Lindsey Graham fighting good fight again, this time to preserve essential foreign aid

Just when you thought Lindsey Graham had collapsed back into a complete defensive mode to protect his right flank, he has stepped out again to lead on an issue that could cost him political support across the spectrum.

This is good to see. This is the Lindsey Graham who more than earns his pay. Because a politicians who isn’t willing to risk his position to do the right thing has no business holding office at all:

GOP’s Sen. Graham works to protect foreign aid

By JAMES ROSEN – McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON — Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has taken on tough tasks from immigration reform to climate change, faces another one as he calls for spending billions of dollars overseas on unpopular foreign aid programs that he insists are vital to U.S. national security.

With Congress facing mandatory spending cuts and previously sacrosanct military programs on the chopping block, Graham is trying to protect funding for foreign aid even as most Americans oppose it – 71 percent in a recent poll – and other Republican leaders call for focusing U.S. resources at home.

“It is a tough sell, but you can be penny-wise and pound-foolish,” Graham, a Republican in his second term, told McClatchy Newspapers…

As Rosen correctly notes, this is classic Graham, the one we saw stepping out on rational immigration reform, and (until county parties back home starting censuring him, pushing him toward the defensive posture) on energy and climate change.

This is good to see.

Today, I was walking through Charleston, past 39 Rue de Jean, and mentioned to a friend that the first time I ate there, it was with Alex Sanders. Which got us onto the 2002 Senate campaign, and what a bitter pill it was to the state’s Democrats that he lost — they had placed such hope in him reviving their fortunes. But, my friend noted, Graham has done a good job since then.

Yes, he has. Especially when he does stuff like this.

There’s a slight implication — perhaps not intentional — in Rosen’s story that there’s something ironic about the hawkish Graham pushing “soft power.” But the idea that there’s some sort of dichotomy between soft and hard power is a canard pushed by people who don’t understand foreign policy. Effective foreign policy includes a good deal of both, and Graham is a guy who understands, and advocates, the full DIME.

Oh, by the way — that thing about 71 percent of Americans wanting to cut foreign aid… there’s nothing new about it. Polls always say that. They also tend to say that Americans don’t know squat about foreign aid. When you ask them how much of the budget goes to foreign aid, they tend to answer that it’s something like 25 percent. When you ask them how much should go to foreign aid, they say about 10 percent.

The true amount? About 1 percent. So basically, if Graham sought to make foreign aid 10 times as much of the budget as it is now (or 3-5 times, according to some polls), they should be happy. But watch — they won’t be.

20 thoughts on “Lindsey Graham fighting good fight again, this time to preserve essential foreign aid

  1. Phillip

    As many have pointed out, while Sen. Graham is right about the relatively small investment of foreign aid, it’s a shame that he supports infrastructure spending for Libya but opposes it for the United States.

  2. bud

    Effective foreign policy includes a good deal of both, …

    Site one example where our military really made a difference? Ok, I’ll give you a couple and concede the point to a degree:

    Kosovo and Libya

    In both those campaigns we used a small amount of military assets, unique assets available only to the US, to help others with their fight. But when we use “boots on the ground” military intervention since Korea it has always ended badly:


    Let’s reduce the size of our military so we aren’t tempted to use it on doomed occupation efforts. Have we learned nothing over the last half century? Lindsey may have a good point on foreign aid but until he gets the hard military aspect of his foreign policy philosophy correct he’ll never have my respect on these types of issues.

  3. Libb

    In comparison with the $$$ other developed countries pony up for foreign aid the US barely pays anything and very little of that goes to the poorest countries (apparently Israel gets the bulk of our foreign aid). Kinda abhorent when you consider how much damage our imperialistic hard power campaigns (both military and corporate) have inflicted. Perhaps if we’re not giving enough to make a difference then we just need to stop. And perhaps, if he REALLY cares so much, Sen Graham does need to exert his hawkish influence to shift some budget monies from hard power to soft power programs.

  4. Brad

    Which, of course, is exactly the kind of false dichotomy (hard power as standing somehow in opposition to hard power, rather than being tools in the same, complementary toolbox) that I was trying to warn against above.

