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A Conversation with Lindsey O. Graham

Speaker: Lindsey O. Graham, Senator (R-SC)
Presider: Jonathan Karl, Senior Political Correspondent, ABC News
September 15, 2011, Washington D.C.
Council on Foreign Relations

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SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): You know how to quiet a room.

JONATHAN KARL: Wow, that's good. You've got quite the impact there.

Welcome. We are absolutely thrilled to be joined here by Senator Lindsay Graham. As you know -- the typical reminder -- if everybody can please turn off cell phones and BlackBerrys and all that kind of stuff.

GRAHAM: Including me. I'm trying to find mine, yeah.

KARL: Yeah. And they tell me it interferes with the recording equipment even if it's on silent mode. So if you could please do that.

And a reminder -- and to you as well, Senator; I know you appreciate this -- on the record.

GRAHAM: Yeah, well --

KARL: Completely on the record.

GRAHAM: Yeah.

KARL: Anything you say can and will be used.

GRAHAM: This is off the record: I hate to be on the record. (Laughter.) I had to sign a release. That's never good. (Laughter.) I literally did.

KARL: All right. Well, Senator --

GRAHAM: Did I hurt anybody? I don't know.

KARL: Senator Graham doesn't really need an introduction so I'll make it short. Of course elected to the House back in 1994. As I recall, you served on the Judiciary Committee there during a pretty significant time before being elected to the United States Senate to replace Strom Thurmond.

GRAHAM: Yeah, every 50 years we change senators -- (laughter) -- whether we need to or not.

KARL: And you've got some relevant committee assignments -- Budget, Armed --

GRAHAM: Yeah, we don't have a budget, so -- (laughter) -- it's been a good committee to be on. You don't do anything.

KARL: -- Armed Services, Homeland Security.

GRAHAM: Armed Services.

KARL: There you go. And of course we can also call you Colonel Graham -- the Air Force Reserves, served in Afghanistan.

GRAHAM: That shows you the failure of the promotion system, but I'll take it. (Laughter.)

KARL: We'll still work on it.

So, Senator Graham, before I start with some questions for you, I understand you've got some thoughts on the 2012 race.

GRAHAM: Well, you know, I want to make this not only, you know, hopefully informative, if I don't learn from you, and maybe you can, you know, gather my thoughts here and take them for what they're worth.

But, you know, I was thinking after the last debate -- did you watch the debate? Interesting. I know that people are under siege financially -- high unemployment, 10 percent unemployment at home, a mountain of debt. And these are issues that certainly are center stage, and they should be. I mean, I get it. I understand how people are hurting back here at home.

But I also understand some of the dangers, and I know you do also. That's what brings us together here. But it seems to me the contest for control of the Congress and the presidency in 2012 seems to be a competition from -- between leading from behind, isolationism and indifference.

And I think we all should be pulling for indifference -- (laughter) -- because it seems to be the least dangerous of the three options. And I really believe that. It seems to be an election cycle in 2010 -- if you watched the commercials in the 2010 cycle, you wouldn't know we're at war. And that's going to catch up with us.

And I'm very concerned about the direction my party is taking, but we'll talk about that later. But we need a healthy debate on all issues, including the role of America. I'm a Ronald Reagan Republican. I would like to shape world events rather than watch the world fall apart. That means you have to be engaged.

So the unity we had in the Cold War -- I was in Germany from 1984 to '88. And to show you had the world changes, when I left as Captain Graham in 1988 after a four-year tour, I though I would never live to see the Berlin Wall come down, right? Two years later it's down.

And that unity that we had from administration to administration, regardless of party and winning the Cold War, has clearly been lost in the war on terror, or a man-made catastrophe, whatever you want to call it.

And at the end of the day, I think that is ominous for us, and I'd like to discuss some of the things that maybe we can do. But the three challenges we do have -- high unemployment, a mountain of debt -- and the third challenge is how do you provide capacity to will of those in other parts of the world who would live in peace with us and reject radical Islam and other radical ideas?

That third component as a challenge, to me, can affect the course of humanity as much as unemployment and debt. And I would like to see our Congress and our candidates for president, and the president of the United States, lean forward more than they're doing.

So with that, I will take any questions you've got.

KARL: Well, let's start with the debate. I would like you to try to -- I know you don't speak Texan, but --

GRAHAM: South Carolina is pretty close. (Laughter.)

KARL: -- but Rick Perry said -- and I want to quote exactly regarding Afghanistan -- "It's time to bring our young men and women home soon, and as safely as we can, but it's also really important for us to have a presence there." What did he mean?

GRAHAM: Well, I think he means he's been the governor of Texas, focused on domestic issues. And his instincts are right. We do need to withdraw from Afghanistan in a logical, orderly way, right? How many people agree with that? I do.

But we also need to understand that that's the center of gravity against radical Islam, and the outcome will determine our national security interests for decades. So, when he needs to -- when he says "presence," hopefully what he's saying is an enduring relationship, politically, economically and militarily.

At the end of the day, the one thing I would advise all of our candidates to do, if you haven't spent a lot of time on this issue, which is very understandable if you're a governor, just start with this proposition: Before I make any major announcements on the stage tonight, I would at least like to talk to the generals about what to do. And I'd like to sit down and talk with some folks who have been following this.

But the idea of a presence -- here's what someone should ask him in the next debate: Do you support a strategic partnership agreement between the people of Afghanistan and the people of the United States, through their governments, that would continue to have a political, economic and military presence past 2014?

To me, that's the last card to be played, Karl. And I would hope that he and other candidates on our side would support the administration's efforts to solidify a relationship. You could have less than 30,000 troops in Afghanistan past 2014 that provide air sovereignty, counterterrorism support, intel gathering, training and embedding for the Afghan security forces in a fashion to defeat the Taliban forever. That would be the final chapter in the history of the Taliban.

