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Lindsey Graham, the Trump critic who made his meeting with Imran Khan possible

Senator Lindsey Graham has changed his unfavourable opinions both on US President Donald Trump and Pakistan over the years.

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New Delhi: Lindsey Graham, a US Senator from the Republican Party, is believed to have facilitated the recent meeting between Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and American President Donald Trump in Washington.

Over the past three years, not only has Graham, who was once a staunch Trump critic, dramatically reversed his opinion on the American President, but has also completely changed his position on Pakistan.

This makes Graham a curious choice for an interlocutor between both the leaders. Here is a look at how and why Graham shifted his positions on Trump and Pakistan.

Change of stance on Pakistan, Afghanistan

Over the past decade, the American conservatives have completely reversed their views on Pakistan and its importance to the US.

As opposed to previous ideas of ‘strategic convergence in the region’, today the American conservatives believe that Pakistan is inherently working against the interests of the US in Afghanistan.

Until a few months ago, Graham’s stand on Pakistan had been along similar lines.

As recently as December 2018, Graham was strictly against a quick withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. And he seemed to be advising President Trump that even after 17 years Afghanistan was “still worth fighting”.

Speaking to the media after his visit to Afghanistan, Graham had said, “The bad news (is) if we leave, this place will go to shit in a year.”

“We could, if we make the same decision we did in Iraq – leave too soon, set in motion chaos that would make Iraq look like a walk in the park, and I think one of the most likely outcomes would be a second 9/11 coming our way,” he remarked.

Graham’s position had an implicit suggestion — America could not afford to leave Afghanistan in the hands of the Pakistani military.

About a month later, however, Graham reversed his position. During his visit to Pakistan in January this year, Graham announced in a televised address, “PM Imran Khan was criticised over the past 10/20 years about reconciliation with Taliban. He was right.”

“The war in Afghanistan will end through reconciliation, with PM Imran Khan we have a unique opportunity to change our relationship,” he said.


Also read: Would love to help India, Pakistan resolve Kashmir dispute: Trump tells Imran Khan


Graham’s change of heart on Trump

The senior leadership of the Republican Party has had an ambivalent and often transactional relationship with Trump. However, among the prominent Republican leaders, Graham arguably enjoys the cosiest relationship with Trump today.

But, Graham was once a vociferous critic of Trump.

An article at the Harper’s magazine titled “21 Grahams” lists 21 statements made by Graham on Trump and how they reflect his shifting opinions on the President.

Back in 2015, Graham had described Trump as “a race-baiting, xenophobic bigot” and “the world’s biggest jackass”. But, a few years later, Graham hailed Trump as “a president doing a great job” and “a potential recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.”

What propelled Graham to change his views on Trump has been a widely discussed topic in American politics. While analysts continue to wonder what triggered this shift, one of the most telling answers came from Graham himself.

In an interview to New York Times’ Mark Leibovich in February this year, Graham claimed that his change of views was purely political self-interest and his survival instinct.

“Well, O.K., from my point of view, if you know anything about me, it’d be odd not to do this,” Graham told Leibovich.

When the interviewer asked Graham what “this” meant, he replied, “This, is to try to be relevant.”

“Politics, he explained, was the art of what works and what brings desired outcomes,” wrote Leibovich.

This pragmatism in Graham’s politics eventually led him to change his views on Afghanistan-Pakistan along with that on Trump.

Graham has made peace with Trump’s idea of quick withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. And, the logical next step is to pass the baton to Pakistan.

Perhaps, this explains the dramatic shift in Graham’s now favorable view of Pakistan.

His love for Pakistani PM

Beyond the pressures faced by Graham in domestic politics, he has traditionally had a favourable view of the Pakistani Army.

“We have a very good relationship with the Pakistani military,” Graham had told American radio host Hugh Hewitt in 2015.

Imran Khan is believed to be a loyalist of the Pakistani Army. With Khan’s election as the PM, Graham is plausibly more comfortable working with the Pakistani executive.

Even during Khan’s recent visit to Washington, Graham made it a point to meet him.

After the meeting, Graham even said, “Great meeting with the PM of Pakistan, Imran Khan. In my opinion he and his government represent the best opportunity in decades to have a beneficial strategic relationship (with) the US.”

“Peace with honor and dignity in Afghanistan is only possible with the complete buy in of Pakistan. It is now time for the United States to have a strategic relationship with Pakistan, which is best achieved by a free trade agreement tied to security performance,” he added.


Also read: A very happy Pakistan PM Imran Khan must remember Trump’s affections are as fickle as his


 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Pak Generals with their impeccable turnout, excellent English, comfort with golf and social skills have always charmed the naive Americans. Starting with Ayub Khan, right through Pervez Musharraf and now Bajwa. An ability to lie through their teeth and flatter makes people like Lindsey Graham sitting ducks!

  2. Whatever one’s views of the personalities involved, President Trump’s decision to hasten the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is the right one. Recall the futility of President Obama’s “ Surge “. We should not grudge Pakistan its moment in the sun.

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