Senator Lindsey Graham says we can't "win" without night raids

Lindsey Graham was one of the more vocal critics of the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. He said that the Obama Administration “failed” by not being able to secure an agreement with the Iraqi government to allow troops to stay beyond the end of 2011. He added that “I fear this decision has set in motion events that will come back to haunt our country.”

That’s the context for Graham’s most recent remarks on Afghanistan, where he pronounced himself “ready to pull the plug.” Take note of the reasons for his ennui.

Graham, who has been one of the strongest congressional supporters for continuing the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan beyond 2014, said today that unless Karzai relents on his demands that the United States immediately hand over control of Afghan prisoners and end night raids against insurgents, there is no way the U.S. can achieve its objectives in Afghanistan and therefore should just end its involvement there.

“If the president of the country can’t understand how irrational it is to expect us to turn over prisoners and if he doesn’t understand that the night raids have been the biggest blow to the Taliban … then there is no hope of winning. None,” Graham said in the hallways of the Capitol Building just before entering the GOP caucus lunch.

“So if he insists that all the prisoners have to be turned over by March 9 and that we have to stop night raids, that means we will fail in Afghanistan and that means Lindsey Graham pulls the plug. It means that I no longer believe we can win and we might as well get out of there sooner rather than later.”

First of all, as Jim White points out, the prisons will get turned over to the Afghans over a six-month period, in all likelihood. And the Afghans have been all too happy to torture prisoners rather than letting them loose in the streets.

But consider that this dispute between the US and Afghanistan mirrors the dispute with Iraq. In Iraq, US officials wanted to keep troops in the country under the protection of legal immunity. Iraq considered it a red line, refused to grant immunity, and as a result we pulled our troops out. In Afghanistan, the situation is very similar. The US wants to continue night raids. Karzai considers that a red line. As a result, Graham wants to pull our troops out. The same guy who criticized the Obama Administration for “losing” Iraq wants to “lose” Afghanistan, on his terms, with a pullout.

Personally I don’t mind the hypocrisy. I think we should take Graham up on his offer. We have no business in Afghanistan anymore, and if transferring detainees to their prisons is a prelude to getting out, I’d welcome it. So let’s thank Lindsey Graham for joining the Out of Afghanistan caucus.

David Dayen

David Dayen