That follow-on force, if constructed right could be less than 30,000, with three or four airbases throughout Afghanistan, at the request of the Afghan people. I hope the administration can deliver that.

And one final thought: The biggest problem we have in Afghanistan in many ways, within the region, is the idea that we're going to leave. The president's decision to truncate, or shorten, the second fighting season and recover all surge forces by September of next year has compromised General Allen's ability to move surge forces from the south to the east.

And I would argue, at this moment in time the Haqqani network is more of a threat to coalition forces and the stability of Afghanistan than the Taliban.

KARL: OK, I want to get to that and --

GRAHAM: Not a direct answer, but I'm --

(Cross talk.)

KARL: But let me try to come back to the -- because what Perry was saying was -- he prefaced it by saying, I agree with Jon Huntsman, and --

(Cross talk.)

KARL: And Huntsman has taken a position that we should accelerate our withdrawal out of Afghanistan. And he said we don't need -- we don't want to have 100,000 of our troops over there with a target on their backs.

GRAHAM: I think what Jon Huntsman --

KARL: This is what Perry said.

GRAHAM: -- who is a very smart guy, has got this model in the primary that I don't quite understand: You know, we're going to get to the left of Obama on Afghanistan. Because the polling is pretty strong. I'm in a pretty red state.

KARL: Yeah.

GRAHAM: When you ask people in South Carolina, should we be out in a year? Yeah, we've got problems here at home. So I think he's sort of buying into that. But this is a philosophical shift for the Republican Party I will have no part of.

After 9/11, everyone knew why we went to Afghanistan. And we've forgotten what happened when we disengaged the first time around. Now, just last Sunday should be a reminder of what happens when you leave a faraway place in the hands of very bad people and you don't monitor the situation.

So Jon Huntsman's view that we should withdraw all 100,000 troops in an accelerated fashion more than what President Obama has recommended flies in the face of every military commander's advice that I have listened to. And here's what I would say: I could not live with myself as a politician if I created an environment that would compromise our national security because of an election cycle.

And I can assure everybody here that if it was the position of the United States to run for the exits and withdraw all 100,000 troops as rapidly as possible, it would lead to chaos in Afghanistan. Every moderate voice that helped us would be killed. Iran would be the biggest winner, and Pakistan would fall apart.

So, to Jon, I appreciate your friendship, but I think you're dead wrong here. To Governor Perry, I hope you don't agree with Jon. I hope you will buy into the idea that the best way to transition is to do it in an orderly fashion where you're putting our national security interests ahead of everything else, including polling, and listen to the generals.

KARL: How much are you hearing back, you know, from the heart of red state South Carolina, though, from the very kind of tea party movement that is saying we've got to cut government spending across the board? And part of that is -- I mean, why are we spending money to help the Afghanis build schools and roads?

GRAHAM: Well, I hear that not just from the tea party.

KARL: Well, sure.

GRAHAM: I hear that from almost everybody: We're broke; we can't afford to help those people because those people will never be able to get their act together.

So, what I find is an odd combination between, you know, people on the street, sort of the "Bubba," who says, why are we over there, and some very supposedly sophisticated people in Western capitals who are so down on the Muslim world and democracy that they have almost a disdain, that this idea of representative government will never survive in certain parts of the world.

If you said that about an African nation, they would call you a racist. There is just an open embracing in some very sophisticated parts of the world that this is a hopeless endeavor to provide capacity to will of those who happen to be an Islamic nation to live peacefully through representative government. I totally, completely reject that.

Here's what I'd tell "Bubba," when he asked. I'd say, listen, I got it, pal. We're not going to write any more checks to dictators and let them waste your money. We're just not going to through money. But less than 1 percent of what we spend at the federal level is on foreign assistance.

What do you think about Israel? Oh, yeah, I like Israel. Most evangelical Christians do. Well, do you think Israel needs some help now? Oh, yeah. Well, if they don't need help now, when are they going to need it?

And this idea of killing everybody you hate as a national security strategy is not going to work. You do more damage to the Taliban and al-Qaida in certain parts of the world to find clean drinking water and help them with a school and a clinic than you would do if you bombed them.

Now, do we need schools and better drinking water at home? Yes. But to me, a combination of civilian military partnerships are the key to our national security in the 21st century. The civilian component of holding and building in Afghanistan is far more important than any follow-on military presence.

The follow-on military presence I envision is to give the edge to the Afghan National Security Forces when they engage the Taliban. But what I would like to do, Karl, is to help them create a judicial system better than the Taliban.

The Taliban has come back, not because they have planes and tanks and a navy; they come back because of poor governance and lack of security. So, if we can build up the security forces and work on a judicial system that is sometimes tribal and sometimes formal, then the next thing you know, there is no market for the Taliban.

Here is the good news -- and this is how I tell end every debate with "Bubba" -- what happens over there matters to you. Remember 9/11. And here's the good news, "Bubba." There are a bunch of people over there who don't like these bastards anymore than you do, and they're willing to fight them. And it is in our interest to help them fight them so we don't have to fight them here. And that usually works.

KARL: But are you -- I mean, could we see the kind of transformation you're saying you couldn't buy into, of the Republican Party? I mean, I did an interview with Rand Paul not long ago where he said, every dime of foreign aid -- we shouldn't be spending a penny, Israel or anywhere else.

GRAHAM: Well, you know --

KARL: Now, he's not exactly the ideological center of the party, but --

GRAHAM: He represents a --

KARL: -- but there's --

GRAHAM: He represents the libertarian thought. And I like him. We're working together to do a Social Security reform bill. I just don't buy into that. We're on different planets there. I see our national security interest equal to any other interests we have, particularly in a world where weapons exist that could annihilate our way of life.

And here's the question: What does 9/11 mean? What is the war on terror? Are we in a war? And I don't think Rand would have said that about the Germans or the Japanese, that we should stop fighting the Germans or the Japanese because people understood this was a nation state conflict and Adolf Hitler was a cruel, mean guy, and the Japanese attacked us. And nobody in America thought about disengaging.

