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February 20, 2013

Let's think about our priorities overseas

The Daily Star

---- — With Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta retiring and his successor yet to be confirmed, now is a good time for American voters to examine global threats to our national security and decide which should take precedent. Without getting too specific, let’s consider two countries, and which poses the greater peril.

• The first nation is a non-nuclear state that, according to U.S. intelligence, is still years away from being capable of producing weapons-grade nuclear material. It has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, for what it’s worth, and has a right to peaceful nuclear energy. This country was a U.S. ally during World War II and hasn’t invaded another country since 1739.

• The second nation is a nuclear state, having conducted multiple successful tests with enriched uranium. It withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty and has refused to allow weapons inspectors onto its soil. Its leaders have bragged repeatedly that they’re working on an intercontinental ballistic missile that could carry a nuclear warhead to American shores, and it recently released a propaganda video depicting an entire U.S. city reduced to a smoldering ruin. Just last week, it threatened a neighbor with “final destruction.”

If you’ve seen the withering barrage of criticism launched by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., during the confirmation process of defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, you would think the answer to this question is A — Iran; followed by (trick question) C — a handful of thugs roaming the desert around Benghazi, Libya, hoping for a chance to kill an American.

In a distant third, you have B — North Korea, led by a brutal young Stalinist who fancies himself as some kind of modern, nuke-wielding Genghis Khan. You know, the one who has hardly been mentioned, if at all, during the Hagel hearings. Oh, and by the way, it’s by far the nearest of the three to U.S. shores.

Graham’s bizarre, head-scratching priorities only make sense to a hardened cynic who’s conditioned to expect the worst from Capitol Hill lawmakers. The truth is that far-right South Carolina Republicans have long been tepid in their support for Graham. To avoid the sort of Tea Party primary challengers who have knocked off so many GOP moderates in recent years, Graham had to tack rightward.

Fortunately for Graham, a recent poll from Public Policy Polling showed a significant boost in support for him among likely Republican primary voters, from 37 percent to 51 percent. The lesson here is that although nonsensical attempts to smear egg on the president’s face might not make much sense from a national security standpoint, they make for great politics.