Lindsey Graham at NCSU

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham just spoke on campus today, primarily addressing issues of the treatment of detainees and the war in Iraq.  I'll say one thing right off, he's a good politician.  Towards the beginning he made mention of this damning New York Times editorial.  Rather than address any of the potent and substantive criticisms in the editorial, he just made mention that he had also been criticized by the conservative National Review this week, so surely he most be doing something right.  Smart politics, but not much a rebuttal for the claims of the editorial.  A couple tidbits:

Mr. Graham and other supporters of this dreadful legislation seem to
have forgotten that American justice does not merely deliver swift
punishment to the guilty. It also protects the innocent….

The new law leaves this mockery of justice stronger. The Military
Commissions Act of 2006 makes it virtually impossible to contest a
status tribunal?s decision. It prohibits claims of habeas corpus ? the
ancient right of prisoners in just societies to have their detentions
reviewed ? or any case based directly or indirectly on the Geneva

Republicans who support the new law like to point out that it only
covers foreigners. But Americans have never believed that human rights
are just for Americans. Our nation is outraged when an authoritarian
government jails an American, or one of its own citizens, on trumped-up
charges and brings him or her before a phony court. Surely that is not
the model we want to follow in our nation?s prisons.

Graham pretty shrewdly obfuscated these serious shortcomings of the tribunals.  Nonetheless, I felt like, big picture, his heart is in the right place.  He strongly believes that we behave justly because it is the right thing to do for us, regardless of the enemy.  I would argue that we have still fallen short on appropriate standards of justice, however.

On Iraq, Graham suggested we'll know the outcome in two years.  He painted a quite specific negative scenario where Iraq was divided in three and had essentially fallen into a pan-Middle East war.  Sounded disturbingly plausible.  For the positive scenario, he talked about Iraq turning the corner to become a “semi-functioning” democracy within two years.  Not surprisingly, this scenario was much less specific.  How the hell we would reach this point within two years is as much beyond Lindsey Graham as anyone else. 

One very interesting comment he made about the larger “War on Terror” was when he talked about the importance of Islamic moderates having more power and influence in order for us to ultimately win the war on terror.   He referred to us “putting these people in charge” of Middle-Eastern countries.  Hmmm.  Didn't we try that in Iraq?

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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