The reason we have this debate is because this is a very hard war to understand. And a lot of people don't believe we're at war. And the question I would ask Rand: Are we are war? And if we are, who with? And what would winning mean and what would losing mean?

And I'd like to know, from libertarian's point of view, do they believe we're at war? Does it matter if we win or lose? It matters a lot to me, and I'll be glad in a minute to share with you what I think winning is and what losing would cost.

KARL: Yeah. Well, I mean, before -- I just wonder what -- it's not so much Rand but it's "Bubba," because --

GRAHAM: "Bubba" --

KARL: You had a situation with the debt ceiling debate where you had a -- where one of the biggest applause lines you could have with a key segment of your party was to say, absolutely no, we're not going to increase the debt ceiling at all, which means you're cutting 40 percent immediately out of the federal budget.

GRAHAM: Well, here's --

KARL: How do you do that without --

GRAHAM: That's not my position, and that's not the position of most tea party members. Senator DeMint, a tea party leader, had cut cap and balance. He understood, and I think we all understand, you just could not not raise the debt ceiling. You need to get the nation out of debt when you do raise the debt ceiling. It was a lost opportunity.

But here's what I would say about the other part of our party: It was our leadership who created a trigger for the supercommittee. If the supercommittee does not find 1.2 (trillion dollars) to 1.4 trillion (dollars) in cuts above the 900 billion (dollars) -- the sequestration procedures require a $600 billion cut out of defense, $600 billion cut out of Medicare providers. That is a philosophical shift of the party.

You're putting --

KARL: That was a mistake to do that.

GRAHAM: That was not just a mistake; that was a shift in my party at the highest level. Can you imagine Ronald Reagan agreeing to put the defense budget at such risk?

Having said that, I will work with Leon Panetta to find $480 billion of cuts over the next decade because everything should be on the table. That's half of the 900 billion (dollars). But, Karl, for my party to even suggest that defense spending is not the top priority of the federal government is a philosophical shift.

And to allow it to be exposed to 600 billion (dollars) on top of the 400-plus (billion dollars) we're trying to do is irresponsible, and I will push back. A counterattack is coming within our party. If there are any Republicans here who are into this stuff, stay tuned. We're going to push back.

Here's what I'm going to do with the triggers: I'm going to try to replace the triggers with an across-the-board cut if the committee fails to do its job. It would be about 5 percent or less for the entire -- all of us should pay if the committee can't do their job. And that protects defense and Medicare and makes everybody chip -- you know, put some skin in the game. And a 10 percent reduction in congressional pay, because if we're going to ask --

KARL: That's not exactly going to get you $1.2 trillion, though. (Laughter.)

GRAHAM: It does get -- the combination does, and a 5 percent across-the-board cut of the government gives you 1.2 (trillion dollars), and the 10 percent pay gets you some votes because people are afraid not to vote against cuts. (Laughter.) It's just all politics.

So, anyway, that's what I'm going to do. There's going to be a counterattack coming. But this debate in the party is just not -- Rand Paul is a fine fellow, and I don't know what he would say if you asked him, are we at war, and does it matter if we win or lose? I'm dying for someone to ask that question.

Governor Perry I think is going to be a leading candidate on the Republican Party side. And I do believe that his view of foreign policy is going to evolve over time, and you're going to see him emerge as someone who's going to listen to the generals.

And back to the Bubba guy. You know, you can -- they clap when we need to get out of this and we need to do that, but I can get them clapping too. (Laughter.) You know what I can say? You know, that bin Laden guy, aren't you glad he's dead? And everybody like him, don't you want them to follow him to the gates of hell?

If they hurt our country, if they come our way, we're going to stop reading them their Miranda Rights. We're not going to put them in federal court. We're going to follow them to the gates of hell. And when it comes to Iran getting a nuclear weapon, doesn't that bother you? Yeah. Well, don't you think we should do something about it? Yeah.

"Bubba" is a little schizophrenic -- (laughter) -- just like everybody else in the country. It is how you phrase the question.

KARL: OK, so let's get back to Afghanistan. The president -- by the end of the year we'll have the 30,000 surge troops gone.

GRAHAM: Right.

KARL: By September of next year he's going to have the troops that President Bush put over -- basically another 20(,000), 24,000 out by September of next year.

GRAHAM: Right.

KARL: Is this really possible?

GRAHAM: Well, I think as the policy I wish it would be reconsidered. The goal is to win, right? The goal -- nobody wants to say "winning." You either win or lose in these things. The goal is to be successful.

President Obama, to his credit, went the road less traveled. He did put troops in at a time we needed them. And I hate the fact that we've been in Afghanistan 10 years and we've only had the right configuration for about 18 months to two years. Why is that?

KARL: Under a Democratic president.

GRAHAM: Yes. I'll here to tell you, President Obama, you did the right thing adding capacity when it was short, because the Taliban had come back. The question is, why? Lack of security, never enough troops, and poor governance.

So, we've got a problem with the Karzai government. Everyone understands that. But the truth of the matter is Iraq deviated resources from Afghanistan. Whether you agree with Iraq or not, I thought we needed to win, and we're on the verge of winning. We'll talk about that in a minute.

But the truth of the matter is, the configuration we needed to really turn things around in Afghanistan didn't exist two years ago. The moment he announced a surge, he also said, we'll begin to withdraw in the summer of 2011. That is a -- it's almost like Governor Perry. He knows instinctively that people are tired of being in Afghanistan. So he wants to give a nod, yeah, I'm going to bring troops home. But he also knows instinctively we just can't abandon the place.

So when you put his two statements together, he's trying to talk to two different audiences. So is President Obama. When I asked him about the desire to begin withdrawal the moment you announce; isn't that contradictory message -- and you know what he told me in the Oval Office? I can't lose the whole Democratic Party.

