GOP Sen. Graham Bets on Military Résumé for Presidency

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from The Wall Street Journal,

GOP senator weighing a 2016 bid sees his profile strengthening as threats overseas mount.

Sen. Lindsey Graham has been an Air Force officer, a member of the armed services panels in both the House and the Senate, and one of the leading supporters of a muscular U.S. military policy.

The résumé has given the 59-year-old Mr. Graham a national profile as a defense hawk. Now, the South Carolina Republican is saying it would be a strong credential for the presidency, given a campaign that is unfolding amid high threats from overseas, and a GOP field that is drawing few contenders with deep foreign-policy experience.

“What I have to offer as a problem-solving conservative [is] a very robust view of how to secure the nation,” said Mr. Graham recently. “There’s a growing element in our party that would like somebody like me to speak up about national security.”

Potential presidential-primary rival Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) said Mr. Graham is “intensely engaged in issues of national security.”

Mr. Graham, who served more than 6 years as an officer on active duty and remains a colonel in the Air Force Reserves, surprised many in politics when he said last month he was considering a bid for the White House. Pollsters have rarely included him in surveys of the emerging Republican field, and there are few signs that he is building the political machinery for a national campaign.

Still, he traveled to Iowa this past week to meet with elected officials, veterans and other activists. He plans to visit New Hampshire in the next few weeks and has said he would decide whether to run by the end of April.

He is drawing encouragement from some influential Republicans who focus on national security. Among those expressing early interest is gambling mogul and major GOP donor Sheldon Adelson , who will be a co-chairman at a March 3 fundraiser for Mr. Graham’s testing-the-waters committee, according to an invitation to the event.

Mr. Graham would enter the race a long-shot candidate, but his expected focus on national security could alter the discussion around those issues, forcing a crop of GOP governors and less-experienced lawmakers to sharpen their foreign-policy positions.

Mr. Graham levels many of the same criticisms of the Obama administration as have others in the field of likely GOP candidates, but he has been more consistent and detailed than have many of his potential rivals. He urges lawmakers to step up sanctions on Iran, a position the president opposes as U.S.-led talks to curb its nuclear ambitions continue.

Mr. Graham says President Barack Obama’s focus on an Iranian nuclear deal has sapped attention from Tehran’s expanding influence across the region, including in Yemen, where Tehran-allied Houthi rebels have seized control of the government. Mr. Graham says the U.S. should break off talks and reapply a full complement of sanctions against Iran until it abandons its nuclear program and ceases meddling in the region.

Mr. Graham has also advocated for a more forceful response to the threats posed by Islamic State militants in the Middle East than Mr. Obama has outlined in recommendations for a new use-of-force authorization. Mr. Graham says its restrictions would limit the ability of U.S. forces to respond, should Syrian President Bashar al-Assad target U.S.-trained moderate rebels in Syria.

To fund a more powerful U.S. military, Mr. Graham has also backed boosting defense spending above the curbs set in a 2011 deficit-reduction deal.

“The worst is yet to come,” Mr. Graham said. “The chance of getting attacked goes up every day. National security is relevant for all the wrong reasons.”

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