Lindsey Graham photo

Remarks at the National Press Club Luncheon in Washington, DC

September 08, 2015

President Obama's deal with Iran could only be reached through a long series of mistakes and miscalculations. His biggest mistake of all was to disassociate Iran's destabilizing behavior from their nuclear ambitions. By separating the two, Obama opened up funding for the war machine of the world's greatest sponsor of terrorism. This was a strategic blunder for the ages.

As to Israel, this deal empowers their chief antagonist with more money, more weapons, and a pathway to a bomb. To my Democratic colleagues who say this agreement saves Israel and secures its future, I couldn't disagree more strongly. Every single major political party in Israel, not just Likud, opposes this deal because they know it gives the Ayatollah the ability to make his chants of "Death to Israel" a reality. If this agreement does not dramatically change, it could very well be a death sentence to our closest ally in region.

I believe the Ayatollah is compelled by his religious beliefs to purify Islam, destroy the one and only Jewish state, and attack democracies like ours. There is no place in the Ayatollah's world for religious tolerance, peaceful dissent, or the selection of leaders by the people.

Some of the collateral damage from Obama's fixation on a deal with Iran at any cost has been the unchecked provocations of Russia and China. In the face of Russia's interventions in Ukraine and its support for Assad, or China's aggression against its neighbors and the U.S., Obama has been afraid to push back because he needs Moscow and Beijing in order to reach a deal with Iran.

As a result, the losers of this deal include American businesses and government officials who have been cyber attacked by China, the good people of Ukraine, and the overwhelming majority of Syrians who have had to suffer under Assad's oppression. All because Obama has been unwilling to counter these provocations in a forceful manner for fear of jeopardizing his agreement.

The biggest losers of all are the Iranian people themselves. Those who yearn for freedom and to see the end of oppression by the Ayatollah and his henchmen. This agreement empowers the Ayatollah and makes it far more difficult for the Iranian people to unshackle themselves from this oppressive religious theocracy. When the history of these times has been written, unfortunately I believe it will be said that President Obama was a weak opponent of evil and a poor champion of freedom.

His nuclear deal with Iran is The Great Miscalculation of his presidency. In an administration marked by failing policies here at home and around the world, this deal will prove to be his most consequential failure.

He went to the negotiating table without understanding who he was dealing with. And he went to the table as a weakened president who had long been broadcasting to the world he had no will to confront our adversaries. Having disastrously and prematurely withdrawn from Iraq, drawing red lines in Syria and then backing down, and making it crystal clear that a military option was not really on the table, he set the stage for a negotiation with Iran that could only go one way.

Just as Obama's position of weakness was crystal clear, it should also have been very clear what kind of adversary we were dealing with. Iran has been run by a radical, fanatical regime for over three and a half decades. Their nuclear ambitions, their hatred for the U.S. and Israel, their support for terror, and their religious fanaticism are well known. Even if President Obama entered office without understanding this regime, history had given him a crash course in 2009.

Two years before the Arab Spring broke out, the people of Iran began to revolt against their tyrannical government. The Ayatollah had rigged the presidential election and the people of Iran knew it. Within hours of the announcement of the stolen election, hundreds of thousands of Iranians poured into the streets demanding nothing more than their democratic rights.

This Green Revolution, as it was called, made up of political and religious moderates, youth, women, workers, and anyone who wanted a better life, all stood up to peacefully but forcefully demand a new kind of Iran. The reaction of the Ayatollah was swift and barbaric. Thousands were savagely beaten. Dozens were killed in cold blood, and hundreds more were jailed, many of whom were tortured and tried in sham trials.

At this point, Iran had reached a crossroads. Either this Green Revolution would succeed in bringing about real change in Tehran, or the radical Islamic government would succeed in squashing the movement. The United States was at a crossroads too. President Obama had a clear choice: stand with the people of Iran, or remain on the sidelines during the brutal crackdown.

At this pivotal moment, President Obama chose to remain on the sidelines. The religious Nazis running Iran faced no consequences for their actions. The people of Iran received no support. Without the support of the world's greatest democracy, their effort was doomed. The Ayatollah and his henchmen in the Revolutionary Guard killed, jailed, or terrified into silence every Iranian moderate. In the six years since, there has been no sign of that resistance. The crackdown was complete. The cost of protest clearly too high.

What happened in 2009 helped to sharpen the world's focus on this fanatical regime. In the years following, those of us who had long understood the threat Iran poses redoubled our efforts to step up the pressure. The U.S. Congress put the screws to the Iranian government, cutting off access to global markets and especially western financial institutions. Our allies followed our lead. We painstakingly built an international consensus on Iranian sanctions.

