By Philip Elliott
September 8, 2015

Sen. Lindsey Graham blamed President Obama’s pursuit of an Iranian nuclear deal for everything from Russian’s invasion of Ukraine to Chinese cyber-attacks and the collapse of Yemen’s government.

In a scathing speech Tuesday, the Republican presidential contender argued that Obama was willing to overlook festering international problems in order to get cooperation on the Iranian agreement.

“He has neither the will nor the understanding of the Middle East,” Graham said at an appearance at the National Press Club. “Evil is doing well on his watch and he has been a poor champion of freedom.”

The South Carolina Republican, a longtime foreign policy hawk, faces an uphill climb to his party’s presidential nomination. But he is in broad agreement with many in his party on the deal with Iran, which now has enough support in the Senate to overcome Republican opposition.

“The only way to reset the table is to get a new President,” Graham said.

In a rare scripted speech, Graham said rival nations took advantage of the United States during the negotiations. He said Russia went into Ukraine, largely unchecked, because it saw Washington as unwilling to intervene. China, too, has been aggressive in its cyber warfare because the United States needed Beijing’s cooperation for an Iran deal, he argued. “They’re getting away with almost everything,” Graham said.

Meanwhile, Iranian-backed Houthi militants toppled the pro-American government of Yemen, and Tehran has also expanded its influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, Graham chided. He called Syrian President Bashir al-Assad a “puppet” of Iran.

“Iran set the entire Middle East on fire, taking over four Arab capitals,” he added. The United States, he added, let it happen. “Obama has been unwilling to counter these provocations in a forceful manner for fear of jeopardizing his Iranian agreement,” Graham said.

China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States negotiated the nuclear deal, under which Iran will get relief from sanctions and regain access to international oil markets. That is expected to bring it a windfall of about $100 billion to Iran. In exchange, Iran must dispose of most of its low-enriched uranium, stop efforts to produce or acquire more nuclear fuel and consent to inspections.

Republicans in Congress are trying to block the deal, although they lack the votes to derail it. “We don’t have the votes to do that,” Graham acknowledged Tuesday. But, he added, even the deal’s supporters should allow at least an open debate on the floor of the Senate when it convenes on Wednesday. “What the hell are we here for, if not to talk about this?” Graham asked.

Write to Philip Elliott at philip.elliott@time.com.

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