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SC Senate policy stakes: Graham points to Iran, Harrison to Russia as biggest US threat

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Democrat Jaime Harrison is challenging U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. File

Over the course of his 26 years on Capitol Hill, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has developed a reputation for his hawkish approach to foreign policy, which became a central focus of his brief 2016 presidential campaign.

Jaime Harrison, the Democrat challenging Graham in the South Carolina Republican's bid for a fourth term in the Senate, touts his experience working under U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, for helping him develop his own worldview.

Whichever candidate wins will be tasked with helping form America's response to a wide range of geopolitical threats around the world, as well as improving services for the military veterans who responded — thousands of whom now live in the Palmetto State.

This is the sixth installment of an eight-part series in The Post and Courier leading up to the election that will lay out the policy views of Graham and Harrison on issues that matter most to South Carolina voters.

The responses to this candidate questionnaire have been edited and condensed for space and clarity.

Do you support withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, either fully or partially, over the next few years?

Graham: I support reducing our forces to a level that is based on sound military advice. It should be based on conditions on the ground and how the decision will impact our own national security. Our first priority must be to ensure that any decision does not put the American homeland at risk. We should learn from the misguided mistake made by the (Barack) Obama - (Joe) Biden administration when they recklessly pushed for a full withdrawal from Iraq, a decision which led to the rise of ISIS and the massacre of thousands.

Harrison: South Carolina has a proud military tradition, and so does my family. Two of my uncles served in the Army, and a cousin of mine is enlisted in the Navy. Sending Americans into harm’s way should never be the first option. We should lead with diplomacy, but we must also engage strongly to defeat global terrorism and protect allies. I commend the current efforts to safely reduce our troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan, in consultation with allies and intelligence. Any engagement on the ground should be targeted, precise and goal-oriented. That’s why as floor director for Rep. Jim Clyburn, I helped lead an effort to pass a resolution ending the war in Iraq.

Which country do you think represents the greatest geopolitical threat to the United States, and how do you think that threat should be handled?

Graham: We face major threats today on several fronts. China and Russia are expansionist powers who are undermining democracies worldwide and represent brutal, repressive regimes. However, what keeps me up at night is the Iranian Ayatollah and his henchman acquiring nuclear weapons. I fear the Iranians would use them against American interests and our allies in Israel. Iran’s leadership is motivated by religious doctrine. They consider the U.S. the Great Satan and openly call for the destruction of Israel — one of our closest allies. They must never be allowed to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Harrison: Russia presents profound threats to our security. They engaged in covert cybersecurity actions to influence our election in 2016, and have been meddling in our political system ever since. On the ground, their forces continue to show aggression against American forces. Just weeks ago, Russian forces rammed an American armored vehicle in northern Syria. And I was extremely troubled to read extensive reports about Russian forces offering the Taliban bounties on the heads of American servicemembers in Afghanistan. We have to show resolve in the face of this kind of provocation. And we have to recommit to defending Eastern Europe and ensuring that NATO has the resources and capabilities it needs to defend itself against Russia’s expansionist ambitions.

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America’s defense budget is bigger than ever. Should it be cut to pay for other programs, increased to further strengthen the military or kept at around the same level it is today?

Graham: The budget should be slightly increased to accommodate the modernization needs of the military. When it comes to America’s adversaries, the threats are growing, not lessening. The Russians and Chinese continue to develop new weapon systems which must be countered. Radical Islam continues to be a threat around the globe, and the terrorists never tire of trying to kill Americans.

Harrison: We have the most powerful military on Earth, and it should remain that way. Our global reach and installations throughout the world protect our interests and those of our strongest allies, and we should spare no expense to support our Armed Forces and their families. At the same time, just like with any other government program, we have to act as good stewards of taxpayer dollars and ensure our defense spending does not exceed the needs of our military.

How significant of a role do you think foreign policy should play in the day-to-day job of South Carolina’s U.S. senator? Does South Carolina benefit from being represented by a foreign policy specialist in Congress?

Graham: I pride myself on being able to lead on issues both foreign and domestic. Over 150 bills that I have sponsored or cosponsored have become law. This term alone, my office has closed out over 42,000 casework files for South Carolinians. But I was in Washington, D.C., on 9/11 and remember the day well — walking over to the U.S. Capitol with the city completely shut down. I promised myself I would do everything in my power to ensure it never happened to our country again. South Carolina has one of the most globally connected economies in the nation. International trade and the military are significant factors in creating jobs and promoting our way of life. Understanding the world — the alliances we have and the threats we face — is one of the most important jobs of a senator, particularly one representing a globally connected state like South Carolina.

Harrison: Foreign policy experience is helpful, particularly given our state’s military tradition and our ports' economic contribution. As a top House leadership aide, I visited several countries across Africa, East Asia, the Middle East and other areas on congressional delegations, during which I met with leaders about pressing economic and geopolitical issues facing America. Our eight military bases and other facilities help drive our economy and create jobs. But when the president in 2019 redirected funds to the border wall that were meant to rebuild a fire station at the air station in Beaufort, Lindsey Graham stood idly by. He promised the money, but has yet to deliver. I won’t let politics hurt our state’s installations, no matter who is president.

What do you think is the most pressing concern facing America’s veterans, and what will you do to address it?

Graham: We owe these great Americans a debt of gratitude that we can never repay, but we must make sure that when people separate from military service their skills are valued in the marketplace. As an Air Force veteran with 33 years of military experience, I strongly support veterans' preference in hiring because I know the amazing capabilities of the men and women in the U.S. armed forces. We also need to continue modernizing the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure veterans can receive medical services locally and access the best health care, regardless of where they reside. Veterans need more choices when it comes to their health care, not less.

Harrison: South Carolina has one of the largest veterans populations in the country. After serving, these men and women deserve peace of mind that they can easily access the health care benefits they’ve earned. I’ll fight to end long wait times at our VA hospitals and support choice for veterans who lack access to convenient and prompt care through the traditional VA system. I’ll also make sure there is adequate funding for veterans and their families dealing with issues such as PTSD. It’s unconscionable that political meddling at the Postal Service has caused delays in prescriptions deliveries to veterans. We must make sure the USPS is strong and able to deliver medications on time. As senator, I’ll also work to boost investments in job training that empowers veterans to apply their skills in the civilian workforce.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

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