Graham Supports Massive Nuclear/Military Build-Up
At a town meeting at the Franklin NH public library, the American Friends Service Committee’s Olivia Zink and I caught up with presidential candidate Lindsay Graham. We asked about the $1 trillion program to rebuild the US nuclear weapons arsenal. US nuclear labs certify annually that the stockpile is reliable, yet the South Carolina senator says we need the modernization program because the stockpile is deteriorating. While he said he was supportive of mutually negotiated nuclear arms reductions with Russia and China, he spoke out against the Iran nuclear deal. Graham endorsed a major buildup of US military forces in general, while calling for reforms in Pentagon spending.
Here’s a transcript of the interchange.
J. Elliott: Yeah, I actually want to ask you about nuclear weapons and I don’t expect to agree with you but I understand you’re very knowledgeable so I really want to understand your views. I understand that you’re supporting a massive rebuilding of our entire nuclear arsenal, or almost the entire arsenal. And if that is true, what I want to understand if we’re going to go ahead with that rebuilding and upgrading, how we’re going to comply with our commitment under Article VI of the Nonproliferation Treaty to advance towards mutually negotiated nuclear disarmament.
Sen. Graham: OK, number one, our nuclear deterrent force is in decline. Maintaining the nuclear stockpile is a priority for me as president. Because possessing weapons that won’t work is possessing an illusion. So, the stockpile is deteriorating. We have reduced the number of warheads. That’s fine with me. I don’t mind working with the Russians and the Chinese to lower the number of nuclear weapons in a responsible manner that the world possesses. I think being a leader in that regard is a good thing. Ronald Reagan was one of the biggest leaders of all when it came to trying to lessen the number of nuclear weapons that all of us possess, because they’re expensive and they’re obviously dangerous.
That is not inconsistent with modernization, with what you’re talking about. The Russians have already cheated twice on the Start Treaty. One of the prohibitions of the treaty was not to have basically a land-based cruise-type nuclear missile. We found that they cheated twice. So treaties are not any good if you don’t enforce them.
But here’s what I’m worried the most about in terms of nuclear weapons – the Iranians.
How many of you believe the Iranians have been trying to build a bomb, not a power plant? OK. Someone said, who said “Oh yeah”? It’s just obvious, isn’t it? How many people believe they’d use it if they’ve got it. Okay, now just slow down here for a minute. We all agree that they would use it if they got it. Shouldn’t the number one priority in the world be not letting them get it?
I don’t believe the Russians are going to attack us tomorrow. I don’t think the Chinese are. I think mutual assured destruction still works. You’ve got to have a nuclear strategic fleet that can survive a first attack. If you don’t, you will entice people to attack you. That’s why you need land-based missiles, sea-based nuclear missiles, and you need an air fleet so it would be hard to knock us all out at one time. It’s called the Triad. I think the Triad is still relevant in the modern world. But the one thing different about Russia and China, and in a way even North Korea – I mean, that guy is really bat-shit crazy - but I’m not so sure he going use the missiles as much as it’s an insurance policy for a regime [audio unclear].
The difference between the Ayatollah and these other nut jobs is that he is possessed of a religious view that requires him to do certain things. Hitler, if he’d had a nuclear weapon, would have used it, right? He wanted a master race. These people want a master religion. So I think one bomb in the hands of the Ayatollah is one too many. Because when he says “Death to Israel,” I think he literally means it. I think his faith requires him to destroy the Jewish state. I think his faith requires him to convert other Muslims. And I know his faith requires him to come after infidels like us.