Which was a very honest answer, but what I'm telling him -- in South Carolina, being subcommittee chairman of the foreign ops account is about as popular as a toothache. (Laughter.) That's not the road for, you know, electoral popularity, but is something I'm interested in.

So, at the end of the day, I thought it was a mistake to announce that we're going to withdraw the summer before the troops got there. The 2014 Lisbon announcement reset and it was a great corrective action that we're going to stay to 2014, but here we are, recovering the surge forces before the second fighting season is over, and you've got the whole debate re-ignited again, and it went to Uzbekistan. What are you all doing? Are you leaving?

So we've created the debate all over again because of the surge forces, and how do you end that debate? Announced this year or the beginning of next year, a strategic partnership agreement that would have an enduring relationship between the United States and the Afghan government and people, politically, economically and militarily, letting the world know the Taliban is finished.

That ends this debate. And I will support the administration if the go down that road, which means I have to go home to people in South Carolina and say, we're bringing our troops home in an orderly fashion, but we're going to leave some behind because we must.

KARL: OK, you were just in Afghanistan. You were in Uzbekistan. You saw we -- obviously we had this attack in Kabul, basically 20 hours bringing the most secure section of Kabul to a standstill.

GRAHAM: Right.

KARL: The ambassador suggested it was minor league stuff, not the Tet Offensive. But this -- let's face it; this was 11 guys that would go over there --

GRAHAM: The first question is, who was it? Who organized it? And the purpose is for us to talk about it, right? The anniversary of 9/11, we're not gone; we're still here.

The truth of the matter is the surge has worked. The Taliban are definitely on their back foot. We have really put a hurting on them militarily. Governance is slightly better.

Afghan security force development is at an all-time high. General Caldwell is the unsung hero of this war. He is training the Afghan army and police. And there has been a dramatic turnaround in their capability, their illiteracy. We've got a plan now I think will produce quality troops. You've just got to be patient.

But this attack was probably inspired by the Haqqani network. There are three threats to the Afghan --

KARL: Inspired or carried out by?

GRAHAM: Just -- if it's not in the paper, I can't tell you. So let's just put it this way: There are three threats to our success in Afghanistan, to the sovereignty of the Afghan government and to the future of the Afghan people: the Taliban, the Haqqani network and poor governance. If you had to rank them, I would put the Taliban third right now.

KARL: So, if it's Haqqani network, with direct support from Pakistan --

GRAHAM: Leon Panetta was an outstanding choice. Let me be bipartisan here for a moment. This is an outstanding national security team put together by President Obama. I hope he will listen to them. Secretary Clinton is a great choice to be our secretary of stat; Leon Panetta, great follow on from Secretary Gates; General Petraeus, CIA director. Good national security team.

Leon Panetta said he's fed up. When he got confirmed, I asked Leon a question: What do I do, Leon, when I go back home to a funeral of a young South Carolinian who died in Afghanistan from an IED attack and we all know that the material came from Pakistan, or that the young American is killed in Afghanistan by a coordinated attack by the Haqqani network, that's being supported Miranshah, 30 clicks inside the Pakistan border by the SI? What do I tell them?

That was the answer. That's a very hard question. I think Leon is communicating to the Pakistani government and to their military in yesterday's news article that we're going to provide an answer to that question. And the answer would --

KARL: What did he mean by that?

GRAHAM: -- would include all options. Just stay tuned. We've had it. Enough's enough. We know what's going on over there.

Miranshah is a city inside of Pakistan in the eastern part, right on the border, 30 clicks inside of Pakistan, where the Haqqani network openly operates, in Balochistan, the southern part of the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, we don't have fly-over rights.

But that's where all the ammino (ph) nitrate -- ammono (ph) nitrate, whatever that substance is that's coming from Pakistan to Afghanistan, and it is very difficult for our military commanders and our diplomats to sit on the sides and watch. It's going to be even more difficult for the Congress.

So the question for this audience, what should the Congress do regarding aid to Pakistan? There is going to be a real surge to cut it all off. My view about Pakistan is you can't trust them but you can't abandon them. So I've got to find some construct with Senator Leahy that will get enough bipartisan support to have a rational engagement with Pakistan. And since we don't have 100,000 troops there, our military and civilian aid is the leverage we do have.

So I'm struggling, and I would like some input from this audience, privately or publicly, about what to do, because a rational person cannot ignore this problem any longer because it is a threat to Afghanistan, it's a threat to coalition forces. It must be dealt with. Civilian control of the military in Pakistan, if it ever is going to exist, it should begin to exist now.

KARL: But Panetta is suggesting military action against Pakistan.

GRAHAM: I don't know what Leon's suggesting, but if you're listening, Leon, you'll have one Republican and I'm sure a lot more. Even "Bubba" will help us here. If you feel that that is the appropriate way to deal with this threat, some type of military action, please let me know before you do it. I don't want to read about it in the paper. But all options should be on the table.

We've reached a point now after this attack that it's going to be very difficult to ignore the problem. And to our Pakistan -- there are friends and enemies within Pakistan. It is a mixed bag. General Kayani -- you know, I like General Kayani, but I'm trying to tell him, as a friend, that we're reaching a point here in Congress where we can't ignore it.

And the last thing I want to do is -- because things are not perfect -- disengage. If we can't help Afghanistan because they have a corrupt government, then that, as a reason, is not a very well thought-out reason to disengage, because our national security interests are very much compromised when we disengage.

So if you're using the fact that there's corruption all over Afghanistan to withdraw, you're not understanding what are national security interests are, in my opinion. If you use the emotional desire to punish Pakistan because of all their inequities and misjudgments and open hostile acts toward us, you need to think about what is in our long-term national interest.

And is that debate going on? Are we having a debate in the Congress about this? Is anybody running for -- is the president himself -- what is the strategy for the "Arab spring"? You know, every 6,000 years you get a chance at a free, fair election in Egypt. (Laughter.) Let's take advantage of it.

