Interventionist, Warmonger, Imperial Vulture

Recently by Michael S. Rozeff: THE U.S. v. Iran

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is a leader of the pack against Iran, as depicted in this AP news article.

At this historical juncture in which aggression against Iran on the part of Israel and/or the U.S. is openly discussed, Graham is an influential congressional interventionist and warmonger. What is he thinking and saying? What are his arguments, and what are the real reasons for attacking Iran that he is not expressing?

Graham conveyed his willingness to attack Iran in his AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) speech in 2010. This was a natural forum for Graham, who is a staunch supporter of Israel and its policies, and for Israel, which would like nothing better than to tip the U.S. into war against Iran.

Graham's speech transcript is available. See here for the speech video. In that speech, Graham said

"We must not allow this Iranian theocracy to develop a nuclear weapon. It’s not enough to be determined. We have to say without any hesitation: it will not happen.

"All options must be on the table. You know exactly what I’m talking about."

He explained that he would be willing to strike militarily in order to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon:

"My belief is a military strike stopping the Iranian government from having a nuclear weapon is more effective than trying to deal with the Iranian government after they have one."

He explained that he would strike Iran very hard:

"And if military force is ever employed, it should be done in a decisive fashion. The Iranian government’s ability to wage conventional warfare against its neighbors and our troops in the region should not exist. They should not have one plane that can fly or one ship that can float."

Graham would support the destruction of Iran's infrastructure to accomplish his goals.

He would support the destruction of Iran's government and its replacement by a new government friendly to the U.S.:

"I want to talk very quickly about the world as we wish it to be…

"An Iran controlled by its people, not some theocracy. An Iran governed by someone other than a Holocaust denier – that’s the world we wish it to be. An Iran pursuing peaceful nuclear power, not a nuclear weapon."

Graham advocates that the U.S. launch a war or join Israel in a war against Iran, if the U.S. doesn't get its way via sanctions and diplomacy. He advocates this aggression even if Iran doesn't attack the U.S. or Israel and even if it does not violate any of its international treaties.

Graham is perfectly willing to bully Iran and threaten Iran with attack, even though the Iranians have a right to say what they please, no matter how politically incorrect their remarks might be; and even though they have a right to develop nuclear weapons if they want to, a right that they have not exercised. It should be noted that Iran has only conventional armed forces. It has no nuclear weaponry in production or development. It has no means of delivering such weapons even if it had them.

Graham is perfectly willing to lay down his "law" to the Iranians and use force to get his way, a bad habit of the U.S. government that has gotten worse since the fall of the USSR.

Let's look at a few of Graham's stated reasons for his aggressive posture. We will find that none of them make any sense, even if Graham believes them. The real reasons lie hidden more deeply.

One reason that Graham threatens to aggress against Iran is to prevent the possibility of future Iranian choices, such as attacking the U.S. and Israel. This is a straw man. Such attacks are highly unlikely possibilities. These choices are in no way present realities and in no way likely future Iranian choices.

The fact is that Iran is not preparing its conventional armed forces to launch an offensive war on Israel. It has no announced intention of doing such a thing. It has no strong or urgent reason to do such a thing. Iran has no casus belli. In view of Israel's nuclear arsenal, Iran would face enormous losses if it attacked Israel in the future. Iran's leaders know this.

Furthermore, Iran's armed forces cannot attack Israel. The distance between Tehran and Tel Aviv is almost 1,000 miles. The two countries are separated by Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Iran has no air force capable of flying such a distance, even one way. Its ground forces are not about to invade the intervening countries, now or in the future. That would bring the U.S. and other nations against Iran.

Any attack on Israel would surely bring the U.S. and NATO forces down against Iran.

If Iran is no serious military threat to Israel's existence, even less is it a threat to America which is thousands of miles away and whose military forces could reduce Iran to rubble. Nevertheless, Graham continually plays up Iran as a "threat". In his AIPAC speech, he even views it as a threat to Russia and China:

"Russia and China have a chance to change the course of history; I hope they will understand that a nuclear-armed Iran is just as much a threat to them as it is to us or Israel or any other tolerant person or group."

This is an absurd claim.

A second reason for Graham's anti-Iran belligerence is his unflinching alignment with the State of Israel combined with his belief that Iran is out to get a nuclear weapon in order to destroy the State of Israel:

"We must never allow anyone to drive a wedge between the State of Israel and the United States of America. It must be so. Israel’s right to exist must be acknowledged by every group in every corner of the world. That’s the way the world must be to move forward. We must not allow this Iranian theocracy to develop a nuclear weapon. It’s not enough to be determined. We have to say without any hesitation: it will not happen."

Although the context here is recognition of Israel, Graham comes close to saying that Israeli and U.S. policies cannot and must not diverge. Does he actually mean such a thing? If so, it is absurd.

Although Graham is singling out Iran here and its non-recognition of Israel, there are actually many other states that do not recognize Israel. There are apparently 26 of them, and they include Pakistan and North Korea, two nuclear powers. They also include Morocco, Algeria, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Chad, Libya, Lebanon, Yemen, the UAE, Oman, Iraq, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Graham thinks that all these states must recognize Israel's right to exist. That's "the way", in his view, for the world to move forward. This too is absurd. There are many ways to move forward. In any event, these states do not think there is only one way. Perhaps they'd recognize Israel if they got something in return or if Israel did some things in return that they want.

