Interview with Senator Lindsey Graham

Interview with Senator Lindsey Graham

By John King, USA - March 2, 2011

KING: So what should the United States do now and should it use its military force to impose a no-fly zone over Libya? Let's get the view of Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a member of the Armed Services Committee, also an officer in the Air Force Reserve.

And Senator Graham, as we speak I'm showing our viewers closer on the map some of what would be involved in the use of American military forces. Where you see these planes here on the map that is where Libya has air bases. This is a significant base here just outside of Tripoli. Jane's Defense Weekly says it is this air base, the Nafa Air Base that has been used in recent days to use those fighter jets to launch attacks against Libyan civilians. Senator Graham, if you were president of the United States, what would you do tonight?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well it's no easy decision but I would go with a no-fly zone internationally sanctioned and the Arab League's objection kind of falls on deaf ears because a lot of people in the Arab League that make up regimes that have been the problem not the solution, so when Secretary Gates says go slow and be cautious I listen, but I can't imagine our country at this point in time with this revolution spreading through the Mideast, allowing Gadhafi to use his air assets against his people.

That would be untenable from an American perspective and I think hopefully an international perspective. So it's tough, tough decision for the president but I think history would judge him well if we denied the ability of Moammar Gadhafi to use air power to kill his own people.


GRAHAM: That would serve us well in the future.

KING: Let's look at the military threat first if there is one in your view and then we'll talk about diplomacy. But I want to look --


KING: I want to look here and I'm showing our viewers, these are the two kind of fighter aircraft that we are told Gadhafi's regime has used against his own people, a Mirage F1 aircraft -- that's a French made jet -- and a Soviet or Russian-made fighter jet down here. We've seen that and what Secretary Gates was talking about Senator, he said before he would be willing to put the U.S. pilots at risk flying over Libya, he would want to take out the anti-aircraft system.

Do we have pictures here of two anti-aircraft systems? Both Russian made here, this they call the favorite system the S-300PMU2 (ph). You see those tubes going up and they essentially shoot up anti-aircraft and here a more traditional surface-to-air missile, again this also Russian made. You would agree with the secretary, do you not Senator Graham, that before you would put any U.S. or NATO pilots at risk you would have to launch an offensive strike against these Libyan anti-aircraft positions.

GRAHAM: Well I'm a military lawyer, not a military commander and I would put a lot of faith into what Bob Gates and our military says, General Mattis, but here's the risk we face. If we do not stop this mad man who is delusional from killing his own people with modern aircraft that we could neutralize, I think it is not in our long-term national security interest, so whatever risk we run of neutralizing their air capability, I think is smaller than the risk of sitting on the sidelines and watching this dictator thug kill his own people.

KING: And what do you think of the risk of this? We do know that he was -- he had agreed with the Bush administration and others to destroy all of his chemical weapons and his WMD. At the Rabta Chemical Weapons Facility he still has some supplies of mustard gas that are due to be destroyed later this year, but Gadhafi still has them. "A", do you think he would ever use them against his own people and "B", can you take those out safely or do you have to be on the ground to contain them, meaning can you get them from above or do you have to physically go in and get them?

GRAHAM: Well I'll leave that up to people who would know how to neutralize that threat better than I. You have to assume the worst, but the worst-case scenario for me is for the international community to sit on the sidelines and allow this man to use air power against his own people and prolong this. You're into a standoff now where he has control of Tripoli to some extent and the idea that American air power internationally sanctioned, if I'm a Libyan pilot, it would really be a test of how much I like Gadhafi, because trust me, there is no Libyan air asset that can stand up to our Air Force or our Navy.

There is no anti-aircraft system in Libya that we can't neutralize. We spend a lot of money to defend our nation and we've got a lot of capability. So Libya pilots should be more worried than anybody and I hope the president will announce sooner rather than later that the Libyan Air Force and air assets will be destroyed if they're used against the Libyan people. There is a risk to do that, but the greater risk is to sit on the sidelines and not do things that you can do that would be seen in the future as a good thing to have done.

KING: Well do you believe the president is being too timid?

GRAHAM: I think the president has got a tough decision. It's easy for me to criticize. He's being briefed about the complexities of this operation, but he has really got to understand where this is going. It is going to the point that the standoff is going to result -- the longer this lasts, the more powerful in a way Gadhafi gets because he gets crazier and more desperate.

The sooner you can end this the better and if you took air capability away from this regime that would weaken the regime tremendously and hopefully people inside the Army and the Air Force would begin to turn on him because their country's future is hopeless in the hands of this fanatic and to let the Libyan Air Force know that you're not going to be able to fly and kill your own people is a step in the right direction. It makes Gadhafi weaker, the Libyan people stronger, and they won't forget our help.

KING: And what would it do in the neighborhood if the United States used military force in a North African country, an Arab country? What would the diplomatic fallout be? How would the Iranians try to take advantage of, for example? Would -- we know the Saudis and the Bahrainis would likely be nervous.

GRAHAM: Well the one thing I can tell you is that the Iranians when they criticize us coming to the aid of protesters probably won't go down bad with the protesters. The Iranians are killing their own citizens. People in the Mideast do have some awareness of the world and the conditions in which they live. They wouldn't be in the streets if they didn't know the difference between Moammar Gadhafi and freedom and justice.

So any time you're standing up for people and supporting them against a thug and a dictator, I think overall you're going to do well and when Iran complains about America to the Libyan people, the Libyan people understand the difference between the ayatollahs and Iran and people coming to their aid by humanitarian assistance and providing air cover, so Iran's not going to exploit this problem. Quite frankly, this is their worst nightmare that Libya would be successful in overthrowing Moammar Gadhafi. That's what they're worried about.

KING: Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, sir, I appreciate your insights tonight. We'll keep in touch.

GRAHAM: Thank you.


John King, USA

Author Archive

Follow Real Clear Politics

Latest On Twitter