KARL: Or wait for the next one. (Laughter.)

GRAHAM: Don't let the moment pass. It might be a while before it comes back.

KARL: We're going to go to questions. Just a very quick one on aid.

GRAHAM: Yes.

KARL: Given what's going to be happening up in New York next week regarding the Palestinian Authority, if --

GRAHAM: Well, I just met with the Turkish ambassador. Turkey is a great hope and a great disappointment all at the same time.

This dispute between the Turkish government and the Israeli government about the flotilla incident, I can understand it at all levels. The apology -- you know, when you start insisting on apologies in the mid-issue, you're probably going down an unsustainable road -- (laughter) -- because it would take about a thousand years for everybody to apologize.

So what I'm trying to do is say, OK, the Turkish prime minister is a great friend, I think, of the "Arab spring." You've got to make a decision: Do you want to be the most popular person in Turkey or do you want to leave? I made a decision not to do everything in my political interests as a South Carolina politician and try to lead in an area I'm interested in.

So, it is my hope that he will knock some of the rhetoric down because the Israeli response is that Gaza voluntarily abandoned -- or, you know, withdrawn from -- has been a source of great threat to our country, and that we're trying to isolate it, and that the U.S. citizen who lost their life, I regret that. And Israel is not blameless in every area or any -- you know, they're -- they've got responsibilities too. But I don't fault Israel for the blockade. And, to an American citizen, if you engage in running that blockade after Israel's been hit by 10,000 rockets from Gaza, you do so at your own risk.

So I told the Turkish prime minister, I'm not asking the Israeli government to apologize to me for killing an American citizen. I'm urging American citizens to act responsibly. I understand politics. If statehood is granted by the United Nations, it would be a great setback, in my view. Because it puts people in camps they don't need to be in.

I do believe the House of Representatives would cut off all aid immediately to the Palestinian Authority if statehood is granted. And who are you recognizing? I believe in a two-state solution. I'm sure everybody here does, right? A two-state solution? Would you provide aid to a Palestinian Authority where Hamas, unrepentant, controls the security forces? I wouldn't.

So we don't know what we're recognizing. It's a political gesture that's going to really impede progress.

So Karl, we're on the verge, as the Congress here, making some major decisions about Pakistan and the Palestinian Authority in terms of our aid, engagement. And I'm very worried we don't have a strategy about who to say yes to and what to say no to.

KARL: Well, at least it's crystal clear where the presidential candidates stand on all of this.

GRAHAM: (Chuckles.) That's right. That's right.

KARL: We'll go -- we'll go to questions. And if you can please tell us your name and affiliation and wait for the mic to get to you.

Let's go back here. Right. Right.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Mark Jacobsen (sp). I'm the former deputy NATO senior civilian representative in Afghanistan. Senator, it's good to see you under nicer accommodations here.

GRAHAM: Thank you. Thank you for your service. I've met you several times.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

I think I disagree a bit in terms of your concern on where we're going in terms of recovering the surge. Once the surge of 33,000 troops is recovered, it still leaves about 68,000 U.S. troops there, almost a hundred thousand NATO troops overall.

But where I am very concerned is actually in terms of the civilian component of this counterinsurgency campaign. And given your role as the foreign ops chair, I wonder, how do we make sure that Congress and the American people understand that organizations such as USAID --

GRAHAM: Absolutely.

QUESTIONER: -- are in the front lines there, and then in terms of shaping the international environment, in terms of Pakistan, the solution, as I'm sure that Director Petraeus and General Allen and -- would say, that the military may not be on the front lines for this one as much as USAID is.

GRAHAM: And put me in that camp. Let me tell you about our -- you know, I -- we do have a difference about recovering the surge by September. Image, momentum matters. Do you agree with that? perception matters. Perception can become reality. I don't see a military benefit or a political benefit -- well, maybe political, but I don't see a military benefit that would say, not wait the whole year out. It has created a debate that's been unhealthy. And it's created a substantive problem for General Allen.

And General Petraeus said, we're going to have guys fighting as they get on the airplane.

You asked me a good question. How do we get all these people out of Iraq?

QUESTIONER: Forty-six thousand troops --

GRAHAM: Well, the reason I didn't want to create this debate all over again about our commitment of staying is because it does undercut us. And what has been lost is that every NATO nation is following suit. Every major NATO power is saying, we're leaving too.

Now, leaving and abandonment are different. We're not going to abandon the place. But perception is we are. And we need to change that. that's where a strategic agreement comes.

But militarily, the surge forces that were in the south have not been used to full effect in the east. We don't have the combat ratio, the COIN ratio that we need in the east. And the plan was to move them up next summer. That's been lost; we got to reconfigure.

But your point about the military component of this is absolutely essential. And I've been trying to tell anybody that will listen, clear, hold and build is a phased strategy. And as the clearing and the holding become more real, that's when the civilians become more important. I would argue that it has taken us about 10 years, but we're close to getting it right.

One area of personal interest -- I go as Colonel Graham, work on detainee operations, rule-of-law development. I was going for years. And there would be every alphabet suit, agency in the world, well-meaning, trying to provide capacity.

We don't have a plan. Where does formal justice begin and where does tribal justice become acceptable? I don't care who gets the goat into town. I really don't. If they want to have a meeting and say, you get the goat, everybody says he should get the goat -- fine with me. I don't want to do a rape case through the tribal system.

So we're trying to find that line. But Holbrooke, to his undying credit, created a process that's borne about really good results. On the rule-of-law front, we created an ambassador for the rule of law, with a military deputy. The civilians are in charge; the military is the second in command. And it's a partnership. They have the council of deputies, like the National Security Council. They meet every week and they vote, USAID, Department of Justice, Department of State, U.S. Marshals, international organizations who are helping rule-of-law development. And they vote on what projects they should fund, what gets you the best bang for your buck.

