Graham: 'I'm running' to be 'best commander in chief'

By BILL BARROW
Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) - South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham all but confirmed Monday he will run for president in 2016, saying he believes he would be the best choice to serve as commander in chief amid continued unrest in the Middle East.

"I'm running because I think the world is falling apart," Graham said in an interview on "CBS This Morning."

A fierce critic of President Barack Obama's foreign and military policy, the Republican pointed to the Iraqi city of Ramadi, which recently fell to Islamic State militants, as proof that the U.S. must assert itself in the region.

"I'm afraid more American soldiers will die in Iraq and eventually in Syria to protect our homeland," he said, repeating his argument that 10,000 or more ground troops are needed to help train Iraqi security forces to serve as a functional national army.

The U.S. currently has roughly 4,200 trainers and advisers in Iraq to work with the Iraqi army.

The third-term senator said he will make his official campaign announcement June 1 in his hometown of Central, South Carolina. He would be the only Republican candidate from one of the four early voting states that also include Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.

Graham surprised many GOP insiders when he initially announced the formation of a committee to explore a 2016 bid, but he has been aggressive in his early travels, staff hires and fundraising efforts.

The senator and his aides say his experience and positions on national security argue in favor of his candidacy, both on policy and political grounds. "I've been right more than I've been wrong" on major foreign policy questions, Graham said at a recent appearance in South Carolina.

Graham, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the destabilization of Iraq, continued strife in Syria, Iranian influence in the region and the proliferation of the Islamic State militant group create an atmosphere that could yield another attack on American soil.

He noted in a recent interview he was an advocate of the troop surge in Iraq before President George W. Bush went with the strategy, and he has criticized Obama's troop reductions in the region. He also has argued the Obama administration should help Syrian rebels oust President Bashar Assad, blaming the Assad regime for the rise of the Islamic State group.

On CBS on Monday, Graham was asked whether the U.S. was right under Bush to invade Iraq in 2003, given that intelligence cited at the time falsely suggested that Saddam Hussein's regime possessed weapons of mass destruction. Graham voted as a member of the House to authorize the Iraq war.

"If I'd known then what I know now, would I have launched a ground invasion? Probably not," he said, referring to false claims that Iraq possessed a weapons arsenal that could threaten American soil.

"But that's yesterday's thinking," Graham continued. "What do we do today, tomorrow and the day after?"

Graham's political challenge will be to raise his profile so that his views stand out among better-known, well-financed Republican candidates who are equally as critical of Obama's foreign policy.

He also faces skepticism from some of the party's most conservative activists. They distrust him for his close relationship with 2008 nominee John McCain, his sponsorship of the Senate's 2012 immigration overhaul and his confirmation votes for Obama's two Supreme Court nominees, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

"I've had to be conservative, but never to the point that I can't reach across the aisle and get something done for the rest of us," Graham said in South Carolina recently.

He defended his position on immigration, saying "self-deportation is never gonna work. It is not a solution. ... I'm trying to find a way to prevent a new wave of illegal immigration."

The same approach, he said, will be necessary for any overhaul of the federal budget and popular programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which means being "willing to work with the Democratic Party."

"What I'm going to do is challenge my party to be a willing party, to do the things that we need to do to save the country as a result of the retirement of the Baby Boomers," he said.

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Follow Barrow on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/BillBarrowAP

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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