Over the past week, Republican opposition to the Iran deal has devolved considerably. Senate Republicans spent the week in chaos, raising uncertainty about whether their measure of disapproval would even reach a key procedural vote (Senators agreed to a cloture vote at 3:45pm today), holding a rally with notorious Islamophobe and birther Frank Gaffney and, in a bizarre lack of self-awareness, trotting out former Vice President Dick Cheney for a speech opposing the deal at the American Enterprise Institute, the same institution where neoconservatives met for their “black coffee briefings” to plan how to win the “war of Ideas” after 9/11 and the de-Baathification of Iraq.
Much media attention from that event focused on Patrick Clawson, research director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, attempting to violently grab a demonstrator’s banner. The banner read “Cheney Wrong On Iraq Wrong on Iran,” a reference to Cheney’s certainty about the existence of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and the former VP’s reemergence as a prominent opponent of diplomacy with Iran.
That apparent obliviousness to the past, particularly by those who advocated for the invasion of Iraq over a decade ago, was in the spotlight again today. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) took to the floor of the Senate to decry the nuclear deal with Iran as a betrayal of Israel, “damning the Middle East to holy hell” and explaining why the Ayatollah isn’t celebrating by “dancing in the street”: “He just doesn’t believe in dancing.”
Graham is a high-profile hawk and, along with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), one of the Republican party’s most outspoken and influential foreign policy voices. So what he said next is truly surprising: Graham appeared to blame the 9/11 attacks on Iran:
I have no idea why you believe the Ayatollah doesn’t mean what he says, given they way he’s behaved. If they will shoot their own children down in the streets to keep power, what do you think they’ll do to ours? And the only reason three thousand people died on 9/11 is they couldn’t get the weapons to kill three million of us and they’re on course to do it now.
The 9/11 Report looked at the possibility of Iranian involvement and concluded that while some of the hijackers transited through Iran:
We have found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack. At the time of their travel through Iran, the al Qaeda operatives themselves were probably not aware of the specific details of their future operation.
If Lindsey Graham has some new evidence, he should probably share it with the public. On the other hand, taking the most hawkish anti-Iran positions, even at the expense of the truth, might be a political ploy. Graham’s presidential campaign is a total flop (he’s currently polling around 0 percent). He reportedly speaks frequently with Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson and, in April, after a glass of wine, claimed he was a favorite of pro-Israel donors. The desperate bid to link Iran to 9/11 may be just the type of thing a donor like Adelson—who wants to drop nuclear bombs on Iran—might respond to by infusing the Senator’s campaign with some cash.
Graham may have to make increasingly outlandish statements if he hopes to garner any media attention, resuscitate his dying presidential campaign and maintain his access to anti-Iran deal GOP donors. With no accountability for the lies that led to the Iraq war, the strategy looks unlikely to have a downside.