A third reason for Graham's antagonism toward Iran is his view of Israel as an evangelical Christian. In a long conversation at the Council of Foreign relations (CFR), there are portions in which he imagined a sub-conversation between himself and a constituent he called "Bubba". Bubba asks and Graham answers:

"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?"

I have been unable to find statistics on how many Christians there are who have different sets of beliefs about Israel, biblical prophecies, the second coming, the Book of Revelations, the anti-Christ, and other related matters. Thus, Graham may or may not be speaking accurately for "most evangelical Christians" when he says they like Israel; but he is surely speaking accurately for himself.

Graham's attachment to Israel has more basis than his version of Christian belief, whatever it may be. But to the extent that certain religious beliefs of his are the reason for shaping U.S. foreign policy toward Israel, that is wholly an inappropriate reason even on Graham's own terms, for we find next that he is against theocracy. Even if he were not against theocracy, the First Amendment contemplates the separation of church and state. Even if it did not, it is absurd to exercise political power and justify alignment with Israel or aggressive war on the basis of abstruse, controversial, ancient, prophetic or disputed biblical passages that are open to varied human interpretations.

Fourth, Graham has an antipathy to Iran's form of government, which surfaces when he refers to it as a theocracy. This occurs three times in his AIPAC speech. Actually, Graham has it wrong for Iran is a theocratic republic, as many sources say, including the CIA.

Graham wants "An Iran controlled by its people, not some theocracy." Iran has elections, just as Americans vote. It would be nice if Graham also wanted the American system to produce an America controlled by Americans, not by government people and special interest people.

Graham refers to Iran as "a theocracy that kills its own children". This inflammatory language is a reference to capital punishment for juveniles convicted of murder. I wonder if Graham knows that 31 states in the U.S. allowed executions of juveniles until 2005 when a Supreme Court case ended the practice. I wonder if he knows that in Iran, the family of a victim can grant a pardon or sometimes give clemency in return for compensation.

On this matter of theocracy, is it not noteworthy that Graham dislikes theocracy while at the same time being pro-Israel, at least in part, because of his own religious belief?

Graham feels strongly that the U.S. is at war, and this is his fifth reason:

"This is the time to show determination and resolve in the face of extremism. We are at war as a nation. September 11, 2001, everything changed about our country. We’re almost nine years down the road and some of us I think have gotten too short of a memory. We’re at war and we have to fight this war within our values."

In his conversation at CFR, Graham makes clear what his view of this "war" is. In the first place, it is not a war against al-Qaida. On that score, he says

"We have strategically defeated al-Qaida.

"What’s happened in the last decade has been devastating for al-Qaida."

It is for him a war against "extremism", which to him means a war against elements in a country that prevent moderates from running the State. Graham could easily be called an extremist himself. It could easily be alleged that he is preventing moderates from running the U.S.

Graham's war is a war for state-building. Again in the CFR article, he calls it by a conventional name, a war on terror, but to him it is a war to build moderate democracies, that is, representative governments:

"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."

To Graham, the Iranian government either consists of extremists, because it has different views on Israel than he holds, or prevents the kind of representative government that suits him, or prevents what he views as "moderates" from coming to power.

For Graham, attacking Iran is but part of a much broader, larger and expansive global agenda in which he advocates U.S. intervention in order to remake the world's political systems within and across states. He will go about creating and instituting western-style governments – by force and by using American resources. Before AIPAC, he outlines some of this vision:

"A world where moderate Muslims are celebrated, not condemned and killed. An Afghanistan where a young girl never fears the soccer stadium, but can go to school and achieve her dreams. A free and independent Iraq where Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds can settle their differences at the ballot box and through the rule of law and be an inspiration to the Mideast. A UN, a United Nations that can actually control thugs and dictators."

In his CFR talk, we find that there is no part of the world that is beyond Graham's or the U.S.'s purview. A sample:

"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…

"We’re 15 years away in Afghanistan.

"Whether you agree with Iraq or not, I thought we needed to win, and we’re on the verge of winning."

"My view about Pakistan is you can’t trust them but you can’t abandon them.

"Turkey is a great hope and a great disappointment all at the same time.

"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.

We are in these passages getting closer to the real reasons for Graham's interventionism. Why is remaking the world on Graham's agenda, and why has it been on every administration's agenda for a long time? Graham's answer is wrapped up in two words that he mentions frequently: national security.

"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."

It is not always war and killing, Graham adds. He is not always warmongering, but he warmongers when he thinks it's a suitable policy to enhance national security..

It takes very little thought to realize that nothing of what Graham recommends in the way of intervention and war has much at all to do with national security, since the U.S. already possesses the power to destroy any country in the world many times over and none of them are about to declare war against the U.S. if they have brains in their heads. In fact, one can build a strong case that every intrusion of the U.S. overseas weakens America, invites retaliation and creates long term enemies.