So everybody's in a room, led by a civilian, with a military deputy, making rational decisions. And what I did, with Secretary Clinton's approval and support, is I gave them funding authority. Look at it as a CERP account for the State Department, where they could take $25 to 50 million and actually execute on their decisions.

So what I'm trying to do with my colleagues is say that the foreign operations account is not subject to no oversight or reduction. We've reduced it. The House number of 39 billion (dollars), the Senate number of 44.6 (billion dollars), we've got to get this right. If we reduce that account much greater than we're anticipating, it's going to take off the table holding and building. A lot of holding and building is in the OCO account, overseas contingency operations account. We're now understanding that the State Department, USAID, Department of Justice component -- the military gets it better than the politicians -- is equivalent to any brigade.

So we've now moved civilian funding into the OCO account. Senator Leahy and I did that. That is a major shift, because it's protected from budget cuts.

One final thought: Africa Command. President Bush was smart to create a military command in Africa. It doesn't have a home. It's in Stuttgart, Germany. That's not a good place for Africa Command.

KARL: (Chuckles.)

GRAHAM: We actually would like to move it in Africa. And what I would -- what I'd want to do, Karl, with this command is think outside the box and build on the things we've learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. What about a military command with a very small military force? Counterterrorism, General Ham said we need more CT special forces here, because Africa is where the enemy's going. When you kick their ass in Afghanistan and Iraq, they move. Well, they're moving to the Horn of Africa.

Stay ahead of them. Counterterrorism is one way to stay ahead of them. Another way to stay ahead of them is build capacity in those countries to the -- to the will that exists to say no to extremism. So Africa Command will have, in my view, a civilian deputy. And most of the resources in Africa Command will be partly training of African militaries, but a lot of it will be helping the African people develop health care programs, rule-of-law programs, economic opportunity so we can get there before the enemy does. It's a -- to me, the future of operations in the 21st century is not jointness between the Air Force and the Navy. It's between the civilian and the military component.

On the military side, Karl, when I go in to report for duty at Task Force 435, detainee operations, the head of it last time was a Navy admiral, and now it's a general. But in that office, there is every branch of the service represented, and you can't tell the difference between a Guard member and a reservist, an Air Force lawyer and a Navy lawyer.

We've made great strides. The Congress is the slowest group to get this, because it's unpopular to talk about.

KARL: Especially -- protecting that budget's not going to be easy.

Yes.

GRAHAM: It's not going to be easy. But we're not going down without a fight.

QUESTIONER: Senator -- (inaudible) -- de Borgrave, CSIS. Some traveling members of the Iraqi government have been saying in various Western capitals that today Iran has more influence in Iraq than the United States. And a couple of weeks ago we read that 40 -- there was 43 attacks in widely scattered parts of Iraq by al-Qaida. I wonder what your reaction is to that.

GRAHAM: Very good question. I don't buy into that premise, because the average Iraqi remembers their engagement with Iran, and it wasn't very satisfying. They also are not really keen on us.

But the Persian/Iranian influence will -- nationalism trump(s) religious affiliation. I think Maliki showed us, when he went into Basra, that he was willing to transcend Shia religious ties and become an Iraqi nationalist.

But your point is well taken. Vacuums are filled. And if we do not send the signal to the Iraqi people themselves that we will honor or request a stay, then I think we're going to -- the biggest beneficiary of uncertainty in Iraq is Iran. They will fill a vacuum. There's natural alliances in Iran -- between Iraqis. I can actually live with that. But the Iranians are trying to destabilize Iraq. Because if you're an ayatollah in Iran, your worst friggin' nightmare is a representative government in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So they're not going to go quietly. So to the administration, where did you come up with 3,000? I don't think that's their policy, but that number's been floated for a reason. You know -- you've been around a while. Do you think people just say 3,000 and won't deny --

KARL: I can tell you for a fact that --

GRAHAM: -- that it's 3,000? What are the missions? You resource missions; you don't pick numbers. We need to provide further training.

Now, this is all contingent on the Iraqis' wanting us to stay. And I think the reason they told us that is they're trying to tell us, we actually want your help. This is not an Iraqi problem right now. This is an American problem. The administration has not come up with a coherent plan, in my view, to transition to 2012. The president made a promise: All troops out by the end of 2011. And we all understood that was a promise with a wink. No person who's followed this closely ever believed that we would just leave Iraq January 2012. That would be crazy. Always --

KARL: Of course, it's honoring a commitment made by President Bush.

GRAHAM: President Bush, when he did the deal, got -- it was a political deal. The Iraqis couldn't sustain an (unlended ?) presence. When he did it, it gave you enough time to have the surge work. 2012 in 20 -- 2009 seemed forever. 2012 is not forever now.

So now we're in the summer -- I mean, the fall of 2011, and the Iraqis have had a problem asking, but that is behind them. They're willing to receive U.S. assistance, in four areas: sovereignty; air sovereignty -- training their air force, training their Navy; continue training the Iraqi security forces; intelligence gathering. There is no group in the world better in intelligence gathering than the United States. When you pick up a phone in Basra and call Tehran, we'll know about it. The Revolutionary Guards are trying to come back in and destabilize the country.

That whole ISR platform over Baghdad, we don't need to dismantle that. The Iraqis can't replace it. The Kurdish-Arab dispute line, if you ask me the two trip wires for Iraq, one would be the south becoming a satellite state of Iran. The other most likely conflict would be between the peshmerga forces and the Iraqi security forces.

And to the administration's credit, they've created a brigade called the lions' brigade. In that brigade they have peshmerga troops, Iraqi security forces and American soldiers. And they work together as a team. And I went to visit. The generals tell me that you need 5,000 follow-on troops to referee the Article 140 boundaries. And when you add up the other things I've said, I don't know how in the world you can get by with less than 10,000 troops. And politically, the difference between 3(,000) and 10(,000) is marginal. Anybody that doesn't like troops is going to hate 3(,000) as much as 10(,000).

