Sep 18 2019

ICYMI: Graham Talks New National Security Advisor, Iran, and More



Well the first thing I want to do is congratulate President Trump on picking Robert O’Brien to be the next National Security Advisor. Mr. O’Brien is a great choice – he understands the world for the dangerous place it is.  He’s got great negotiating skills as our hostage negotiator. I think he will be a very sound policy advisor to the President of the United States.  President Trump made a very good choice in Robert O’Brien.

As to Iran, I am hoping Secretary Pompeo can pull together a coalition that will act in a fashion to change Iran’s behavior. I support the idea of working on a regional coalition. I would like to see the President go to the United Nations and make the case that Iran’s behavior is an act of war against Saudi Arabia and must be dealt with firmly. Whether or not the United Nations would respond I do not know.

As to Iran itself. I appreciate the effort of the President to be measured when it came to the drone attack, but the point that I am trying to make is not what I think – it’s what the Iranians think.  Clearly, they have not gotten the message that this attack on the oil refinery, by any reasonable definition, is an act of war.

It is attacking the world economy, the stability of the oil markets throughout the world. In addition to attacking a refinery in Saudi Arabia, the Iranians are increasing enrichment, putting them closer to a bomb.

Why does all this matter? If the Arabs believe that the United States and our allies throughout the world will not stop Iran from marching towards a nuclear weapon, the Arabs are going to get one of their own, then you’re going to have a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. So what I’m looking for is action by the Administration and the world to restore deterrence, because when it comes to Iran’s misbehavior, we have lost deterrence.



When you look at the sanctions that President Trump announced, he hasn’t really announced details of it, but is that enough of a punishment to deter, in your mind, Iran from future attacks or do you think that this also is going to be perceived as weakness?


Well the maximum pressure campaign has worked in the sense that it has crippled the regime’s economy, it has made life difficult for the regime, but it has not changed their behavior.

So what I’m looking for is a response to restore deterrence.

If you do not deter Iran, they will move forward even more aggressively. Quite frankly, I am shocked that they were this bold and brazen after the drone attack.

The bottom line with Iran is radical Islam does not accept subtlety well. The only conclusion I think you can reach is that the Iranians, while having been hurt by the maximum pressure campaign, have not been deterred in terms of their provocative behavior and it is going to take something, I think, beyond sanctions to achieve that deterrence.



So you don’t think sanctions are enough?


In the past they haven’t been, but time will tell.  I am looking for a response that will be unequivocal.

If they don’t pay a price for bombing their neighbors oil fields, then all hell is going to break out in the Middle East. I appreciate building a coalition, I think that’s smart. I’m not looking for a response immediately, but I am looking for a response that would restore deterrence.

My belief is that additional sanctions would fall short because the sanction regime we have in place is the toughest we’ve had in the history of the problem with Iran. I give the President great credit for a maximum pressure campaign that has punished Iran, but the goal is to deter their aggressive behavior, and we are not there yet.



Given the President’s tweet yesterday about his disagreement with you on how you would characterize the drone strike, I’m curious: are you and the President on the same page when it comes to Iran?


I like the President.  I like the maximum pressure campaign, I like his foreign policy and I think he’s been a good Commander in Chief.

But I’m trying to make the point, and I’ve been consistent about this: Iran, when she withdrew from the nuclear deal, which I thought was the right decision, you need to reinforce that we’re going to stop Iranian missile venture. The point I was trying to make is the restraint shown in the measured response, which made sense to me, I’m not the audience, it’s the Iranians.

And the only conclusion you can gather is that what we did regarding the drone has not worked because this escalation is beyond what I thought they would even consider.

Imagine the thought process: after the drone attack, after seizing ships on the high seas, why don’t we bomb Saudi Arabia and see what happens? I am convinced it was an Iranian attack. So just think for a moment the thought process that goes into the leadership of Iran when they say let’s put on the table an attack on Saudi Arabia and see what they will do. I think this is a moment of testing for the region and the United States, and I hope we pass the test in the eyes of the Ayatollah.



There have been reports that Iranian officials have said that any kind of response that the United States has will be met with a response prompt and strong with broader areas than the source of the attack. Are we on the brink of a war with Iran here?


We are on the brink of a disruption in the Middle East unlike anything I’ve seen in decades. The Iranian ambitions to build a nuclear weapon have not been stopped. The JCPOA was a feeble attempt to regulate their nuclear ambitions. They are trying to build a bomb, not peaceful nuclear power. Their actions after we pulled out have been increasingly provocative. They have bombed a Saudi Arabian oil refinery. They have put the world oil market in flux, and if we do not respond to restore deterrence, only God knows what comes next.

Israel can’t afford to miscalculate when it comes to Iran. Eventually the Arabs cannot afford to miscalculate. So any threat from Iran has to be taken seriously, but you have to put on the table a response that will deter their future aggression.

If they do want a war, they will lose it. It is clear to me they’re not much worried about a war. If you were worried about a war, you wouldn’t bomb your neighbor’s refineries. So they believe there’s no stomach in the region or in the United States to confront their aggressive behavior.

Radical Islam left unattended, we know what happens. We’ve seen that movie before here at home.

When it comes to Iran, the worst is yet to come if we do not act decisively. Giving them a pass on this would be the worst possible signal we could send. Here’s what I believe: if there is an engagement between the United States and Iran, they lose, we win, and they know that.



On guns, I want to ask you, what is the latest on the President’s thinking and when will he make a decision?

Well, Attorney General Barr is trying to put together a package that I think will be a good package, we’d have an expanded background check. It wouldn’t require background check for a transfer to family and friends, but it would capture most commercial transactions in a sound way. I think the White House is very close to an agreement on the red flag grant program. So we will see in the next few days. I hope we can get enough Republican support. I hope the President will come out for a package…inaudible... in the Senate, we’ll see.



What is taking so long? Is that what this is, this process?


Yeah, I think that, I think he’s trying to find a coalition, trying to listen to people and respond to legitimate criticism. I’m okay with the President going slow and trying to find a package on gun legislation that will change behavior, that will produce results, not just a political pat on the back, but actually change things on the ground. And back to Iran, I’m hoping that we will deal with this problem now, because if we give them a pass, the worst is yet to come.