By all accounts, including his own, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was a good military lawyer during the six and a half years he spent on active duty in the Air Force before he entered politics.
Since leaving active duty in 1989 and joining the Air Force Reserve, Graham, who is running for president, appears to have performed very little substantive work for the Air Force. Yet, he rose in rank to colonel and remained in the service until his retirement in June, which entitles him to a $2,773 monthly pension.
An article by Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post shows that though Graham did very little in the reserve, it was a mutually beneficial arrangement: He was able to keep the honor of the uniform intertwined with his political life, and the Air Force got to keep a lawmaker in its ranks who had stature and sway on Capitol Hill. Graham, a conservative hawk, sits on the Senate appropriations, armed services, budget and judiciary committees.
The senator has peddled an embellished, and at times inaccurate, narrative of his service in the reserve. A campaign video, which features several photos of Graham in uniform, says he “served as a reserve duty officer in Iraq and Afghanistan.” In fact, Graham’s war-zone tours consisted of specially arranged stints that lasted a few days and coincided with trips he made as part of congressional delegations.
Until early this year, Graham’s official biographies said he had served as senior instructor at the Judge Advocate General’s School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. In fact, Graham told the Post he never set foot on the base or taught there. “I never took time to change it,” he said of the biographies. “I probably should have.”
It was not a one-time lapse. In 1998, Graham was criticized for claiming to be a veteran of the Persian Gulf War, even though he never deployed as part of that campaign. The Post also found that from 1995 to 2005, he put in 108 hours of training, less than a day and a half each year, on average.
There is nothing wrong with lawmakers serving as reservists, but there is no reason they should be treated differently from other reservists. The extraordinary arrangement Graham enjoyed calls into question his ability as a member of Congress to carry out oversight of the military.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE NEW YORK TIMES