Foreign Affairs

Lindsey Graham’s Moment of Truth

October 7, 2019
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(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

I come not to bury Lindsey Graham, but to praise him.

Okay, not really.

But sort of?

Late last night, the president of the United States had a perfect and beautiful phone call with the Turkish autocrat Recep Erdogan. After this call, our president unilaterally decided to abandon America’s Kurdish allies in the region.

I know what you’re thinking—how could President Trump do this?!? Well, maybe he and Erdogan have a special bond since they’ve both had to endure coups.

Anyway, this policy is a terrible idea and pretty much everyone swung into action to denounce it, including such lickspittle Trump haters as . . .

Brian Kilmeade.

And Marco Rubio.

And Nikki Haley.

And Liz Cheney.

And Lindsey Graham.

Graham rushed out onto Twitter. He ginned up the beginnings of sanctions legislation to try to protect the Kurds if (when) Turkey slaughters them.

He even called in to Fox & Friends.

I know it sounds like I’m goofing on him, but I’m not. If you want to get this president’s attention immediately, showing up on Fox & Friends is better than being part of the delegation for his morning briefing.

My point is this: Lindsey Graham is doing everything he can to try to influence a specific, deeply important, piece of policy. Because of Trump’s decision, American allies will die. The region will destabilize. Our adversaries will benefit.

Lindsey Graham has spent three years abasing himself in front of Donald J. Trump. Three years in which he has had to publicly repudiate just about everything he’s ever said. And he did it all with an eye toward a moment like this: When Trump might do something impulsive and dangerous to American foreign policy.

And Graham’s theory was: When the moment of peril comes, I can do more good for American interests by being on the inside. That way, I’ll be able to influence Trump’s decision-making.

This is not a crazy theory. It’s totally understandable.

And say this for Graham: The Trump true believers are going to bend over backwards to explain how actually Trump is totally right to pull out of Syria.

Actually, America has no vital interest there.

Actually, we can’t be the world’s policeman.

Actually, the true conservative position is that Turkey is part of NATO, so they’re our real ally.

Graham didn’t do any of that. He went at Trump as hard as you can go without giving up your chair at the party.

The question now is, will it matter?

If Trump changes his mind and protects our Kurdish allies, then maybe it was a good idea that Graham swallowed every piece of dog-crap on the Trump buffet.

But if he doesn’t? What then?

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is executive editor of The Bulwark.