Operationally and national-security-wise, it is -- difference between night and day. I don't buy the idea that the Iranians have more influence than us yet. I do buy the idea that if we abandon Iraq they could. And this is where I get Bubba. He don't like the Iranians. And he don't want them to get stronger. (Chuckles.)

Thank you.

QUESTIONER: And the al-Qaida attacks?

GRAHAM: The al-Qaida attacks are, you know -- what did Leon say? We have strategically defeated al-Qaida.

KARL: Nearing strategic defeat.

GRAHAM: Nearing, OK. Was that -- how many people think that was too bold?

How many people think that was about right?

OK. I understand. I'm sort of "about right."

What's happened in the last decade has been devastating for al-Qaida. The people of Iraq and Afghanistan have rejected extremism. They've rejected the Taliban.

Have you been to Kabul? You can't -- I mean, it's unbelievable. Now, most of it's our money. I don't know how sustainable this is. It's like going to Myrtle Beach. Man, there are wedding halls everywhere. (Laughter.) It's crazy, you know? You got a guy --

KARL: (Inaudible) -- Nascar Cafe?

GRAHAM: Yeah, you got a guy crossing the road with a -- on a donkey and a cell phone, with a Mercedes and a herd of sheep. It's the most fascinating --

KARL: Just like Myrtle Beach.

GRAHAM: -- most fascinating place I've ever been. I love it. I really do like the Iraq -- the Afghan people.

But Iraq and Afghanistan populations have said no. What is the Arab Spring all about? Is it tied to the war on terror? I would argue that the Arab Spring is a natural progression of the demise of radical thought. And Arab Spring is directed at old allies, and that's hard for us, because these old allies helped us against radical Islam, because it was a threat to them. But their people were dealt with in a very unacceptable way.

Condoleezza Rice says, any time that you fight extremism at the -- you know, try to express moderation, you're probably going to lose. She's right. So my point is, quite frankly, that al-Qaida is being marginalized by the people in the region. And the only way they can possibly regenerate is if those on the sideline keep hedging their bets and if the infrastructure we've created gets nibbled away at because of indifference.

Leading from behind doesn't sound good. Isolationism: terrible. Indifference has its own price. And I think we're in the land of indifference.

Here's the good news. If we pour it on for another 10 years -- and that means different things in different places -- we can change the world. If we help the Egyptian people before it's too late have a free and fair election and follow-on aid so the Muslim Brotherhood doesn't dominate, if we can take Tunisia, follow on Gadhafi with something better, then these young people, who are the best -- see, the young people in Iraq are not aligned with us or the Iranians. They're aligned with our way of life more than the Iranian way of life.

We're 15 years away in Afghanistan. We don't need a hundred thousand troops for 15 years. We're 15 years away -- one generation -- from people who have not been tied to the fights of the '80s, who see and want different things. That's true all over the Mideast. We're in a race between the forces of extremism, different versions of it, to win over this generation.

Winning the war on terror to me is as follows. Where there is will to fight and defeat extremism, it begins to obtain capacity, that when we withdraw, that the military forces left behind will be de minimus and that the people in the country in question will have the capacity militarily to defeat extremism: When a politician embraces a moderate thought, they don't get killed; they win the election.

The Ku Klux Klan was a force of extremism that in the 1920s marched through the streets of Washington, cheered by a lot of people. The governor of Indiana was a Klan candidate. The reason the Klan was marginalized is not just because of some brave judges; that's true. It's because the American people, who desired to say no, believed they could say no -- people in my part of the world. And that's exactly what's going on in the Mideast.

And I know being broke, having a mountain of debt that's going to wipe us off in a different way if we don't watch it, is paramount in our thinking. And my belief of providing will to capacity is not popular, because it costs more, it takes longer, it's deadlier. But the payoffs are enormous.

And if we will, in this next decade, embrace this Arab Spring, continue the fight against al-Qaida -- but you got to do more than kill bin Laden. That provides a certain level of safety. The safety that I'm trying to achieve for our nation is to make sure that those who want to say no to these forces have the ability. And it is in our national security interest to engage at every level. Sometimes it's a USAID program. Sometimes it's a special forces guy in the middle of the night. Sometimes it's just a word said at the right time.

What about the Persian spring? 2009, there was a moment in time that the young Persians in Iran were asking for the same thing of Arab Spring. Words matter. Words can be more effective than any other weapons system. Just remember Ronald Reagan, the Pope, and Margaret Thatcher.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. I'm Maria MacFarland (sp) with Human Rights Watch. Senator, you were recently in Uzbekistan and were quoted yesterday, I believe, saying that you support a waiver on human rights conditions that currently apply to all assistance to Uzbekistan. I understand the interest the U.S. has in going through Uzbekistan and having transit agreements.

GRAHAM: And this is a very good question and discussion.

QUESTIONER: But it's a very difficult issue precisely because of what you were discussing with the Arab Spring. Uzbekistan is one of the most repressive governments in the region. It's brutal; it has a population that hates it; and it's hollow. It's not going to last. President Karimov is elderly. There's no succession plan. So what's going to happen in a few years when you have an angry population that thinks the U.S. provided military support and backed that government?

KARL: And I believe you've said in our conversation, no more checks to dictators.

GRAHAM: Right. Right. Very, very good question. And this is the dilemma repeating itself in Uzbekistan. I met with the president. The last delegation to visit Uzbekistan was in 2005. It was Senator McCain and Lindsey Graham. They kicked us out. We were meeting with the people -- the group that was attacked in the -- there were -- some people killed, 2(00) to 500, nobody really knows. We were meeting with the leadership of that group, and we got kicked out.