    And not to get off on a big argument that won’t move anyone, but the last time we saw anything that looked like imperialism on the part of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt was president.

  5. bud

    And not to get off on a big argument that won’t move anyone, but the last time we saw anything that looked like imperialism on the part of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt was president.


  6. Brad

    And the problem with that is, Bud actually thinks there is a factual basis for his derision. But there isn’t.

    Bud, what you need to do is go study some actual empires — Roman, Persian, Ottoman, British (and the other great powers of Europe during the same period). Look at the Nazis at the height of their expansion, or Imperial Japan. Study them a lot. Then turn back to U.S. history. And try to be alert to the glaring, night-and-day differences.

    If you don’t see them, give up on studying history and politics, and turn your concerns to other things.

  7. Doug Ross

    It’s not as clear cut as you would suggest, Brad. Here’s the definition of imperialism:

    “the policy of extending the rule or authority of an empire or nation over foreign countries, or of acquiring and holding colonies and dependencies.”

    To say that the role of the U.S. in faraway places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietname, etc. doesn’t meet some form of that definition is quite a stretch on your part. We never go into a place without assuming we call the shots. We go in with a clear objective of removing the regimes in charge and tilting the governments to our benefit.

    And it doesn’t work…. and it costs this country dearly in lives and financial resources in the process. Until we have our own house in order, we shouldn’t be “helping” other countries.

  8. Brad

    “Stretching the point?” That’s ridiculous. I don’t have to stretch a thing. The definition and the reality on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan don’t even come close.

    You think we control Hamid Karzai? Really? How about the Iraqi government? You know, the guys that couldn’t even agree with us enough to give us a pretext for staying on and helping prevent their country from sliding back into the pre-surge chaos? Really? Those are our puppets, the heads of our colonies?

    You can’t possibly be serious.

    You know, I just knew we’d get into one of these POINTLESS debates. But I couldn’t let Libb’s statement of post-Vietnam “wisdom” stand unchallenged. It’s only because people avoid these kinds of arguments that otherwise sensible people accept such unlikely assertions. “American imperialism” has been repeated so many times since the late 60s without anyone challenging it that entire generations have grown up thinking it describes reality, without bothering to look around them and notice that it does not.

  9. bud

    I don’t want to get into this again either but seriously go look at the transcripts leading up to the Iraq war. There was considerable discussion about the oil and how we’d use it to pay for the operation. Ultimately it was about securing Iraq so that the oil companies could drill there and help reduce the price of petroleum products, and more importantly so that Exxon and others could make more money. Otherwise the whole invasion thing makes no sense. And once that connection is made you can only conclude that was an imperialistic operation. The details may be different from British or German imperialism but seriously this about the economic enrichment of the US, not about national defense. The fact that it failed is just evidence that the attempt at imperialism was unsuccessful, not that the primary goal was imperialistic.

    You just can’t throw something that provocative (and wrong) out there without getting challenged.

  10. Doug Ross


    You make my point for me. We go in with the intent of taking control (and please don’t tell me that the U.S. has never covertly attempted to influence foreign governments) and then find out that we can’t do it.

    We aren’t leaving Iraq just changing the terminology. We built the largest, most expensive embassy in history in the middle of a third world country. I don’t see any of the other allies doing that. And what for? What valid reason do we have to maintain such a significant presence there? Other than oil..

  11. Brad

    OK, we’ve been over this ground so many times before, but let me just summarize. And these things are just as painfully obvious to me as what Bud believes seems obvious to him. It’s hard for me to believe I even have to assert these things, but here goes…

    For the latter half of the 20th century (I’m a little fuzzier about before that, because I wasn’t around, and my studies of history have only touched lightly on what happened in the region as the Ottoman and then British empires broke up, and Israel was established, etc.), the main thing about the Mideast was oil. (And the second was the enormous political and emotional investment in this country in the cause of Israel, from the beginning.) That was our strategic interest in the region, the reason why we were so concerned with stability there, stability at any cost, even if it meant alliances of convenience with people who personified everything Western liberal democracy was opposed to. We had to keep the oil flowing, or our economy would collapse. Stability kept it flowing.

