Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., dismissed a question from CNN anchor Dana Bash as “a bunch of bulls***” during a conversation about violence in the Middle East.
During an appearance on “State of the Union” Sunday morning, Bash asked Graham whether President Trump would be to blame if the Islamic State terrorist group became more powerful after U.S. troops leave Syria. Graham responded that former President Barack Obama should bear the blame because of his decision to withdraw from Iraq in 2011.
“Everything we’re dealing with today falls on Obama’s watch. He’s the one who withdrew from Iraq,” Graham said.
Bash countered, “But he did it because there was a Status of Forces Agreement in Iraq, right?”
“Listen. No, that’s a bunch of bulls***. Pardon my French. That’s a complete lie. That’s a complete, absolute lie.”
Bash’s eyes widened in surprise: “That didn’t happen?”
Graham recalled saying that he had hoped Obama’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq in 2011 was correct but that he feared the decision would “come back to haunt us.”
Obama’s 2012 presidential election campaign boasted that “the mission in Iraq ended” because of the commander in chief and that he had fulfilled a campaign promise. Republican critics like Graham argued that withdrawing troops would create a power vacuum that could be filled by radical forces. (Liberals generally laid the blame for Middle East destabilization on former President George W. Bush for the invasion of Iraq in 2003.)
“ISIS came about as a result of our withdrawal from Iraq. The caliphate was established in Syria because Obama sat on the sidelines and watched the place be dismembered,” he said.
Regardless, as Bash mentioned, Obama was largely implementing the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement, which was inherited from his predecessor. Bush and Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki negotiated the agreement and established Dec. 31, 2011, as the deadline for removing American troops from Iraq.
Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria elicited a wide range of reactions from within the Republican Party. Many in the GOP thought the move would endanger America’s allies in the region and embolden its adversaries. More libertarian or isolationist conservatives, however, celebrated Trump’s surprising announcement, saying that military intervention is not in the national interest.
Although critical of withdrawing from Syria, Graham said he’s mostly “very pleased” with the Trump administration and has had more access to the president than ever. He hopes Trump will meet with his generals and reconsider that decision.
“He was dealt a bad hand by Obama and he needs to play it better than he’s playing it. Keeping the troops in Iraq is great,” he said.
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