I helped to lead this effort because I believed then and I believe now that the single greatest threat to our security as a nation is the prospect of a nuclear Iran. Iran, in turn, felt the deep pain inflicted by a united sanctions effort, and agreed to come to the negotiating table.

This was a critical moment. We had backed Iran into the corner. What was needed now more than ever was a tough American president. Someone who wanted a deal, but not so badly that he would take a bad one. A president who credibly put all options on the table so that Iran knew we meant business. A president who laid out negotiating objectives and stuck to them. A president who, without a shred of doubt, would do whatever it takes to defend America.

But that's not the president we had. We had a president who projected weakness and clearly didn't understand who he was dealing with. But believe me, they knew exactly who they were dealing with. They saw President Obama's weakness and they took every possible advantage.

While John Kerry was giving away the farm at the negotiating table, his own State Department was writing a report detailing Iran's terror campaign throughout the Middle East. This report outlined very clearly the money, arms, and training that Iran was providing to terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, who attack the State of Israel and, in the case of Hezbollah, hold the government of Lebanon hostage.

While the Obama Administration was giving away our ability to dismantle Iran's nuclear program, Iran was propping up Bashar Al Assad and prolonging the Syrian conflict, giving rise to ISIL and the world's most devastating humanitarian crisis.

While our negotiators were giving up on anywhere/anytime inspections, Iran was destabilizing Iraq and reviving sectarian tensions with its Shiite militias, paving the way for ISIL to move in and undo the gains made by American troops.

While President Obama was backing down from every single negotiating objective he had laid out, Iran was taking down the government of Yemen. Through their proxies, the Houthis, they toppled this pro-US government and crippled our ability to monitor AQAP.

In short, Iran set the entire Middle East on fire, taking over four Arab capitals and creating the conditions for the most devastating and sophisticated attacks against our homeland, all while negotiating with the Obama Administration. And what did they get at the end of that negotiation? A deal that gives them a nuclear bomb, a missile to deliver it, and the money to pay for it.

The disastrous failings of this agreement are well known by now. It gives the Ayatollah an immediate cash infusion of $100 billion. It allows the Iranians, even if they abide by the agreement, to arrive at the threshold of being a nuclear-armed state in just a few short years. And of course we know they will not abide by the agreement. They have consistently lied and cheated from day one about their nuclear weapons program, and this deal relies on trust rather than real verification with anywhere/anytime inspections. It lifts bans on ballistic missiles and conventional weapons. And the launch of the deal hinges on a secret side deal between the IAEA and Iran regarding the possible military dimensions of their program. So far, Congress and the American people have been barred from seeing this agreement, but we know at the very least it leaves inspections in the hands of the Iranians themselves.

Today the Senate begins its debate on this deal. I have spent every day since the deal was announced analyzing the details, talking with experts, and explaining to my colleagues and the American people why it is so dangerous. I will continue making the case on the Senate floor and encouraging my Democratic colleagues to put our security above politics. Regardless of how the vote goes, the fight for a better deal will not end. I am leading the effort to impose additional sanctions on the Iranian regime until all of our hostages are released. I will support re-imposing the current sanctions before they expire at the end of 2016. I will also block funding for the IAEA until they come clean about their side deals with Iran. I will not let up until we change course, force Iran back to the table, and get a better deal.

President Obama says that our choice is between this deal and war. He says that there's no better deal to be had. He's half right - there's no better deal to be had from a president who negotiates from weakness. But the right president will get the right deal.

As president, I would say to the Iranians you can have a peaceful nuclear energy program. You can have sanctions relief. But first you will completely dismantle your nuclear weapons program. You will abandon your support for terror. You will submit to inspections anytime, anywhere, so that we know you're not cheating. And you will not get a penny of sanctions relief until we know you've complied and continue to comply. That's the deal. If you reject those terms and walk away, that's your choice. If Iran tries to break out, they will be stopped.

To achieve this better deal, I would work with the Congress to impose new sanctions that would put off limits American banking to any company that would do business with Iran. I believe having the choice between the Iranian economy and the American banking system would create tremendous leverage that I would use wisely.

I am running for president because this is the deal we need. It is the only deal that will secure our nation, protect our closest allies like Israel, and assure our Arab allies that they do not need to pursue nuclear weapons of their own. President Obama can't get this deal. He has neither the will nor an understanding of the complexities of the Middle East. But I do. I have spent months on the ground through dozens of trips to the region, as a senator and a service member in uniform. I know the key players. More important, they know me. As president I will get us a better deal and do what it takes to make sure Iran never achieves the ability to hit us at home.

Remarks As Prepared For Delivery

Lindsey Graham, Remarks at the National Press Club Luncheon in Washington, DC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/312327

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