    And by the way, there was nothing venal and wicked in this. If you think the economic conditions we’ve suffered through have been back since 2008, you definitely don’t want to live through any sort of significant crimp in the flow of oil to this country. It would be disastrous beyond most of our abilities to imagine. Our elected leaders were right to keep it flowing. The one really bad thing they did, as stewards of the national interest, was keep it flowing a little too well. All that cheap oil the producing countries supplied especially to the U.S. made us weak and flabby in terms of doing what we should have been doing, which was working like crazy to develop alternative energy sources.

    Anyway, you want to talk about a war that was about oil, fine — we’ll talk about the 1990-91 Gulf War. We made some sort of gesture at Saddam that he took as a wink or a nod, and suddenly he rolled over Kuwait, and upset the established order. Everyone understood that Kuwait had to be freed from his lunatic grip, and everyone understood that we really, really didn’t need for him to be in a position to threaten the Saudi fields. So we were able to put together an extraordinary international coalition in the interest RESTORING THE STATUS QUO, the status quo that kept the oil flowing.

    Why did George H.W. Bush not send our forces (forces much stronger than what we had 12 years later, much better able to occupy Iraq effectively) into Baghdad? Wouldn’t be prudent. It would upset the balance of power. We wanted to restore the status quo, not upset it. We wanted the oil to keep flowing.

    Then 9/11 happened, and Bush the Younger said screw all that noise. He was going to upset the status quo; he was opting for change, the thing his father, the old oil man, feared. He had decided (correctly) that the status quo was extraordinarily dangerous to this country and it’s interests. The political order that we had upheld in that region — all that oppression — was a terrorist-producing machine. That old, protect-the-oil road was fading overnight. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand.

    It would have been nifty to have had a justification for invading Saudi Arabia, frankly. That was the country that had produced bin Laden. But no such justification existed. To have invaded Saudi Arabia, which had been a loyal and valuable ally, would have upset all the norms, and what exists of morality, in international relations.

    But Saddam — Saddam was unfinished business. We had, under UN authority, been keeping him in a bottle for 12 years, using substantial U.S. military assets to do so. And what had he done? Shot at our planes, and done whatever he could either to skirt the rules imposed on him in keeping with the 1991 ceasefire, or at least create the impression he was doing so — a key part of his mystique in the region.

    He needed to go anyway; he was a well-established threat to his neighbors, and it was a little bit absurd for the U.S. to have to maintain those military operations for the rest of his lifetime, and the rest of his chosen successors’. That regime needed to go.

    So it was the perfect place to begin the process of undoing that worship of the status quo that we had practiced in the name of oil.

    It was wild. It was crazy. It was like Sonny Corleone telling his consigliere, “Tom, business will just have to suffer.”

    You say we wanted to get oil production back up so that maybe Iraq could offset some of the costs of this operation. Well, of course. How is that venal or wrong or greedy or imperialistic or anything? What use to the world is an Iraq lying broken in the ashes, with no active economy.

    I’m no petroleum economist, but it seems to me that as far as making money from oil, we’d be better off trying to get it the peaceful way and not spend all that money deploying vast military resources, wasting all those bullets and bombs and fuel and such.

    I believe G.H.W. Bush was right. Not upsetting the applecart WAS the smart business decision. But it was not the smart national security decision, not long-term. We needed a new deal. And it was worth disrupting the oil flow to accomplish. And anyone who didn’t want to get the oil flowing as soon as possible so that the country could get back on its feet would be crazy.

    And yep, there’s money to be made from that. If there weren’t, it wouldn’t help Iraq get going again. But how we come out ahead on that deal — well, I’d need to see those numbers to see how it’s a net gain for us.

  12. Libb

    Well, Brad, substitute hegemonic for imperialistic (am not that thin-skinned about it)…still doesn’t alter the facts that the US is near the bottom of the major players list and that the bulk of the money goes to countries,like Israel, who are not “developing” (which, I suspect, is why Graham is being so hawkishly protective).

  13. Doug Ross

    Andrew Sullivan is covering the imperialism question today… here’s his short take:

    “How about neo-imperial: all the attitude and cost, and none of the alleged benefits?”

