Sen. Lindsey Graham spoke to reporters on Capitol Hill after a classified intelligence briefing on the U.S. drone shot down Wednesday night by Iran, warning that "we're a lot closer today than we were yesterday" to an armed conflict with the Islamic Republic. Graham also signaled to President Trump that he should respond to Iran's provocations or risk the world thinking he is "all talk."
"Here is what they're trying to do," Graham explained. "They're trying to break our will and intimidate us to come to the negotiating table. The president made an offer to negotiate, the response was to attack a Japanese tanker, the emissary of the person chosen to deliver the offer, and last night they shot down a drone."
"If they do anything else against an American asset and this president doesn't respond like Ronald Reagan, that's a signal to North Korea and the entire world we're all talk," he said, referring to Reagan's attacks on Iran during the "Tanker War" in 1988.
"I'm confident that if there is a war with Iran, they lose," he said. "I'm confident it would be very devastating to the region. It will not be pretty. Don't want to go there. But what more do you expect the president to do? He sent the Japanese prime minister to try to start negotiations and they blow up a Japanese tanker. I don't know what to say."
"You can't legitimize this way of negotiating. If we do it with Iran, the next thing is North Korea could explode a bomb, shoot off a missile, thinking that is how you get America back at the table."
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Here is the deal. Trump's not the problem, the Ayatollah is. This drone was in international waters. We've been flying patterns like this for months. We're trying to collect intelligence to make informed decisions. We had told the Iranians, before they shot the drone down, that if you engage against American personnel or assets you do so at your own peril.
The president does not want a war with Iran or anybody else. But he is the commander-in-chief and so when Abe was asked by the president, the prime minister of Japan, to deliver a message to the Iranians was he rebuffed, they attacked a Japanese ship while the Japanese prime minister is delivering a message from the American president, 'Let's see if we can negotiate.' So that tells me all I need to know about the Iranian regime and the negotiating.
So I talked to the president this morning. I will meet him this afternoon. They made a big mistake by shooting our drone down. What's provocative is to shoot the drone down and blow up a Japanese oil tanker with the Japanese prime minister in your office trying to start negotiations with the United States. What's provocative is having your proxies shoot into Saudi Arabia. Trump is not the problem. This is the way this is headed. If they start enrichment at the levels they're talking about in a few days, Israel will have to respond over time. There is one nation on the planet that is not going to give the Iranians the pass on their nuclear program, that's Israel. Israel will, as a last resort, attack to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. We'll come to their aid.
Here is what they're trying to do. They're trying to break our will and intimidate us to come to the negotiating table. The president made an offer to negotiate, the response was to attack a Japanese tanker, the emissary of the person chosen to deliver the offer and last night they shot down a drone. Here's what Iran needs to get ready for: severe pain inside their country. Their capability pales in comparison to ours. We won't let them disrupt navigation of the seas, attack our allies and U.S. interests without paying a price. So if they're itching for a fight, they'll get one.
GRAHAM: We're a lot closer today than we were yesterday, and God only knows what tomorrow brings. If next week they go back into enrichment, putting them back on a path to a bomb which they were on anyway, that escalates the tensions between Israel and Iran. If they do anything else against an American asset and this president doesn't respond like Ronald Reagan that's a signal to North Korea and the entire world we're all talk. So Iran's fate is in their hands. And it's up to them to decide how it ends.
REPORTER: When you say the U.S. Will aid Israel. What does it mean? Military involvement?
GRAHAM: 100%. If they go back into the enrichment business that puts them on an accelerated path to a bomb and Israel has to defend itself against the threat, I'm confident we'll be there.
Nobody wants to get there. I'm also confident that we'll protect the Strait of Hormuz and we'll protect American military personnel and civilians on the ground. I'm confident that if there is a war with Iran, they lose. I'm confident it would be very devastating to the region. It will not be pretty. Don't want to go there. But what more do you expect the president to do? He sent the Japanese prime minister to try to start negotiations and they blow up a Japanese tanker. I don't know what to say.
REPORTER: Is the president prepared to act militarily?
GRAHAM: I will let you ask him. If he does not change the course we're on, then others will act.
REPORTER: You talked to the president this morning and you will talk to him later. Do you believe that he -- that he sees we're one step closer to war?
GRAHAM: I think anybody would believe that we're one step closer. They shot down an American asset well within international waters trying to assess the situation. What are you supposed to do? Ronald Reagan took a lot, then he acted. This president has taken a lot from Iran. He was right to get out of a bad deal and right to put sanctions on their disruptive behavior throughout the world. He would like a better deal. To me it's clear that the Iranians are trying to break us between our allies, trying to create chaos. And you can't legitimize this way of negotiating. If we do it with Iran, the next thing is North Korea could explode a bomb, shoot off a missile, thinking that is how you get America back at the table.
REPORTER: What about Trump saying he wants to stop endless wars in the middle east for the campaign strategy --
GRAHAM: All I can say is if you are not willing to stand up to aggression, you are going get hurt. Ignoring al Qaeda and Afghanistan was not a very good strategy. This is not an endless war. This is a provocative regime that shoots its own people down in the street, that threatens the existence of the state of Israel. This is an enemy of mankind and if you are not willing to take this enemy on, you will regret it. You put all the pressure on Israel. He's a dealmaker, he's trying to avoid conflict. But this is truly a defining moment for him. When Obama said you better not use chemical weapons, the rest is history. President Trump has told them you cannot attack our allies. That is an unacceptable way to live in the 21st century. They are testing him. They need to do so at their own peril. If they get away with this, God help us with North Korea and throughout the world.