Six years later, I go. I'm the first member of Congress to go to Uzbekistan since 2005. I met with the president. The reason I went is because the administration asked me to go. I've got a letter from Leon Panetta. I got a letter from General Petraeus, who was then general, now CIA director; General Allen, asking me to urge the Congress to grant a waiver on about $2 million worth of equipment that would be useful in their efforts to fight counternarcotics and would start a new relationship with the Uzbek military, the Uzbek police force and the government.

Over the last six years, things -- I have a little different view. There are human rights abuses, but they're wanting to be back into the world community. We need a northern transportation route. If this is pulled off and we can get a new agreement with the Uzbekistan government, we could reduce by 50 percent what flows through Pakistan.

So I am supportive of the waiver. I am not supportive of disengaging the monitoring. But to me this is a wise decision at an appropriate time. It would allow Uzbekistan to come back into the world community. It would also allow us to support Afghanistan with a new partner. And it is a view that is encouraging in this regard: I don't think the Uzbekistan government would be doing this if they thought we were losing. Just think about that. They're willing to help us in Afghanistan in an unprecedented way. That means they want to get back into the game. And it means that they see things changing in Afghanistan.

So this is a moment in time where I'm going to take a risk. And I'm going to support the administration's ability to get a waiver, very small amount of money, quite frankly, as a test of where are we going there. I think it's in our national security interest to engage Uzbekistan, grant this waiver, get the transportation routes, and not abandon who we are and push them when it comes to human rights abuses. I have a little different view of the construct with -- inside the country.

But it's a very good question. And that's the -- that's kind of the debate we need to be having.

KARL: Who asked you to go?

GRAHAM: Secretary Clinton called. She asked. And when she calls, don't -- we are on the record; I don't do everything she says, but I'm inclined -- (laughter) -- to help her where I can -- (chuckles) -- because she is so smart.

KARL: We only have a few minutes left. We'll see if we can get a couple quick ones in.

Yes.

QUESTIONER: Hi. I'm David Beckman (ph) from Bread for the World. You're exceptionally knowledgeable about the -- not only defense but diplomacy and development. And I really appreciated what you said about the state foreign-ops money. Could you speak specifically about programs like PEPFAR and the Millennium Challenge Account and Feed the Future? Bush -- President Bush has been in town this week saying we've got to continue leadership on those programs too.

GRAHAM: Well, Josh -- the -- you know, the thing I like about politics, the human rights -- you know, during the Detainee Treatment Act, you all were great. I do believe in American values, and -- but we live in a very complicated world.

So Josh Bolten with Bono -- is that it? Do you say Bono? I don't listen to any music after 1970, so. (Laughter.) I'm a Motown guy. If he sings Motown songs, I told him I would listen to what he had to say. But he's a fascinating guy. Puts his money where his mouth is.

I met with Bill Gates yesterday; trying to eradicate polio. We're within five years of doing that.

So I'm going to take a delegation over in January to Africa of Mike Johanns, Johnny Isakson -- Republicans who've been involved in Africa. And trying to get President Bush. And Josh is going to meet us over there -- to just really let the Congress know how you secure the world and advance our interests. And what President Bush did in Africa is not only appreciated by the African people, we are broke. We have more challenges than you can shake a stick at. But I can tell you, the money that we're spending, which is one-half of 1 percent, does advance our national security interests. And it gets back to your question. Even though we're broke, I'm glad we're still helping people. The day we stop that, the day we can't afford that, is the day we've lost a lot of who we are. And the amount of money in terms of the budget is being looked at hard. We've reduced foreign operations spending. We're trying not to give money -- he's not going to get the money. We're going to provide equipment that we're going to monitor that will help us secure the Afghan-Uzbek border.

So I am making a conscious effort to try to get members on my side of the aisle to understand the value of the foreign operations account when it comes to our national security.

KARL: You're going to need to talk to Bubba (ph), too.

Let's do one more question. Barbara.

GRAHAM: Me and Bubba have a pretty good relationship.

QUESTIONER: (Chuckles.) Thanks, John (ph). Barbara Slavin from the Atlantic Council, recovered journalist.

I wanted to probe a little bit more on the Haqqani network. What is the motivation, do you think, for these attacks? Is there anything going on in terms of a diplomatic process? We have Mark Grossman (sp), who's supposed to be organizing things. We have the 10th anniversary of the Bonn conference coming up.

GRAHAM: Well, they won't --

QUESTIONER: Is there anything going on to arrange a sort of political or regional approach that would take away their motivation to carry out these attacks?

GRAHAM: How many -- very good --

KARL: And you've got about 30 seconds, so. (Chuckles.)

GRAHAM: OK, very good question.

How many people believe that if Pakistan got involved on their side of the border, this whole thing would be over in six months in Afghanistan? (Chuckles.) I do.

The Haqqani network wants something we can't give them. They're the mob. They're not ideological people. They have aligned themselves with ideological people. They don't want to take over Kabul. They just want to run their part of Afghanistan the way they want to run it, and they want to be on the other side of the border.

So it's just like, could you do a deal with Al Capone? No.

Now, there are parts of the Taliban you can reconcile with. Mullah Omar is not one of the parts.

So the strategy with the Haqqani network is to -- is to get the foot soldier to understand it's better to go to a lawful form of life -- of livelihood than it is to be involved in a terrorist organization. If you could get the Pakistanis to deny the safe haven to the Haqqani network and Mirim Shah (ph) -- we're pounding them on our side of the border.

GRAHAM: So I don't know -- see, it's not like they have a diplomatic corps. You know, it's literally dealing with the mob. You know, I don't know how you cut a deal with them.

I do understand how you can reconcile with the Taliban. You've got to do it with those who will renounce terrorism, abide by the constitution, and live within the constructs of a political system and try to get their way there.

And here's the good news. If they form a political party toward the Taliban, they're not going to do very well.

Thank you all for coming.

KARL: All right, Senator Graham. Thank you. A reminder: This has been on the record.

Thank you.

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