Sen. Graham urges GOP presidential candidates to avoid isolationism

He urged GOP candidates to support foreign aid to Middle Eastern countries and said they should be ready to criticize President Obama if he fails to force Moammar Gadhafi to vacate power in Libya.

Graham, one of his party’s most forceful voices on foreign policy, warned that presidential candidates will encounter a “war-weary” public that wants to troops to return from Iraq and Afghanistan. Candidates also will find that pitching increases in foreign aid to key Middle Eastern nations like Egypt “goes over like a lead balloon.”

The reason such public sentiments worry Graham is “because it doesn’t take long before the [Republican Party] finds a war-weary nation and exploits it.”

ADVERTISEMENT
An evolving “unholy alliance” between “the far right and far left” led by Reps. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) could fan the flames of an isolationist GOP foreign-policy platform during the 2012 election, Graham said.

The usually hawkish senator urged Republican presidential candidates to take a long-term view on Washington’s economic, political and military relations with nations like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt.

On Iraq and Afghanistan, Graham said candidates should adopt his view as they fashion their foreign-policy and national-security platforms: Washington should remain engaged in both nations for several more years; and U.S. troops must remain in both nations until at least the middle part of this decade.

Graham said he would be among the first to applaud President Obama if he can ink new accords with Iraqi and Afghan leaders. Iraq needs U.S. troops to stay there for a few more years to ensure security, Graham said, while Afghanistan needs Washington as a political and economic ally to help transform itself.

Graham also called for ramping up U.S. aid to Egypt, despite likely public opposition.

“Any Republican who says the U.S. shouldn’t be spending money in Egypt right now doesn’t understand the benefits,” he said during a morning talk at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

If coalition and rebel forces fail to force Gadhafi from power, Republican presidential candidates should hit President Obama hard.

“I can’t think of any scenario under which Moammar Gadhafi stays” that would benefit Obama politically, Graham said, adding if that happens “Obama will be exposed.”

If he were president, Graham said he would call for U.S. military aircraft to rejoin a beefed-up coalition bombing and no-fly zone campaign designed to drive Gadhafi from power by essentially causing his regime to splinter out of fear.

He was critical of Obama’s decision to put American involvement into a supporting role after doing the heavy lifting of taking out Gadhafi’s air defenses and much of his army.

“When I called for a no-fly zone, I meant [Libyan planes], not us,” he quipped.

The GOP senator also called on Republican presidential hopefuls to press the president on terrorism detainee policy, on which he said Obama is “vulnerable.”

He said Obama’s pledge to close the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, “is lost,” adding: “It’s a shame because we could have had a new jail.”

He pointed out Adm. Michael Mullen recently told the committee he has “no answer” for where the United States would send a terrorism detainee captured in a nation like Yemen.

“If I were running for president, I would say, ‘I will give you an answer.’”

Asked near the end of his 60-minute appearance — chock full of advice for the party's list of presidential hopefuls — why he isn’t running for the White House, Graham quipped: “Because I don’t like term limits.”

More in Senate

Sen. Lee: Foreign policy is Rand Paul's 'Achilles's heel'

Read more »