Ballot Box

The Worldview of Bob Graham

His instincts on foreign policy and national security.

Slate is running several series of short features explaining who the 2004 presidential candidates are, what they’re saying, and where they propose to take the country. The first series summarized their personal and professional backgrounds. The second series analyzed their buzzwords. The third series outlined what each candidate would focus on as president. This series sketches how they would manage America’s role in the world.

After communism collapsed, American voters lost interest in defense and foreign policy. But those subjects can consume most of a president’s time, and 9/11 returned them to the forefront. It’s difficult to anticipate which hot spots a candidate would have to deal with as president, but it’s possible to get a sense of how he approaches war, diplomacy, trade, and other challenges abroad. This series pieces together a picture of each candidate’s instincts based on his words and his record. Today’s subject is Bob Graham.

War and terrorism: Graham is the most serious of the Democrats about using the military to fight terrorists. Joe Lieberman has expertise in defense matters, and John Kerry focused on international crime several years ago, but Graham has shown the greatest interest in terrorism. Before 9/11, he was chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence *  and was pushing the CIA to beef up its human intelligence. On the morning of 9/11 he was talking to an Afghan leader about al-Qaida. After the attacks, he proposed to deploy U.S. troops to fight Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups. He opposed the Iraq war largely on the grounds that these groups, not Iraq, posed the principal threat to the United States and should be dealt with first. Graham also exceeds the other candidates in his willingness to target Syria and other state sponsors of terrorism.

Selective use of intelligence: Graham was skeptical about President Bush’s claims of Iraqi nuclear ambitions in the fall of 2002, more than half a year before the yellowcake scandal broke. (As chairman of the intelligence committee, he had access to classified information.) Graham voted against the war for many reasons. He was angry that the Bush administration hadn’t declassified reports that indicated uncertainties as to whether Iraq was reconstituting its weapons programs. In early June 2003, when other presidential candidates (including John Edwards, a fellow member of the intelligence subcommittee) were tentative about attacking Bush’s WMD claims, Graham charged that the administration had “manipulated” intelligence. “Those parts that the president liked became placed in the president’s speeches, and those that they didn’t like got put in the trash can,” said Graham.

Civil liberties: Graham was principal co-author of the 2001 USA Patriot Act, which, among other things, made it easier for law enforcement authorities to conduct surveillance and detain terror suspects. The law passed the Senate 98 to 1 *, but most Democrats now say it sacrificed too many civil liberties. In June 2003, Graham said he opposed making the law permanent (it’s due to expire in 2005), arguing that Attorney General John Ashcroft “has gone beyond what the Congress intended, particularly in areas such as disparate treatment and what amounts to a form of racial profiling against Americans of Islamic background.”

Correction, Aug. 6, 2003: This article originally stated that Sen. Graham is the ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. In fact, because of term limits, Graham no longer serves on the committee. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Correction, Oct. 7, 2003: The article originally and incorrectly said that the USA Patriot Act passed the Senate unanimously. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., voted against it.