Sen. Lindsey Graham on biggest foreign policy issues facing next president

As the election approaches, “CBS This Morning” is examining the positions of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on several topics in its new series, “Issues That Matter.” In our first installment with South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, we discussed his take on how the candidates would handle major foreign policy challenges with other nations. 


When Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton face off in the second presidential debate Sunday, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is itching to ask one question.

“Would you use military force to stop the development of a missile by North Korea that could hit America?” Graham told “CBS This Morning” Thursday. “I’m dying to hear what they would say that.”

According to the senator, a member of the Armed Services Committee, the nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran are two of the most concerning issues facing the next president who takes office.

“Because you have two unstable regimes. One has nuclear weapons, one’s trying to get them. What would happen, in terms of game changer, if they had the capability to hit the American homeland?” Graham said.

Graham said the next commander in chief must be prepared to take action. That means telling the North Koreans if they proceed with their nuclear development program, “we will stop you,” and reimposing sanctions on Iran if they violate United Nations resolutions.

And if that doesn’t do the job, Graham suggests that going even further may be necessary.

“So you’re saying the next president should be willing to attack North Korean nuclear facilities if they continue with the program?” co-host Charlie Rose asked.

“Because if you’re not willing to do that, then you’re going to allow North Korea to have the ability to attack us,” Graham said. “If he believes we would knock out his program, he would stop. If Iran believed we’d reimpose sanctions or come after them if they tried to keep developing missile technology, they would stop. If the Russians believed we would actually shoot their planes down, they wouldn’t bomb the safe havens.”

“So you’re saying that they don’t believe the United States would do that?” Rose asked.

“Nobody does, yeah.”

Graham stressed that if the next president does not “put Iran and North Korea in a box in terms of their missile capability, we will live to regret it.” 

Also creating more “headaches” for the next president is the situation in the Middle East – in particular, Syria, which he sees as the more immediate crisis. 

“I see land grab in Syria. I see the complete destruction ofAleppo... I’m really worried that the next few months, that you’ll send an all-out assault on Aleppo and that maybe some of the Baltic areas might be under threat [from Russia],” Graham said. “The Iranians and the North Koreans can’t develop the technology I’m talking about between now and January.”

But handling the crisis in Syria is complicated by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s relationship with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Graham describes Putin as a dictator who’s “destroyed every semblance of democracy in his own country” and the “biggest weapons supplier to the Ayatollah in terms of air defense capability.”

“So what I would, to Putin, is say you will be judged by your behavior and I will take him on Syria. I would say that we’re going to train people to fight back against Assad because he is the butcher of Damascus. No Arab [leader] is going to allow Assad to stay in power because he’s the proxy of Iran,” Graham said. “If Assad stays in power, the Mideast is in chaos for generations to come.”

Graham said the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria lacked the power to fight ISIS and take its stronghold in the city of Raqqa. Instead, Graham proposed creating new military pressure on Assad by creating a regional force that would “go after Assad” after destroying ISIS.

And should Russians bomb the U.S.-trained forces – as they’ve been blamed for thousands of civilian deaths in Russian airstrikes supposedly meant to target terrorists – Graham said he would “shoot them down.” 

“If you’re not willing to do that, it’s not a safe zone. And the Russians, that they believe we would shoot them down, would bomb. It’s all about attitude,” Graham said.

So looking forward to the election, which candidate is more fit to do that?

Graham called Trump’s public praise of Putin “schizophrenia,” but said he was more encouraged after his running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, gave the impression on “CBS This Morning” Thursday that they were “being more robust when it comes to getting involved and protecting people and creating safe zones inside Syria.”

As for Hillary Clinton, Graham said he believes that she would “use military force to protect the safe haven inside of Syria.”

Graham, who also ran for the Republican presidential nomination, had previously compared choosing between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz to being “shot or poisoned.”

When asked about his thoughts now, Graham said, “It’s still too early to tell whether we’re shot or poisoned. Here’s what I do know – that if he’s going to be president of the United States, he needs to up his game. Putin’s not our friend.”