U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham speaking at the Council

Senator Lindsey Graham said that the Republican Party risks losing its soul because of its fear of Donald Trump, and that ISIS needs to be destroyed or they will launch another 9/11 on the United States. The Senator from South Carolina and Presidential candidate spoke to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council at a dinner on Wednesday, December 16. Graham said that the war against ISIS cannot be won from the air but requires troops on the ground which he argued should include American along with Turkish and Sunni Arab troops. He also said that Putin is a bully who shouldn't be appeased and that our most serious national security threat is our level of debt.

"I think Mr. Trump has created a discussion for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. That's why I'm speaking up," said Graham. "We're afraid of losing, we're afraid of alienating Trump, we're afraid that he will run as a third party candidate," he said. "I'm not going to appease bullies (referencing Assad and Putin) and that's exactly what we're doing," said Graham. "I would rather lose without Trump than try to win with him. We can lose an election but we can't lose our soul," he said. According to Graham, Trump has tapped into a fear that many Americans possess and rightly so. Trump has tapped into the dark side of politics and that he's running out of demographic groups to offend. "In our fear of losing, we have compromised our character and we will lose if we keep this up," he said. On why other candidates haven't been going after Trump, Graham said most candidates don't want to alienate his voters. "There's an understandable political element of not picking a fight with the loudest guy in the room - until the loudest guy in the room says so many things that you can't avoid responding because then it becomes about you." On if Trump will win the Republican nomination, Graham said, "whether he wins or not I don't know, but I do know this - if he wins, we're going to get creamed."

On ISIS, Graham said that "radical Islam is a threat that has to be dealt with because if we don't they will inflict upon us another 9/11." Graham believes that another 9/11 is coming - he said his intent is not to scare people, but rather to inform them. "If we act decisively we can prevent it." The American people realize that this "threat is real, it can't be appeased, and it has to be destroyed for the good of mankind." He said he has come to believe, as a military lawyer and from conversations with General Keane, that the US needs to have troops on the ground. "We will never win this war from the air," said Graham. Iraqi military aren't capable of doing it and they need our help. Graham said we should go from 3,500 troops to 10,000. More controversially, he also believes more American troops should be leading the fight against ISIS in Syria, but in alliance with moderate Sunni Arab forces and Turks. When questioned about whether such an army could be assembled from Sunni Arabs, Graham said the Saudis and other Sunni Arab states think that ISIS is a threat and would be prepared to supply troops. To the Syrian people, Graham said, "I am so sorry the world has sat on the sidelines and watched you be slaughtered. This is not our finest hour."

When asked about his foreign policy stance on Iran, Graham said the nuclear threat from Iran is the "biggest threat of all and exceeds ISIS over time." The recent Iran nuclear deal is a "nightmare for us" and that our policy should be more strongly linked to Iran's behavior. Iran knows that "if they go to war with us, they will lose."

On Putin, Graham said we should not appease a bully. If elected he would make changes to Putin's monopoly on the natural gas market, rebuild NATO to counter Putin's threat to the Balkans, and tell Putin "he's not picking the next leader in Syria."

When asked about China, Graham believes that the country is on "some days a friend and some days a foe." We need to engage the Chinese but there are certain scenarios where we have to tell them to "knock it off", like on cyberbullying and the South China Sea. Graham said, "Frankly, China needs our economy more than we need theirs." Graham said he wants a good relationship with China and to be their partner but they need to play by the rules. "I would tell the Chinese I want to be your friend, but it's up to you. If you want to hold hands, you got it. If you want a clenched fist, you pick it."

Domestically, Graham stressed that a national security threat at home is our own ballooning debt. What's driving this debt, he said, is entitlement spending. With the impending retirement of tens of millions of baby boomers, our debt problem will soon become a debt crisis. Programs like Social Security and Medicare, together with interest on the debt, make up over 70 percent of the federal budget. Both programs are on track to go bust. Graham said he is committed to entitlement reform and it will take a bipartisan effort to achieve this. Without a fix, he said, US security is in jeopardy.

When asked how the election will play out, Graham looked forward to the primaries - in Iowa, New Hampshire and then his own state of South Carolina - and said Senator Ted Cruz is likely to win Iowa. "Ted Cruz is very talented and he's running a hell of a campaign," said Graham, "but to say his foreign policy is transactional is an understatement... he's been all over the board." Cruz has tried to "find a way to create conflict and fighting at every turn and the next president needs to be able to bring us together on the foreign policy side."

Graham made reference to how hard it has been for him to get into the first level of debate. "I've never had a reality TV show, but I feel like I'm in one. Celebrities and really rich people are going to benefit from the national primary," said Graham. "If the only way you can get on the stage is to poll at a certain level, it's always going to be hard starting out for a guy like me," he said. "I think this is taking the party down the wrong road and I hope we will re-evaluate this."