  14. Brad

    Thanks, Libb — I can work with “hegemony.” There are still problems with it; it still has imperial overtones, but it’s an improvement. “Spheres of influence” would be better, though.

    The fact is that interactions between people, and nations, are complex. There is no nation with which we have a direct authoritarian relationship. But there is no nation in the world that doesn’t to some extent think about the United States in its posture toward the world. Even the few states that define themselves in terms of their opposition to this country are being influenced by us — in fact, they are probably MORE so.

    And this is because, to some extent, of our military strength. It makes only a suicidal state, for instance, want to confront us directly in a fight, and while everybody likes tweaking us a bit, nobody wants to really make us mad. And that causes all sorts of complexes in the zeitgeists of some countries that resent our power in that regard.

    But our influence is felt more in economic and cultural ways. Just look at the hegemony of Hollywood in influencing popular culture around the globe. The English language is now the world’s shared language, and not just because of the British empire.

  15. Brad

    And the Sullivan quote made me smile, even though I disagree with the attitude part. I don’t think we’re capable, as a nation, of an imperial attitude. That’s one of the reasons we blunder. Our intentions are good, and we expect people to accept that at face value.

    But the cost, he’s right. And I’ll say that no one should be considered imperial who’s not getting imperial bennies out of the deal.

  16. Phillip

    Brad, a fascinating take on history there. What I find most interesting is the admission that 9/11 really was just a great fortuitous excuse for Bush to “upset the status quo,” especially since Iraq had nothing to do with it.

    Also that somebody (Saddam) who was being kept “in a bottle,” could be such a scary threat to us because he, oohh, shot at a few planes, or even “created the impression” (!!!) that he was flouting international rules, building up a “mystique.” Once, we stood up to Hitler’s armies: evidently we’d sunk so much that we came to fear a bottled-up tyrant with a mystique.

    But wait, there’s more: “[Saddam] was a well-established threat to his neighbors.” Uhh, yeah…like Iran, maybe?

  17. Brad

    I was thinking of Kuwait. But the threat to Iran was why Bush pere wanted to keep him in power — which, by the way, was just as much a hegemonic or even imperial move as anything his son did.

    But Phillip, that’s not an “admission.” I’ve said that many times.

    And one more thing. I didn’t “fear” Saddam. For that matter, I don’t “fear” terrorism. I’ve always thought it odd that antiwar people speak of the neocon position as being one of “fear.” To me, it’s just about doing the job of protecting the country. If it’s been amply demonstrated that terrorists are exploiting the openness of travel, we need more airport security. If the status quo threatens the lives of Americans, then elected leaders have an obligation to use what power they have to change that status quo.

    It’s not about fear. It’s about which is the best way to meet your responsibilities to maintain national, and collective, security. One Bush went one way, the other went another way. And the pivotal moment was 9/11, which showed us how dangerous the conservative, status-quo course was.

  18. Phillip

    I understand that you didn’t “fear” Saddam…and you’re absolutely correct, neocon philosophy is not about being fearful, per se: it’s about exploiting or even fostering fear to achieve domestic support for larger geopolitical goals. Hence the disinformation campaign (which still has lingering effect, according to poll numbers) linking Saddam and Iraq to 9/11.

    There are a multitude of different ways to “shake up the status quo” in foreign policy. Choosing the wrong one can make things worse still than even an undesirable status quo.

  19. bud

    Brad, the master of parsing words strikes again:

    “I didn’t “fear” Saddam. For that matter, I don’t “fear” terrorism. I’ve always thought it odd that antiwar people speak of the neocon position as being one of “fear.” To me, it’s just about doing the job of protecting the country.”

    Aren’t the two things pretty much the same, or at least highly correlated? If we are trying to protect the country what’s the point in doing so against an “enemy” that we don’t “fear”? Damn right we “feared” the Nazis and Imperial Japanese. They were trying to kill us and did at Pearl Harbor. I guess Brad’s mind is just wired differently from mine. I can’t possibly justify a pre-emptive war against a nation that I don’t “fear”, at least a little.

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