Why, for example, do other countries and nations not find it necessary for their security to remake the world in their image? They know that it is neither an achievable goal nor a necessary one in order that they have a reasonable degree of security. The behavior of other nations suggests that Graham's "national security" answer is an insufficient basis for U.S. interventionism.

Why would the U.S., insulated by two great oceans, find it necessary to remake Afghanistan in order to assure American safety or national security? For that is precisely what Graham asserts:

"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 [Rick Perry] needs to – when he says u2018presence,' hopefully what he’s saying is an enduring relationship, politically, economically and militarily."

Again, the mere assertion of "national security" does not answer the question: Why is the U.S. nation-building and war-making in Afghanistan? The actual answer is that entering Afghanistan, building a new state, and maintaining control through relationships is not essential to the safety of Americans.

How is American security enhanced by destroying a country's infrastructure, tearing down its government, destabilizing its society, killing and injuring large numbers of its people, and turning productive people into refugees? How is American security enhanced by attacking countries and creating civil wars, greater insecurity, lower living standards and fertile ground for religious and tribal rivalries and bombings? It isn't.

How is American security enhanced by building up unpayable debts and diverting production into the military? It isn't.

Graham's basis for unending foreign interventions and wars, which is national security, simply does not suffice. It makes no sense as an explanation or rationale for U.S. behavior at this time or anytime since 1990 and the breakup of the USSR. National security is not why the U.S. is doing intervention and war on a continual basis.

The war on terror is not the reason for attacking Iraq and Libya and not the reason for wanting to attack Iran. Terror attacks inside the U.S. are not the motivation behind U.S. foreign policy. Most of the recent terror "incidents" have been controlled and baited by the FBI. More to the point, many countries have endured severe terror attacks without being seriously harmed overall and without venturing into a series of foreign wars.

National security is simply a convenient term to fend off a real explanation of U.S. interventionism. So is the war on terror. Graham and other American leaders are reluctant to tell the American public what the U.S. is actually up to.

The military power of the U.S. is so huge compared to other nations that its national security from a purely military standpoint is not a problem that requires overseas interventions of the kind we have been seeing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. In addition, the deterrent power of the missiles and nuclear bombs of the U.S. deters the major powers.

If the military rationale for U.S. interventions is not the explanation, what is left? There are three: the economic, the religious or pseudo-religious, and the lust for power. All three fall under the heading of empire.

Under economic come the military-financial complex, oil, business interests, money, and a quest to control resources. Under the religious and semi-religious come ideas that the U.S. will save the world, or remake it, or end evil, or create a better world, or protect Israel, or create democracies. Political reconstruction of other nations is a utopian quest with semi-religious trappings. Under the lust for power come the intoxication of exercising power, glory, a place in history, changing the world, expansion of the empire, being above others, and ego gratification.

The lines that separate these are not fixed. America's leaders are willing to express or repeatedly emphasize some of these motivations and downplay others according to how they play with the public.

The fall of the Russian empire changed the opportunities open to U.S. leaders. It left a power vacuum in the world. The U.S. was left standing. The game changed radically, and this also created a vacuum of foreign policy ideas in the U.S. Both the power vacuum and the policy vacuum were not long in being filled by ideas encapsulated in a few words: sole superpower.

The idea of empire is not a popular one among members of the U.S. government because it suggests the self-serving nature of those who run the empire. Its preferred proxy is the idea of sole superpower. This carries with it dual but contradictory notions that provide flexibility to those who rule. One idea is that the sole superpower must behave responsibly, which gives an ethical cast to the use of force. The other is that the sole superpower may take unilateral initiatives, which gives a pragmatic cast to the use of force. The U.S. likes to cast itself in the role of sole superpower acting for the good of the world of course.

Clinton, Bush, and Obama are the first presidents to operate in the post-USSR environment. They have fashioned and carried out interventionist doctrines based on the sole superpower theme, a theme which was nascent or hidden in the foreign policies of prior administrations. They are really powerful emperors running an empire.

The arguments made by interventionists and warmongers like Lindsey Graham have no merit. National security is no argument, and that includes worry over weapons of mass destruction, because the U.S. is so powerful already. Furthermore, such worries are all exaggerated. Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Serbia, Pakistan, Iraq and Serbia didn't attack the U.S. Iran won't attack the U.S. unless perhaps it is driven into a corner of desperation.

The war on terror is no argument. The U.S. wars overseas create more death and destruction of innocent people, provide more opportunities for terrorism in these lands, create more political difficulties, and incite more terrorists than any reduction in terrorists could possibly counterbalance in 100 years.

U.S. interventionism is very simply explained and understood. It is the behavior of an empire.

Senator Graham, like so many in Washington, is a man of empire through and through. A man of empire is a person who implicitly or explicitly accepts the empire, believes in it, supports it, defends it, and wants to extend it, even beyond the point of rationality. Empire organizes his thought, his world, his goals and aspirations and his political framework. The extent to which a man of empire fuses empire with values, religious beliefs, acquisition of gains and other motives varies personally. Empire is the means by which a man of empire traverses the unbridgeable moral chasm between peace and war.