Lindsey Graham’s charmed military career

The Washington Post’s practice of trying to dig up ancient dirt on Republican presidential candidates — e.g., from Mitt Romney’s prep school days and Chris Christie’s high school baseball career — has finally delivered the goods. Unfortunately for the Post, its victim, Lindsey Graham, is in 15th place in the polls, with the support of 1 out of every 200 Republicans surveyed.

The Post shows that as a military reservist, Graham was promoted despite doing almost nothing and that he misrepresented his military service. For his part, Graham tells the Post that while he doesn’t mean to “pat myself on the back, Colonel Graham will put my entire record up against anyone who has ever served.”

Let’s take a look at that record. According to Craig Whitlock of the Post:

[A] detailed examination of Graham’s military record — much of it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act — shows that the Air Force afforded him special treatment as a lawmaker, granting him the privileges of rank with few expectations in return.

During his first decade in Congress, the Air Force promoted Graham twice even though documents in his military personnel file reveal that he did little or no work. Later, the Pentagon gave the military lawyer a job assignment in the Air Force Reserve that he highlighted in his biography for several years but never performed.

After his election to Congress in 1994, Graham “rarely put on his uniform.” From January 1995 through January 2005, Graham averaged less than a day and a half of service per year, according to the Post. Graham pompously refers to this time as the “wilderness years” of his military service.

But this wasn’t “wilderness” time in the Churchillian sense. Graham received two promotions during the period. In 1998, he made lieutenant colonel in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Six years later, he was promoted to colonel.

The Post reports that, as an unpaid officer in the Air Reserve, Graham was not required to serve a fixed number of hours, according to Air Force officials. However, in eight of the ten years in question, Graham failed to achieve what the Reserve considered “satisfactory service,” or the minimum number of hours to qualify for a pension credit.

Not the stuff of two promotions, one would have thought.

Moreover, says the Post, to be promoted to lieutenant colonel or colonel, Air Force officers are generally expected to complete advanced courses at the Air War College and the Air Command and Staff College, according to interviews with several current and former Air Force lawyers.

Graham did not complete these course. He was promoted anyway.

To make matters worse, Graham misrepresented his military service for years:

From 2006 until the start of this year, Graham’s official biographies stated that he worked as a senior instructor at the Judge Advocate General’s School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., the training hub for the service’s legal corps. That description has been cited in virtually all news coverage of Graham’s military career.

In fact, Air Force officials said they had no record of Graham teaching any courses on behalf of the school or even visiting it during that period.

Other uniformed lawyers said Graham’s assignment was widely perceived as a no-show job granted to a politician with whom the Air Force brass was eager to curry favor.

“It was kind of an open joke among people, that he was supposed to be a senior instructor here but he never taught any classes,” said an active-duty Air Force lawyer who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation. “Clearly, the rules didn’t apply to him.”

Graham doesn’t deny the misrepresentation. In fact, according to the Post, he acknowledged that he “never went” to Maxwell Air Force Base and didn’t serve as an instructor for the school. “I actually did zero,” he said with a chuckle.

Graham says he listed non-existent service at Maxwell to cover his “war zone missions” in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he did not want to publicize. This makes me chuckle. Graham’s trips to Iraq and Afghanistan were widely publicized and Graham himself talked about them.

To be fair, however, the Post significantly undersells Graham’s contribution to the JAG Corps. As Senator, Graham was an important vehicle through which they hijacked U.S. anti-terrorism policy and elevated “lawfare” to fetish status.

The resulting constraints on our military have, according Jack Goldsmith, a leading expert who is sympathetic to the JAGs, impeded our military operations and increased the number of U.S. casualties. They also represented an affront to the principle that in the United States, civilians control the military, and the Commander-in-Chief is the chief law interpreter for the executive branch.

Graham’s signature contributions were (1) the significant softening of terrorist interrogation, making it more difficult for the intelligence community to obtain information with which to protect our security and (2) the denial of a place on the Fourth Circuit to Jim Haynes, who as General Counsel of the Defense Department had incurred the wrath of the JAGs for following President Bush’s policies. Graham kept a good man and a good conservative off the court, and contributed to the Fourth Circuit’s shift to the left.

From all that appears, Colonel Graham did not deserve his post 1995 promotions. But you can’t deny that he carried plenty of water for his JAG superiors.