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Graham Defends Military Surge in Iraq Despite Calls for Pullout

July 17, 2007 at 6:20 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: As the Senate debates Iraq into the night, we continue our series of conversations about what Iraq might look like after the U.S. leaves. We launched this in the belief that this view of the future informs decisions today.

Tonight, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a member of the Armed Services Committee, he’s just back from his seventh trip to Iraq and supports the troop buildup there. I spoke with him a short while ago.

Senator Graham, thank you very much for joining us. Let me begin by asking you, what is your vision for the future of Iraq? What would you like that country to look like down the road?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), South Carolina: Well, my hope would be that, when we leave Iraq militarily, that we will leave behind a functioning government, not a utopia, but a place where Sunni, Kurds and Shias can meet in Baghdad and other places throughout the country and find a way to solve their problems without violence, that the rule of law will replace the rule of gun, that my biggest hope for Iraq is that, when you find yourself in a courtroom in Iraq, it will be about what you did and not who you are.

Now, these are high ideals. We haven’t achieved them all here at home, but really my basic hope is that Iraq will become a momentum-builder, in terms of tolerance versus extremism, that the government we leave behind and the people we leave behind accept each other’s differences and consider that a national strength, that the rule of law will be entrenched, and that an elected, representative democracy will take hold, and people will have a way to solve their differences without exhorting to violence and extremism, and it would create momentum for other people who share that vision in neighboring countries.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And do you believe that can happen if U.S. troops leave within the next year, which is when most Americans and now a majority of the United States Senate is saying they should leave?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: You know, one of the things — this is a good question. One of the things that I think people at home are asking themselves, “If we stayed there forever, would the Iraqi people be capable of coming together, and setting their religious differences aside, and live together in peace and tolerance?”

I think, in South Carolina, Judy, there are people getting shaky along the lines of, “I’ve lost confidence, not in the troops, but the Iraqi people.” I have not lost confidence in the moderates in Iraq to win the day. And if we left now or said that we’re going to leave in May of ’08, no matter what happens on the ground, then I think the likelihood of these moderates being able to survive is greatly diminished, because the enemy, once they hear the date for withdrawal, will know exactly what they need to do to destroy reconciliation, and reconciliation has been slow to come.

So I think a hard deadline for withdrawal empowers your enemy, and it will reset the negotiations in Iraq. If I’m an Iraqi politician, and I believe that America is going to be gone at a date certain, no matter what happens on the ground, I’m probably going to make political deals differently than if I believed I would have America as an ally to get me through the counter-surge of extremism I know is coming my way.

"A functioning democracy"

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Senator, I want to ask you why you can be certain that would happen, because, for example, we had Senator Levin, your Democratic colleague, on the program last night. He says his belief is that the U.S. has to leave in order to put the incentive, the pressure on Iraqis themselves to do the kinds of things you're talking about.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: And he's a dear friend, and that really is the ultimate issue that we part on. I think Senator Levin has as his goal very similar to what my goal is: a functioning democracy unique to Iraq, where the rule of law will replace the rule of gun. And he believes that the Iraqis are dependent upon us, and they're putting off these hard decisions because we're propping them up.

Here's what I believe. I believe that the moderates need us now more than ever, that al-Qaida has come into Iraq because they know the consequences of a democracy taking hold. And it's quite the opposite. If I'm raising my hand to be a judge in Iraq -- which is the future of Iraq that I would have for Iraq would be a rule of law based on fair-minded judges, not sectarian justice -- I'm very worried that my family is going to be killed.

And every time someone steps forward in Iraq right now, whether it be the mayor of a town, a judge or a politician or a member of the military or the police force, the extremists try to kill moderate leaders. So I do believe, Judy, that we need to stand by these moderates militarily, economically and politically for a time to come.

And the day we tell them, "By the way, we're going to leave at a date certain, get your act together," I think it really diminishes their able to come together and reconcile their country. And it would be a momentum-builder.

Let me just ask this question. If you're al-Qaida in Iraq, and you hear tomorrow the Senate has just passed a resolution that we're going to leave in Iraq May of 2008 no matter what, how do you feel? How is your moral affected? I think they would be excited to hear the Senate has put a hard deadline for withdrawal. They would be motivated.

If you're sitting at a table trying to solve a problem between Sunnis, Shias and Kurds, with oil revenue, with the rule of law trying to come about from the rule of the gun, you would be demoralized. I don't think it would push moderates to do more quicker; I think it would embolden extremists to keep the fight up and pour it on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you said U.S. troops would be there for a time to come.


JUDY WOODRUFF: What does that mean? How long a time?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, let me tell you about Anbar. I think Anbar is probably the model that we can all judge time by. The old strategy of fighting behind walls and just training the Iraqi military and police and not getting involved in the community militarily, politically and economically failed. Anbar six months ago was a part of Iraq that no one could visit, because al-Qaida had basically taken over the Sunni part of Iraq, called Anbar province.

