Overcoming Foreign Policy Disunity
By Senator Richard G. Lugar
Reviewed by Michael Hornblow
There was always a sense of relief when we learned that a CODEL (Congressional Delegation) headed by Senator Richard Lugar was headed our way. We knew that it would be a serious visit, headed by a serious and civil man and that the visit could be helpful in resolving issues with our host nation. And they invariably were helpful because seriousness and civility tend to beget reciprocal actions and Lugar always left behind a residue of good will, with but one exception. During the August recess in 2005 Lugar then traveling with an inexperienced freshman senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, was on a visit to Russia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine to inspect nuclear facilities. While in Perm, Russia, a city near the Ural Mountains, Lugar and Obama were detained for three hours by the authorities. They were released after a brief dialogue between U.S. and Russian officials and the Russians later apologized.
The Tea Party, and the NRA and Sarah Palin did a lot more damage to him in the spring of 2012 than the Russians. Lugar with his sterling reputation had seemed invincible. He was first elected to the senate in 1976 and won a sixth term in 2006 with 87% of the vote. By the spring of 2012, however, he was 80 years old and incredibly did not have a real residence in Indiana, staying in an Indianapolis hotel on visits. He was accused of being too close to Obama, too willing to compromise and had voted for TARP and to confirm two Obama nominees to the Supreme Court: Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. The primary vote was not even close with Lugar losing to Congressman Joe Donnelly 61-39%. Now, after thirty-six years and over 12,000 senate votes Lugar is leaving the stage, but with a strong valedictory statement which should be heeded.
Lugar, more in sorrow than anger, laments the changes that have taken place in Congress’ consideration of foreign policy. In the relatively good old days there was an undercurrent of bipartisanship and communication between party leaders. But, Lugar asserts, correctly, that this is no longer the case and partisan divisions now are much sharper than in the past. He believes Congress has retreated from legislation dealing with foreign policy: there have been no Foreign Affairs Authorization Bills; no ratification of treaties; and Congress took no action on Iraq as the war progressed and essentially abdicated its responsibilities when the Obama Administration committed the United States to hostilities in Libya. Lugar charges that members of Congress, many of whom are not interested in international affairs, often tend to reactively oppose the Executive Branch emphasizing disagreements and politicizing foreign policy.
Lugar also criticizes the Executive Branch for not showing much interest in a foreign policy partnership with Congress citing Libya and a revision of practices related to Congressional approval of arms sales.
He ends by calling for both President Obama and the Congress to reestablish a closer working relationship on national security. He suggests that in the coming weeks the president invite national security leaders in Congress to the White House for talks on the direction of U.S. foreign policy.
Comment: Senator Lugar is correct in everything he says. There was more comity and civility in the past as exemplified by Senator Arthur Vandenburg’s famous statement about “politics stopping at the water’s edge” made in a 1947 speech. That sentiment was more or less observed (Vietnam being a notable exception) until the Iraq invasion and since then the tone has gotten much worse, but it has all been bark and no action. A look at the Senate Foreign Relations website does not take long; it is a monument to inaction.
Lugar is right about lack of interest in foreign policy on the Hill and a consequent lack of action. This Congressional lack of interest is perhaps a reflection of a general lack of interest in foreign affairs among the public. Foreign policy issues were not a factor in the recent election despite one debate dedicated to international affairs. And of course it would be wonderful if Obama would invite Congressional national security leaders to the White House for serious foreign policy discussions and to sing Kumbaya, but it is unlikely to happen, unfortunately.