israel without hesitation if it faces Iranian military aggression, it should also not tolerate actions by the Israeli government that will only further enflame anti-U.S. government sentiment due to our military and economic aid to Israel.

Implied policymaker endorsement of organizations such as CUFI reinforce Islamist narratives of a supposed “Christian-Zionist” conspiracy against the Muslim world and increase the probability of a self-fulfilling prophecy culminating in another costly and bloody conflict in the region.

The most responsible course of action would be to allow the Obama administration to continue its diplomatic engagement with Iran and consider an AUMF only as a last resort rather than foisting it upon the president before he has felt the need to request it.  Placing the U.S. on a hair trigger posture of military confrontation at this juncture would greatly intensify Iran’s threat perception and make them less likely to negotiate in good faith.  Greater discretion and poise is needed in Congress.

Buonomo is a former military intelligence officer and graduate candidate in Middle East Studies at George Washington University.