Sen. Lindsey Graham has a reputation as a serious Republican voice on matters for foreign policy. It’s why the South Carolinian is often sought out by Sunday public-affairs shows, especially during international crises.
And that’s unfortunate because his reputation is a mirage. I’m reminded of a good piece Michael Cohen wrote for Foreign Policy magazine several years ago. “Lindsey Graham is, in fact, far more often wrong than he is right,” Cohen wrote. “Occasionally, he is more than just wrong: Sometimes, he’s completely out of his mind.”
Take late last week, for example, when Graham called for Russians to assassinate Vladimir Putin.
Graham didn’t just make an oblique reference in an obscure forum. The sitting senator and failed presidential candidate first floated the idea of Russians assassinating Putin on Thursday night, during a national television appearance. When that caused a bit of a stir, Graham pushed the same message again, this time via Twitter. “The only way this ends is for somebody in Russia to take this guy out,” he wrote.
On Friday morning, the GOP lawmaker returned to Fox News and again said he hopes someone in Russia will “take this guy out by any means possible.”
The rhetoric did not go unnoticed. NBC News reported:
Russian officials pounced on Graham’s comments, with Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov telling reporters, “Unfortunately, in such an extremely tense atmosphere, there is a hysterical escalation of Russophobia. These days, not everyone manages to maintain sobriety, I would even say sanity, and many lose their mind.” The Russian ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, said on Facebook that Graham’s statement was “unacceptable and outrageous” and said the degree of Russophobia and hatred of Russia in the U.S. is “off the scale.”
The ambassador, demanding an official explanation and condemnation of the “criminal” comments, added, “It is impossible to believe that a senator of a country that promotes its moral values as a ‘guiding star’ for all mankind could afford to call for terrorism as a way to achieve Washington’s goals in the international arena.”
In other words, in the midst of an international crisis, Graham handed Russia — which should be on the defensive after launching a brutal and unnecessary war — a tool Putin’s government could use to characterize themselves as victims.
Some high-profile Republican voices quickly distanced themselves from the South Carolinian’s rhetoric. NBC News’ report added:
“This is an exceptionally bad idea,” tweeted Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “Use massive economic sanctions; BOYCOTT Russian oil & gas; and provide military aid so the Ukrainians can defend themselves. But we should not be calling for the assassination of heads of state.” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., tweeted that the world needs leaders with “calm minds & steady wisdom. Not blood thirsty warmongering politicians trying to tweet tough by demanding assassinations.”
Not to put too fine a point on this, but when folks like Greene and Cruz effectively tell a fellow Republican, “Whoa, maybe you should dial down the heated rhetoric a notch,” Graham really ought to take note.
What’s more, as my MSNBC colleague Ja’han Jones added, “[C]ontrary to Graham’s suggestion, it’s not clear that removing Putin would bring an end to Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, let alone its potential to ignite more global conflict. Some of the people who’ve been floated as potential heirs to the dictatorship if Putin is overthrown share the same warped worldview he does.”
For its part, the White House on Friday made clear on Friday it wants nothing to do with Graham’s rhetoric.
Asked for a response to the senator’s commentary, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “That is not the position of the United States government and certainly not a statement you’d hear come from the mouths of anybody working in this administration.”