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Graham: Mideast 'turning sour'

| Saturday, May 4, 2013, 5:51 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Sen. Lindsey Graham's recent harsh criticism of President Obama over national security is a marked change from the South Carolina Republican's previous repeated praise of Obama's performance.

Graham denied on Friday that he's been inconsistent, and he said his new linkage of the Boston Marathon bombings with the Sept. 11, 2012, assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, is not tied to his re-election bid next year, when he may face a formidable primary challenger in his hard-red state.

“It has nothing to do with my election,” Graham said. “I just see the whole Middle East going into turmoil. I don't need these countries to fall apart to get me re-elected. I want to see this part of the world move forward, not backward.”

The biggest threats to national security are Iran's pursuit of nuclear arms and the possible presence of chemical weapons in war-torn Syria, he said.

“Not leaving any troops behind in Iraq certainly sent the wrong message to Iran,” Graham said. “We see the deterioration in Iraq. The Afghan surge was necessary because we needed troops, but I'm very worried we will withdraw. The Libyan revolution was the first example of us leading from behind, and it's caught up to us. We had a very tepid response in Egypt. I just see the Middle East turning sour here.”

“He had a hard job,” Graham said of Obama. “I don't want to minimize how tough it is to deal with all these issues. It's fair to say that (former President George W.) Bush went in maybe too quick and didn't think things through, but I think we're being too timid now.”

Graham said he backs the movement within the Obama administration toward arming Syrian rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar Assad.

“It's more of a problem today than six months ago, because there are about 6,000 radical jihadists fighting in Syria now, so providing the right weapons to the right people is more problematical, but I think it's the responsible course to take,” Graham said. “My main goal now is to get a commitment from the Syrian opposition to allow the international community to come in and secure the chemical weapons. If we don't bring this thing to an end, we're going to have chemical weapons falling into the wrong hands.”

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