What is Sen. Lindsey Graham Thinking?

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A little more than seven years ago, after Israel signed a $38 billion, 10-year security agreement with the Obama administration, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a long-time pro-Israel voice in the Senate, was critical.

He said the $3.8 billion per year provided for Israel’s defensive needs under the 2018 memorandum of understanding was not enough and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “left money on the table.” Graham further asserted that because of the multiple security threats facing Israel at the time, there was significant support in Congress for providing Israel with far more military aid.

Israel is now facing crushing security demands with its war in Gaza, threats from Hezbollah in the north and boiling unrest in the West Bank. Israel’s need for meaningful security funding from the only nation that has historically provided it is nearing an all-time high and is certainly a lot more intense than in 2018.

Graham has also been a vocal supporter of Ukraine in response to Russian aggression and has advocated for increased U.S. aid to assist Ukraine’s war effort.

But last week, the same Graham — using the excuse of the failed border package deal orchestrated only days earlier by Republicans in the House at the direction of former president and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump — announced his opposition to the replacement $95 billion foreign aid bill moving through the Senate, which includes what everyone recognizes as crucial funding for Ukraine’s war with Russia, Israel’s Gaza war and humanitarian aid for Palestinians.

In Graham’s words, while the planned foreign aid is important, “We must deal with our border first.” And until a border deal is completed, he said he will not support the foreign aid effort. Then, he added the kicker: “I also hope the House will turn the supplemental aid package into a loan instead of a grant. Until that day comes, I will be voting no.”
Graham gave little explanation of his new “foreign aid” position. For example, what would his new view mean for Israel’s MOU funding? And what will a shift from grants to loans mean to the economies of the recipient countries?

But no matter how Graham explains his new approach to foreign aid, the timing of his announcement and its linkage to a border package Republicans created and then destroyed make clear that Graham is, once again, simply carrying water for and contorting his policy views to fit with the “whim of the day” pronouncements of Donald Trump. That’s disappointing. Because until now, we considered Graham to be a serious foreign policy voice, even if we didn’t always agree with him.

It may well be that, upon reflection, Trump’s team will reconsider the wisdom of the foreign aid loans versus grants approach. That could come as part of the team’s reconsideration of what appears to be Trump’s developing transactional view of foreign affairs — where political decisions and international alliances are viewed through the lens of a financial balance sheet rather than principle, policy, allegiance and world peace.
Lindsey Graham can help with that analysis. We hope he tries.

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