Now the Iranian people are different than the theocracy, but the theocracy is in charge. So my number one priority is I’d be open to reducing the nuclear stockpile. I want to modernize it so it’s relevant. But the one thing I would be closed-minded to is this deal with Iran. I would tear it up and start over because I don’t think you can police it. What I would do is tell the Ayatollah is if you want peaceful nuclear power programs, you can have it. Fifteen nations have nuclear power plants without the ability to enrich uranium. I don’t trust him to enrich uranium because he can take it from commercial to weapons-grade pretty quickly. So if you want power, you can have it. If you want a pathway to a bomb, forget it. If you want to buy more weapons, no until you change your behavior and stop becoming the largest state sponsor of terrorism. I’m not going to give you 100 billion dollars until you change the way you do business. And I would tell every company in the world if you do business with Iran, you can’t do business here. You can’t use American banks. And they’re going to have to pick between the 450 billion dollar Iranian economy and the 18 trillion dollar American banking system. I’d wait for the phone to ring and it would. And I would call the Ayatollah’s bluff and I would tell him if you really do want a nuclear weapon you’re not going to get it. And if you want to break out I’ll stop you. And if you choose a war you will lose it. Simply because if they ever develop a nuclear technology, they will share it with terrorists. They will one day use it. And the Arabs know that too. So in the name of non-proliferation you’re going to create a nuclear arms race in the Mideast if you don’t change this deal. Because the Arabs are not going to accept an arrangement with a nuclear weapon hanging over their head. That’s the way I see it.
Olivia Zink: But on this point, the trillion dollars that we’re going to spend on the nuclear stockpile -
Sen. Graham: It’s not that much but it’s significant.
Olivia Zink: But many corporations are profiting from this. We saw it after the Paris attacks, many of the corporate profits spiked. How to you insure peaceful and diplomatic solutions [that] don’t line the pockets of those who are profiting from these systems? So how do we make sure that we’re actually doing what’s right for our country but not insuring that we’re making some of the military-industrial complex corporations that are lobbying and going through the revolving door more profitable?
Sen. Graham: I don’t think that I will be your candidate, because here’s what I’m going do. I’m going to rebuild the military. I’m going to create a lot more jobs in Portsmouth than they have today. I’m going to expand the Navy from 275 ships to 350. I’m going to try to build 14 aircraft carriers instead of eleven. I’m going to try to increase the Army up to 500,000 versus 420 where it’s headed. By 2021 we’re going to be spending 2.3% of GDP on defense. What’s the historical average? Five. We’re going to be spending less than half than we than we normally spend to defend the nation. Do the threats justify that? No. Half the combat [?] squadrons in the Air Force won’t fly in 2021 because we don’t have enough money to train.
I’m not looking for a fair fight, I’m looking for an overwhelming advantage against any rational actor. I want the Chinese to know you can’t build your navy up strong enough to beat our navy. I want the Russians to know, think twice about it before you invade another country because you’ve got a new guy in town gonna kick the door in.
This is 1979. Some of you don’t know what I’m talking about, young people, but I want a 1980s approach. Do you think Putin would be in the Ukraine today if Reagan were president? I don’t. So it’s time to reset the world, it’s time to rebuild the military and use it smartly. Reform the Pentagon. John McCain has been the chief critic of the military-industrial complex second to none. People went to jail because of the Boeing tanker deal. John is trying to police an out-of-control system. The cost overruns of the F-35 are very problematic. No one has spent more time trying to get the Pentagon into better shape than Senator McCain and I think it’s wonderful.
Cost plus contracts need to be replaced by fixed-price contracts.
To the military retirees in this room, because we all live so much longer, we’re going to have to change the retirement system prospectively, and we did. At 20 years prospectively, you’re not going to get 50% of your pay when you retire, you’ll get 40%. And we’ll make up the difference by having a savings plan were you can put 5% of your base pay into an account. We’ll match that 5% from 2 years to 20 years. And you’ll get it when you’re 60. When you add the two pots up together you’re made whole but it defers some of the money and saves a lot of money for the Pentagon, and I think it’s still fair. For the military retirees like me and John McCain, at our income level we’re going to have to pay a little more in Tri-Care because we haven’t adjusted the premiums since 1995. And 20% of the military budget’s going to be healthcare. That’s got to be controlled. So count me in, in terms of procurement reform, acquisition reform, and all things that make the Pentagon run better, but we’ve got to build up our military footprint. If we don’t, we’re going to invite aggression.
[this also appears on Judy's blog]