National Press Club

Lugar Rates Obama's Foreign Policy Approach an "A," Says Tone Isn't Panacea

June 22, 2009 | By Sylvia Smith

Sen. Richard Lugar receives an NPC mug from International Correspondents Committee chairman Myron Belkind

Sen. Richard Lugar receives an NPC mug from International Correspondents Committee chairman Myron Belkind

Photo/Image: Mahtab Farid

President Obama merits an “A” so far in his approach to American foreign policy, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., told the International Correspondents Committee Monday. But he cautioned that tone alone doesn’t solve deep and complex world problems.

Lugar, the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, briefed the committee for an hour. In response to a question about how he’d rate Obama’s performance in the international arena, Lugar said he’d give the new president a top grade.

He said the Obama administration’s policies are not much different from the Bush administration’s, but his approach is different.

“The idea of being more inclusive and reaching out, alliances, working with the international comnunities, his own vigor in going all over the world giving these speeches in the first few weeks or months of the administration are really remarkable," Lugar said.

“However, the same galaxy of problems that faced President Bush in his last year still face President Obama. They’re the kind of disputes that are not likely to go away just by having a simple conference or another treaty. Fundamentally, the problem of nuclear weapons developments in Iran and North Korea could be followed by developments in other countries. In other words, the more basic question is why do countries what to pursue hoping to join the nuclear club, becoming nuclear powers in a world that is already dangerous on that account.”

He said other countries respond more receptively to Obama’s approach than they did to Bush’s. But, Lugar said, “in fairness to the Bush administration, the president and perhaps many of his supporters after the 9/11 attack felt that the United States was in such an embattled position that we had to act unilaterally whether the international organizations responded or not in terms of our own defense and security. Time has passed since that point, and it’s appropriate that the new administration adopt, as President Obama has, a very new position.”

Lugar also said the recent elections in Iran don’t change the desirability of the US having more engagement with Iran, but “make it more complex, and it was already complex.”

Lugar likened the Iranian election to the 1986 elections in the Philippines, where he was an elections monitor. Lugar said he reported the voting irregularities to then-President Reagan, who initially did not believe that Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos won unfairly. But later Reagan accepted Lugar’s report, and his administration encouraged Marcos to step down, which he did.

But there were no international observers in Iran, he said, adding that the Obama administration’s reaction has been “appropriate.”

“We are not going to be judges of it from afar,” he said. “At the same time, I suspect that perhaps the Obama administration might be more vigorous in talking about the virtues of democracy, of checks and balances, of free and fair elections, of ways in which Iran could indicate to the rest of the world the integrity of the process.”

Lugar also said:

  • Obama’s campaign pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center within a year was not wise if he didn’t have a plan.
  • The fact that the entire UN Security Council tightened sanctions against North Korea in response to its May 25 nuclear test was a good sign, “but the enforcement mechanisms in the resolution are wanting.”
  • The US and Russia should seize on their shared desire to reduce nuclear warheads and use that agreement to help pave a way to cooperation on other issues.
  • His name for the world order, which used to be called Cold War and then post-Cold War, would not have “war” in the label. “What we really have is this reset, this new beginning, resolution of disputes and problems.”
  • It is encouraging that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed a Palestinian state. Even though Netanyahu outlined restrictions he would demand on a separate Palestine, Lugar said, “the fact he addressed it at all, that he felt the need to talk about the settlements … gets the ball rolling.”