“The period has now arrived when the United States must support their character and station among the nations of the earth or submit to the most shameful degradation. Forbearance has ceased to be a virtue.”
No, that wasn’t Sen. Lindsey Graham last week, pressing his case for U.S. military action in Syria.
That was Rep. John C. Calhoun on June 3, 1812, pressing his case for U.S. military action against Britain.
Before becoming secretary of war, vice president, secretary of state and a senator who was slavery’s most prominent defender, Calhoun was a young “war hawk” in the House.
Graham, now in his second Senate term after four terms in the House, also has been a high-profile proponent of using America’s military might.
But Calhoun and Graham aren’t the only war hawks South Carolinians have sent to Washington.
Mendel Rivers, 1st District congressman from 1941 until his death in late 1970 (and House Armed Services Committee chairman for his last five years), proclaimed in 1965: “I will accept nothing but total and complete victory in Vietnam.”
Two years later, Strom Thurmond, a senator from 1954-2003, said military leaders told him that if President Lyndon Johnson would turn them loose, “the war in Vietnam could be won in six weeks and that Viet Cong guerillas could then be mopped up in six more months.”
And last week in Goose Creek and Mount Pleasant, Graham delivered the localized warning that backing down on Syria would raise the risk of Charleston Harbor being nuked by Iran-supplied terrorists.
That’s not the harbor-deepening project we had in mind.
And that frantic rhetoric isn’t what many Graham fans, including me, had in mind.
Graham has been an outstanding senator, yet he undermines his credibility by relentlessly playing the hawk.
Heck, he’s even defended the National Security Agency’s indefensible snooping excesses.
Whom do you trust?
OK, so Graham, his venerable Senate tag-team partner John McCain and 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama aren’t calling for a U.S. “war” against the mass-murdering Assad regime — if by “war” you mean American ground troops.
McCain told a Phoenix radio station last Thursday: “No one wants American boots on the ground. Nor will there be American boots on the ground, because there would be an impeachment of the president if they did that.”
On Saturday, President Obama said in his weekly radio address: “There would be no American boots on the ground.”
In other words, these U.S. military boots aren’t made for walking into Syria.
Maybe the president’s semi-tough talk is working:
On Monday, Syria offered to give up its chemical weapons.
So would you believe Assad the Butcher if he turned in some of those weapons and said that was all he had?
Hey, as world cop we have do something about the Syrian government’s gassing of civilians, right? But what if our air strikes don’t help oust Assad? Or what if they do and al-Qaida types replace him?
And how would either outcome save Charleston Harbor?
On Saturday, Obama again stressed that “any action we take would be limited, both in time and scope.” He’s bound to repeat that point in tonight’s speech to the nation.
On Monday in London, Secretary of State John Kerry did some downsizing of his own, saying the U.S. air assault would be “an unbelievably small, limited kind of effort.”
Americans aren’t the only ones hearing such assurances of a “small, limited kind of effort” by the U.S.
Syrians — including Assad — hear them too.
And when Graham sounds an alarm about terrorists nuking Charleston Harbor, South Carolinians hear him sounding, well, like an alarmist.
Yes, Graham can
That’s a shame. Our senior senator has lots of right-wing critics, including an unimpressive trio of 2014 Republican primary challengers.
Yet he also has a solid fiscal conservative voting record, has been a convincing critic of the Obama team’s Benghazi debacle, and has been not just wise but politically brave on assorted other issues.
For instance, Graham’s right about the need for immigration reform, the folly of the GOP forcing a government shutdown to “de-fund” Obamacare, and the legislative duty to seek reasonable compromise solutions.
Let’s just hope he’s wrong about Charleston Harbor.
As for Calhoun, remember that two years after that S.C. “hawk” got the war he wanted, British Redcoats burned down the White House.
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.