With the surge, with additional combat capability, al-Qaida has been pushed out of Anbar, and the ones who lived under al-Qaida in Anbar have aligned themselves with us. The biggest change in Iraq since the surge began is this new political and economic and military alliance, where al-Qaida has been rejected by the local population, and the local population sided with us.

And here is the one number that gives me hope: the number of attacks in Ramadi this year are half of what they were last year. In all of 2006, 1,000 people joined the Iraqi police force in Anbar province; this year, 12,000 have joined the local police.

The Sunni sheikhs who broke with al-Qaida and joined us put out a call for the sons of Anbar to join the police force. That police force is 12 times larger than it was before. So we can leave Anbar, I think sooner rather than later, because the local police and the Iraqi army can hold.

Plans for the next year

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Senator, that's one province. Just to move this along quickly, how long are you saying it would take for the U.S. to stay there to see that happen across the country? Because I gather that's what you're saying the U.S. should do.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: I think two things have to happen. I think Diyala and other provinces where we're trying this new model, we have to have some success by the end of the year. My hope is that, by the end of the year, that Anbar will be solidified, Diyala will become a new Anbar in the making, and that we have some reconciliation in central Baghdad, that either the oil revenue-sharing law, de-Baathification, or local elections becomes a reality.

If by the end of the year, Judy, we do not have some major political breakthrough by Iraqi politicians in Baghdad, I don't think it matters much what happens militarily. However, if we can keep building on our military successes, reinforce these local alliances that have rejected al-Qaida, and simultaneously have some political breakthroughs in central Baghdad at the central government level, I think we could begin withdrawing troops the early part of next year, because the country would be more secure, it would be politically more stable. It's going to happen one way or the other in the next year.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So what's going to happen within the next year?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: In the next year, the Iraqi politicians will be able to come together and get some political reunification or they won't. In the next year, the success that we have seen in Anbar will spread or reverse itself.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So best-case scenario, you're saying the U.S. troops could leave, start leaving early 2008? Worst-case scenario, when?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: I think the worst-case scenario is that we would be there for a long time because the Iraqi state failed. The worst-case scenario is that the Iraqi central government collapses, the Sunni-Shia violence spreads, Iran tries to dominate the southern part of Iraq, al-Qaida reemerges, and the Kurds try to break away from the rest of the Iraq, and that we're there, not only policing what would be a sectarian war, but trying to control the influence of Iran and al-Qaida.

The worst-case scenario is the collapse of the central government and extremism dominating all the forces of moderation, and that's where American combat power can make the difference.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you're saying...

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: American combat power has made the difference in Anbar.

"We can affect the outcome"

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you're saying that would require years, is that what you're saying?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: I'm saying that, if Iraq is a failed state, my biggest concern is that the problems in Iraq spread to the Mideast as a whole and that the military situation that we now face in Iraq will dramatically change, that we'll be facing a military situation of how to police all-out genocide, how to control a war with Kurdistan and Turkey, how to stop Iranian influence in the southern part of Iraq. If Iraq fails, if the government collapses, I guess my statement to you and others is that we have a bigger war to fight, not a smaller war.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Of an undetermined amount of time.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Of an undetermined amount of time, with a lot of chaos and genocide. And one thing I can say for sure: The outcome is not predestined. We can affect the outcome.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And very quickly, Senator, tomorrow night we speak with Senator Joe Biden who believes that a partition of the country, dividing it into three sections would help head off this kind of worst outcome.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, the one thing that I disagree with Joe about, having local control in charting your own destiny is the ultimate solution, where the Sunnis feel like there's something in it for them to be part of Iraq, the Shias feel like they can have a strong, dominant voice in the democracy, the Kurds feel like they'll have enough control over their life and their resources to live a prosperous life.

But if one group breaks from the others, if the Shias try to create a theocracy in Iraq, like Iran has, the Sunnis and Kurds will rebel. If the Sunnis try to take over by force or violence, it's not going to happen. If the Kurds try to break away, Turkey is not going to let that happen.

Here is where I agree with Joe. As much autonomy and self-control, self-reliance as possible will allow people to want to live together. But if you break into three separate parts, then I think the regional players will be upset. The Sunni Arab nations are going to be very reluctant to have a Shia-dominated Iraq that is a theocracy-style government.

And just play it out. So having control over your family's life, having control over your province, having a say about your children's future will make Iraq more secure. But you're going to need a central government. You're going to need a strong army and a central government to make sure all Iraqis are taken care of. And if you try to have it broken apart, if you try to live apart from each other and ignore your neighbor, I think you're destined to fail.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Lindsey Graham, we thank you very much for being with us.


JUDY WOODRUFF: After our interview, Senator Graham said he believes there is a 70 percent chance that Iraq's leaders will reach a political consensus by the end of this year. Tomorrow's conversation will be, as we said, with Delaware Democrat Joe Biden.