Since the beginning of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has whipped up U.S. opposition against Vladimir Putin like an effeminate, would-be Stonewall Jackson.
Even before the invasion, on February 22, 2022 Graham announced he’d be working with his Democratic colleagues to “create a task force of the Department of Justice, Department of State, Treasury, and maybe DOD to go after [Russian] oligarchs,” adding “I want to see cops take apartments, fine art, and seize yachts from a bunch of thugs and crooks. I want to put money on the table to have more weapons for Ukraine to fight. I want more protection when it comes to cyber, and I want to go at this big and I want to go at it hard.”
In the wake of the invasion, on March 3, 2022, Graham introduced a Senate resolution condemning Vladimir Putin and other members of the Russian state as war criminals. The Resolution, which unanimously passed the Senate on March 15, 2022, also proclaimed support for investigations of Russian war crimes pending in the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
That same day, Graham took to Twitter to voice his desire that “somebody in Russia…take this guy out.” Graham’s comments drew the ire of even his fellow Russia hawks, with Ted Cruz (R-TX) calling Graham’s suggestion an “exceptionally bad idea.”
A week later, on March 10, 2022, Graham appeared on Fox News to pressure the Biden Administration into providing MiG-29 fighters to Ukraine through Poland. In his tirade, he repeatedly called the Biden Administration “dishonorable,” saying it “folds at every turn” when it comes to Ukraine. Near the end of the interview, Graham doubled down on his call for regime change in Moscow:
They [the Biden Administration] had a plan where the Ukraininans would fight hard and fold in a week. They’d come in with some BS deal, the [Biden] administration, to carve up the Ukraine and say we saved the world from World War Three. That plan is off the rails now because the Ukrainians have taken the fight to the Russians. We overestimated the Russian capability. So their biggest nightmare in the administration is for this to end badly with Putin because they don't have a plan for him to go. I want it to end badly for Putin because I want to get rid of him. [Emphasis added].
On March 16, Graham introduced an additional Senate Resolution urging the Biden Administration “to facilitate the transfer of aircraft, such as MiG-29s, and air defense systems to Ukraine.” In a corresponding press conference, he said:
How does this end? We cannot let Putin get away with this. After 20 years of murder and war crimes and thievery, it’s led to this moment. Every time he did something outrageous, the world complained, but not enough. Now he's crossed the Rubicon where there's no going back. If he's still standing when this is over, then you can almost bet that Taiwan goes and that Iran will become more belligerent. [Emphasis Added]
The very next day, on March 17, Graham again took to Fox News. After poo-pooing the possibility of a nuclear exchange, he escalated his rhetoric:
If you’re looking for scum and traitors in Russia, Putin, look in the mirror. You’re the scum, you’re the traitor, you’re the guy who should be facing criminal charges, or be taken out…I don’t consider [Putin] a legitimate leader of Russia. Russia is suffering under Putin maybe as much as any other time in history. So, when I say he has to go, he has to go, because he is a war criminal. He’s a murderer, he’s a thief, he’s a disruptive influence. He wants to recreate the Soviet Union. The way he goes is when the Russian People turn on him. The purge I’m looking for is when the Russian People rise up and take him out…So yes, I want to give my voice to the idea that he’s not a legitimate leader. He’s a war criminal. He needs to go and I’m urging the Russian People to bring that about, to end this reign of terror. That’s what I believe, I believe it with all my heart… [Emphasis Added]
On March 24 In his next seemingly regular Fox News appearance, Graham called for Joe Biden to repeat his regime change rhetoric. He said, “[w]hat would I like the President of the United States to say? I believe Ukraine can win. I am committed to them winning. I will hold Putin accountable–he needs to go. He's a war criminal on an industrial scale.”
Two days later, President Biden echoed Graham’s call for Russian regime change while delivering a speech in Poland. In his wandering, poorly-enunciated prose, Biden managed to call Putin a “butcher,” saying “for God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” These comments were quickly walked back by his press corps and framed as a “gaffe.”
