Bobbing for War

Florida's senator should get out before he gets in

John Edwards has all the gravitas of John Boy and is almost as proven as a national leader.

John Kerry has no presidential legs, but he's got effete.

Joe Lieberman combines chronic charisma deficiency with a serious identity problem -- is he Democrat, Republican, or Likudnik?

And Dick Gephardt... well, who the hell cares about Dick Gephardt?

These aren't so much Dems as they are Dims. You know it's bad when Gary Hart is talking about a comeback. Next they'll be dusting off Walter Mondale (again) and putting the Army helmet back on Michael Dukakis.

But what about Bob?

Florida Sen. Bob Graham has all but announced that he'll run in 2004. The 66-year-old's decision has been delayed by heart surgery scheduled for next week, but after that, he'll likely jump into the primaries. His popularity in the Sunshine State alone makes him an interesting candidate. For a moment there, I thought he might be the answer. But in this grim new age, one simply doesn't go on hunches or whims. No, voters have more at stake now that barbarians aren't just at our gate but also in the Oval Office.

Graham, unfortunately, is one of them. Rather than being billed as the raving hawk that he is, Graham has been cast in the national media as an alternative to Bush and the war machine. That misconception comes courtesy of the senator's vote against authorizing George the Younger to bomb Iraq back in October. But his reasoning would make Napoleon blush: Graham said the resolution was too weak and should have given Dubya the power to destroy camps in Syria, Iran, and other Arab countries. His amendment to expand Bush's bombing power was crushed 88-10.

But few have paid any attention to Graham's martial bent. The Nation, that liberal tome, encouraged him just this week "to fashion a critique that exposes the true costs of imperial ambitions."

Note to left-wing establishment: That ain't Bob, babe.

A President Graham would be a scary proposition indeed, and not because of his weird habit of penning the most mundane details in his daily journals but rather his yenning to attack other countries. One can only imagine the former Florida governor's journal entries if he were to become commander in chief. Something like:

8:15 a.m.: Wake up in White House.

8:30: Eat breakfast. Raisin Bran and prune juice.

9 to 9:30 a.m.: Morning constitutional. Best thinking done all week.

9:15 to noon: Bomb Syria and Iran. Overall successful, except for accidental strike on Koran factory. Oops!

12:30 to 1 p.m.: Lunch. Fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. Elvis lives.

1:15: Watch Jim Carrey's Man on the Moon. Loved parts where Jim wrestles women and Jerry "The King" Lawler royally kicks his ass.

3:00: Get briefing on recent terrorist attack in Topeka, Kansas. Fifth one on American soil this week. Why do they hate us freedom-loving people so much? Ain't right.

3:15-3:30: Rewind Jim Carrey's Man on the Moon. Watch wrestling parts backwards. Ha ha.

4 to 6: Get update on bombing of leftist guerrillas in Colombian mountains. Scan reports of government human rights abuses and paramilitary atrocities. The price of freedom is high, I've found, but must eradicate coca and communists.

6:15: Realize it's getting personal with France. Parlez vous bombez?

Though it's not talked about much, Graham's predilection for military action is apparent, especially in Colombia, a brewing disaster that has been all but forgotten in the hoopla over Hussein. Leftist guerrillas under the banner of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by its Spanish acronym FARC) are taking over the countryside and blowing up things as they fight for land reform and redistribution of wealth. Right-wing paramilitaries are trying to kill the leftists and have committed various atrocities against innocent civilians in the process. The paramilitary groups have strong ties to the Colombian military, which itself is monumentally corrupt and guilty of human rights abuses. Cocaine money helps to fuel the whole horror show.

In recent years, the United States has stepped knee-deep into this quagmire. Much of the $2.2 billion given to Colombia during the past three years has gone to a coca plant eradication program that is poisoning the countryside, killing legal crops, and making peasants sick. It's not working: Colombia is producing as much cocaine as ever. But that hasn't caused Bush (or Clinton before him) to stop the practice. Instead, our involvement is escalating. Two weeks ago, 60 U.S. Special Forces were sent there to guard an oil pipeline and train the Colombian military -- the result an additional $100 million in spending approved by Congress.

So Iraq isn't the only war for oil in the works. Military advisers from the U.S. Southern Command are on the ground, along with hundreds of U.S. soldiers, civilian contractors, and loads of military equipment, including several Black Hawk helicopters. The policy is shifting from killing coca to fighting the leftists.

Some Democrats in Congress have tried to thwart the Bush administration's efforts. In October 2001, they struck $160 million from the Colombian package. Only one senator made a motion to put the money back in the aid package, and he wasn't a Republican. It was Bob Graham.

Graham's October 24, 2001, motion failed by a vote of 72-27. "This is our current battle against terrorism," Graham lamented the next day at a National Press Club luncheon, adding that Colombia is "where the terrorist war has been raging, and now we are saying at the very time that rhetorically, we are going to war against global terrorists, that in the area where we are at greatest immediate threat, we are in retreat."

The passage not only highlights Graham's sometimes less-than-inspired linguistic style but also shows just how determined he is to send us to war in Colombia. "Graham is one of the biggest hawks for the Colombian military in the entire Congress," says Adam Isacson, a senior associate for the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C. "He regularly compares FARC and al Qaeda to push for more military action in Colombia. I believe he is the only member of Congress to make that comparison so nakedly."

During the past year, Graham has supported sending more military aid to Colombia and sponsored legislation to lessen trade restrictions and make way for American corporations to employ (read: exploit) workers there. When the late Minnesota Democrat Paul Wellstone tried to divert some of the millions of dollars going to the herbicide project into drug rehabilitation efforts here in the United States, Graham voted against it. The senator has also opposed measures to make the military aid contingent upon Colombia improving its abysmal human rights record, which has been documented ad infinitum by groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Why is Graham backing such a horrible policy and terrible waste of taxpayer money? I think he's partly just pandering to wealthy Colombian exiles in South Florida, along with the politically dominant right-wing Cuban community in Miami. It makes for good political capital. And he's long backed Republican-led foreign policy disasters, including those in El Salvador and Nicaragua, not to mention Reagan's economically disastrous missile defense system and the 20-year-old drug war.

Although he has talked a good game against attacking Iraq, Graham's ideology regarding the Arab world is just as super-hawkish as his South American strategy. He has continued to rally support for preemptive strikes on camps in Syria and Iran. "Against those international terrorists such as Hizballah and Hamas, we need to be launching attacks on their headquarters and their training camps," Graham said in November on CNN's Late Edition.

Smart, Bob. Let's begin preemptive strikes against those groups that oppose Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands. Let's ruin any chance of even pretending to be an honest broker in a future peace process. And let's distract ourselves from the just fight against al Qaeda and further inflame the entire region for no good reason. Yes, Hizballah has struck U.S. targets overseas, but that was in the 1980s. Unless one of those groups actually attacks the United States or its citizens now, or we have reliable evidence that such an attack is being planned, we should try to solve the problem in the Middle East peacefully.

I hope Graham mentions that truth in his journal, along with this brief entry: "Decide not to run for president. Can't win."

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