How did you become such an advocate for these issues and combine this relationship of military and veteran issues with your career in Congress?
Of all the things I’ve done in my life, and I’ve lived a very blessed life, the best thing I’ve ever done personally as Lindsey Graham, as an individual, was to join the United States Air Force, become a judge advocate, and a member of the Air Force legal team. Good lawyers understand and know their clients. I think I understand the Air Force and consequently have some understanding of the military. I really have gotten more out of my service than I give. It was and continues to be the highlight of my life in many ways.
Years ago about half the Senate were members of the National Guard and the Reserves. Strom Thurmond was a two-star general in the Reserves. Barry Goldwater was a two-star general in the Air Force Reserves. It used to be that a lot of members of Congress served as Guard and Reserve members. I’m the only one in the Senate now. So, I try to rededicate myself every day and every week to make sure that I use these experiences to the benefit of the force as a whole. I do small Reserve tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and have learned more about what’s going on there during my Reserve duties than I would in a congressional delegation, particularly in regard to rule-of-law issues.
So, I take that knowledge and experience pertaining to the issues. In fact, I take that back to my day job and I think it’s made me a better Senator. The passion comes from knowing the people. I’m in a business where it’s tough. People talk about what they can’t do, what they won’t do. In the military, you talk about what you have to do and your mission. “We will, we can,” is the motto at the base that I was serving in Afghanistan recently. It’s good that I’m allowed to occasionally get out of Washington and go to a military environment with people of different backgrounds are working together to solve a problem. It just helps me in every way possible.
It certainly explains why you want to continue to serve in the Air Force Reserve.
Absolutely! I think it gives me an opportunity to learn about issues I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. Getting away from politics and back into uniform is a morale booster for me.
You’ve been working with the governments in Iraq and Afghanistan on the development of their legal systems and processes. Can you tell us a little about your recent work and what some of your experiences and observations have been?
I work on the rule of law programs in Iraq and Afghanistan. When you think about it, democracy is more than voting. You know, Saddam Hussein allowed people to vote. He got 100 percent of the votes. As a dictator, he was able to do that.
The point I’m making is that the rule of law protects the losers of elections. In the Middle East, if you lose the election, you can lose everything. So people fight to the death over there.
Here, if you lose the election you don’t lose anything but your job. You don’t lose your ability to come back. The rule of law is to make sure that if you find yourself in a courtroom, the questions are about what you did, not who you are.
We’re trying to develop courthouses in the outer reaches of Afghanistan. We’re trying to blend a tribal justice system with a formal justice system. We’re training judges and their lawyers.
One of the first things that Gen. Petraeus did was to provide security for judges. No rule of law program can work if the judges are subject to assassination. We’re working to create a “Uniform Code of Military Justice” for the Afghan army that is up and running. I was involved in helping create that program. They’re starting to do courts-martial now.
No military can operate without a well-disciplined force. Military justice has to be firm and fair. So, we’re doing that with the Iraqi army. I’ve had a wonderful opportunity as a Judge Advocate to work with Afghans and Iraqis while building up their judicial capacity.
I hope we leave behind in Iraq and Afghanistan a political system that accommodates differences and a legal system that people trust and believe in. Militias are formed when the legal systems fail. My goal is to make sure that the Afghan legal system provides basic justice in a way that people do not feel that they have to take up arms against their government. We still have a long way to go but we’re making progress.