However, by April 5, President Biden doubled down, parroting Graham’s myriad calls for Putin to be tried for war crimes. Graham praised Biden’s remarks, saying: “[t]here can be no ‘forgive and forget’ when it comes to Putin. We must hold him accountable for the Rule of Law to mean anything.”
On April 22, after returning from a trip to Australia, Taiwan, and Japan where he stoked American Cold War efforts against China, Graham again called for regime change in Moscow, saying: “[r]ight now, there should be nothing left on the table when it comes to Putin, and we should put every form of weapon within reason into the hands of the Ukrainians. They're willing to fight.”
On May 10, Graham co-authored and introduced yet another Senate Resolution. The Resolution, if passed, aims to denounce the Russia Federation as a state sponsor of terrorism and would call on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to designate it as such. To date, it is Senator Graham’s most dangerous concrete step towards regime change in Moscow.
In his press statement, Graham made it clear that the declaration intends to: “let the Russian people know that our fight is with Putin, and as long as he is your leader, engaging in these activities, you will be isolated on the world stage.”
In conjunction with his press statement, Graham also penned an op-ed for Fox News in support of the Resolution. The op-ed, titled “4 reasons to label Putin’s Russia a state sponsor of terrorism,” does not, in fact, provide four reasons to do so, but instead lists four categories of sanctions Washington could impose through the designation:
First, it would restrict U.S. foreign assistance to Russia.
Second, it would ban U.S. defense and export sales to Russia.
Third, it would impose certain control over U.S. exports of dual use items.
Lastly, it would allow the U.S. to impose additional financial and other restrictions on Russia. Importantly, its designation is a clear message to the rest of the world that doing business with Russia is a bad idea and will come with severe consequences.
Graham’s op-ed accuses Putin of having “terrorized innocent civilians all around the world,” citing Russia’s involvement in Chechnya, Libya, and Syria.
Graham fails to note, however, that the U.S. has no moral standing to accuse Russia of war crimes, especially in Libya, where Washington’s overthrow of the Gaddafi regime resulted in, inter alia, a humanitarian disaster and a civil war that would see the establishment of open-air slave markets.
In Syria, Washington’s efforts to overthrow Assad would see U.S. leadership, including Lindsey Graham, back ISIS in Syria. Senator Graham knows this because it was explained to him by then-Chairman of the U.S. joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, during a 2014 Senate testimony. Graham is also likely aware that the U.S. flew air support for ISIS in Syria.
If Russia is declared a state sponsor of terrorism, it will be incredibly difficult to rescind the designation. There are only two ways to remove a nation from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list. The first would require “a fundamental change in the leadership and policies of the government of the country concerned.” Both options would require the President to certify and report to Congress that the subject nation has not provided any support for acts of international terrorism in at least the preceding 6-month period and that the government concerned has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future. Putin is unlikely to ever do this in a way that would satisfy US officials.
If Russia is placed on the State Sponsor of Terrorism list, it would further commit the United States to a path of escalation with Russia. Last Sunday, when speaking with Fox News Host Bret Baier, Lindsey Graham said: “there is no off-ramp in this war,” adding, “I want to triple down on beating Putin.” For Senator Graham, this is a desired result.
Washington has arguably become a direct party to the War in Ukraine. The U.S. and its NATO allies are financing the war, supplying Ukraine with weapons and training its military. There are reports that Washington has helped Ukraine kill Russian Generals and sink the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. More broadly, there is evidence to suggest that the U.S. has sabotaged peace negotiations, effectively “ordering Ukraine to subordinate its goals to the larger Western Goals.”
Russian officials largely concur. On April 26, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said “NATO, in essence, is engaged in a war with Russia through a proxy and is arming that proxy. War means war,” The Speaker of the Russian State Duma said on May 7, “the U.S. is taking part in the military operation in Ukraine. Today, Washington is basically coordinating and engineering military operations, thus directly participating in the military actions against our country.” Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned May 12 that NATO is risking “a full-fledged nuclear war” by supplying Ukraine with weapons and intelligence.
Senator Lindsey Graham proposes we further wed the American People to this spiraling escalation. If he succeeds, we may all suffer its apocalyptic conclusion.