A somber Sen. Lindsey Graham acknowledged Tuesday that he “has never been so unnerved” about the state of the world and compared the threat from Iran to the rise of Adolf Hitler before World War II.
The South Carolina Republican, a former military lawyer, bitterly criticized what he described as the world community’s tepid response to Iran’s bid to build nuclear weapons. And he accused France of reneging on its pledge to send troops to Lebanon to enforce an international buffer zone between Israel and Hezbollah fighters observing a fragile ceasefire.
“I see the upcoming weeks and months as a pivotal time in the 21st century _ and, really, in the course of world history,” Graham told reporters.
Speaking at times in almost Apocryphal terms, Graham said the United States and its allies must take Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadimejad at his word when he speaks of destroying Israel. The senator said there is little doubt that Iran would launch a nuclear-tipped missile at Israel if it attains such a weapon.
Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, agreed with fellow Republican Sen. John McCain’s scorching criticism Tuesday of the conduct of the Iraq war by President Bush.
“I think we undersold how hard the war would be,” Graham said. “I think we oversold how easy it would be to create democracy. I think we missed by a mile how much it would cost to rebuild Iraq.”
Graham, though, added that the United States’ mistakes in Iraq and its differences with allies must be set aside to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons, and to protect Israel from Hezbollah forces in Lebanon.
“Whatever we’ve done wrong in Iraq is no excuse to allow the Iranian regime to go nuclear,” Graham said. “Whatever we’ve done wrong in Iraq is no excuse to allow Lebanon to become a platform for terrorist attacks on Israel.”
A day after Bush conceded that the Iraq war is “straining the psyche” of Americans, McCain said the president and his top aides contributed to the current problems in the war’s early months.
McCain ticked off cavalier phrases Bush and his aides used to proclaim premature victory in Iraq: when Vice President Dick Cheney said the insurgency was in its “last throes,” or when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissed insurgents as “a few dead-enders.”
Such talk, McCain said, “has contributed enormously to the frustration that Americans feel today because they were led to believe this could be some kind of day at the beach, which many of us fully understood from the beginning would be a very, very difficult undertaking.”
Graham campaigned with McCain in South Carolina when the Arizona senator challenged Bush for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination.
Despite Graham’s appeal for a united front against Iran, Senate Democrats lambasted Bush on Tuesday over Iraq, terrorism and other national security issues.
“I think Americans have the resolve” in Iraq, said Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, leader of the Senate Democrats. “Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the strategy to turn that resolve into victory.”
Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, mocked Bush’s insistence Monday that there will be no complete U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq as long as he is president.
“When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you should do is stop digging,” Levin said. “Yesterday in his news conference, the president just kept digging.”
Graham repeatedly tried to shift the focus of his phone conference away from Iraq to Iran, implying that the radical Shiite Muslim regime in Tehran is a bigger threat to the Middle East and to U.S. security.
“It seems to me that the Iranians are hell-bent on trying to acquire a nuclear capability,” he said. “To me, this is the ’20s and the ’30s all over again of the last century, where Hitler was just in everybody’s face about re-arming and the world just looked the other way.”
Warning that “the Israeli government and people will not sit on the sidelines in a passive fashion and watch Iran go nuclear,” Graham said the United Nations Security Council has 60 to 90 days to pressure Iran into abandoning its nuclear ambitions.
Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Tuesday delivered his country’s formal response to a six-nation package of incentives aimed at persuading it to suspend uranium enrichment. Iran in recent days turned away U.N. inspectors seeking to examine its underground nuclear site, according to diplomats and U.N. officials.
After delivering a dark assessment of current world affairs, Graham allowed himself a moment of gallows humor.
“It’s been nice knowing all of you all,” he signed off to reporters.