Wartime is no time for defense cuts, says Lindsey Graham.
The South Carolina senator told a conservative audience on Tuesday he would oppose defense cuts in any fiscal-cliff deal because "we are at war." Without mentioning Afghanistan, Graham called out Iran, Syria, and broader instability in the Middle East.
"I want the Iranian nuclear threat to be resolved before [agreeing to] a hundred, a hundred fifty billion dollars beyond the $489 [billion]" in defense cuts already enacted in 2011, Graham said. (He apparently misspoke; the figure is $487 billion.)
Congress already shaved $487 billion from projected 10-year defense spending under the 2011 Budget Control Act, which raised the debt limit and created "sequestration" as an incentive for a broader fiscal deal. Unless a deficit-reduction deal is cut by Dec. 31, $500 billion will be cut across the board from the Pentagon.
"I want to make sure that Syria ends in a way that doesn't blow up the entire region. The Arab Spring is a work in progress - I would like to know with some general idea how this movie ends. If we don't know how these things unfold, then I think we're making a very poor national security decision driven by budgets," Graham said, in comments reported earlier by the Washington Free Beacon.
Graham warned that Iran could do "damage" to the U.S. if armed conflict arose - and that he thinks Israel lacks the capability to end Iran's nuclear program on its own. The senator, known as a national-security hawk, pushed for maintaining military force for several reasons.
"I don't want to go to war with China, and I don't expect we will, but it's always good to know that you could and win," Graham said. "I hope military force is not necessary to stop the Iranian regime marching toward a nuclear capability, but I do know this: that if force is to be used, our capabilities need to be such that it would be decisive. My biggest fear about an Israeli attack on Iran is that they don't have the capabilities, in my view, to bring the program to a complete end."
At other points in his remarks, delivered at a luncheon hosted by The Weekly Standard and Concerned Veterans for America, Graham seemed willing to accept some defense cuts without any resolution to his concerns about Iran and Syria.
"You could also make the argument that we're going to be Greece, as a nation, if we don't get our fiscal house in order," Graham said. "I would entertain going past $487 billion, but the one concept I will not entertain is having a military that doesn't make us an exceptional nation. We cannot afford that."
Graham said the U.S. military could do "more with less" but made his opinion on sequestration clear: "I"m gonna do is say no to sequestration with all the force of my being, cause it is a dumb way to reduce defense spending."