The most powerful Hoosier 

An interview with Sen. Richard Lugar

An interview with Sen. Richard Lugar
Dick Lugar is definitely the most powerful soybean farmer in Indiana, and it is pretty clear he towers over the rest of us, too. A former Indianapolis school board member, mayor of Indianapolis and caretaker of the 604-acre family farm in southwestern Marion County, Lugar is now a recognized global force in decisions of war, peace, disease, famine and international trade. An Eagle Scout and Rhodes Scholar who finished first in both his high school and college classes, Sen. Richard Lugar has a resume to die for. He has served longer in the U.S. Senate than any other Hoosier in history, is chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has run for president. (Even his unsuccessful 1996 presidential run looks good now. During the GOP primaries, Lugar was scoffed at for suggesting the U.S. was vulnerable to foreign attack.)
Sen. Richard Lugar, 1967
Lugar has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the globally acclaimed Nunn-Lugar program to destroy nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. In the turbulent months since Sept. 11, Lugar supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but has also routinely served as a Republican voice of foreign policy reason and restraint — the anti-Rumsfeld, some would say. As influential as the 71-year-old Lugar is now, his profile and power may yet grow larger. Conservative columnist Robert Novak says Lugar is a leading candidate to be the secretary of state in a second Bush Administration. Last month, taking a break during the 27th annual Lugar Symposium for Tomorrow’s Leaders, a conference for high school juniors at the University of Indianapolis, Lugar sat down with NUVO for a wide-ranging interview: NUVO: A fair number of NUVO readers object to much of President Bush’s foreign policy, especially in Iraq. But some of those same folks have appreciated your approach, which was both more cautious about entering into war and ahead of the president on warning of the difficulties of the post-war situation. How do you respond to Hoosiers who say the president has mishandled the situation in Iraq? Lugar: I think the president has made basically good decisions with regard to the war. I say this because I also have been critical on occasion with the president, especially when the controversy on the Meet the Press show [last October], when I said the president needs to be the president, over the vice president and over the secretary of defense. Each of these people had made conspicuous speeches just the week before expressing what seemed to be American foreign policy, but there were very large differences and contradictions. But when you finally get all the parties together and the president makes a decision, I think he’s had a reasonably good batting average in a very tough league. Senator Biden and I had hearings [of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee] almost every day [before the Iraq war], and they were well-covered. [Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) was chair of the Senate committee until January 2003, when a Republican Senate majority placed Lugar as chairman.] We went through the deficiencies in planning, as we saw it, for the post-war situation, we discussed the sophistication of the constitution-building process and how tough this would be. Nevertheless, we finally came out on the side that this should be tried, that democracy is important, as opposed to just abdicating to Saddam. But the degree of difficulty had to be understood, the number of players that were going to be required, and we had the impression that they were not understood. The Department of Defense, that seemed to be invested in this, seemed to be heading onto a trail on which there was going to be a lot of difficulty. There was a lot of difficulty. We predicted that, but it’s not a great satisfaction. Most of what Senator Biden and I wanted to see occur has occurred, but it has happened much later in the game than we would have wished, with greater vulnerability than might have been the case. But we’ve not taken the situation demagoguing in an anti-war way. We’ve said it’s a tough choice where Iraq fits in the war against terrorism. But it does play a role. This was an aggressive dictator who, even if he didn’t possess weapons of mass destruction on any one given day, clearly had produced an awful lot in the past and used them on people, and was prepared to do that again. When Saddam stiffed the U.N. for the fourth time and expected he was going to get by with it, it’s a tough call about whether you say, “Not this time.” Honest people can differ, but I supported the president’s assertion of military force at that point. NUVO: In the post Sept. 11 world, is it easier to sell the Nunn-Lugar program as an important part of the anti-terror initiative? Lugar: Yes, it is still not easy, but it is easier. One of our signal victories occurred in the last 60 days, which was a bill I offered because the administration asked me to. I didn’t have to twist their arms. They said we need authority to use Nunn-Lugar funds in some countries other than Russia or the newly independent states from the former Russia. It’s the first time we have finally come to grips in this war against terror with something that was the residue of the cold war with Russia, that probably proliferation wherever it occurs would be dangerous, and we ought to have the authority to work out arrangements. Have things gotten better? Yeah, people are now getting with it. If we are serious about terrorists putting their hand on materials of mass destruction, we’ve got to clean these things up. We’ve got to get them out of these vulnerable laboratories as rapidly as we can, and we do have the authority to do that. NUVO: Are you concerned that the president’s decision to hold alleged enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay will hurt U.S. relations with other countries, or that it violates international law? Lugar: I’m less concerned about it hurting our relationships, although we take that seriously whenever it arises. I think our own law and our own view of this is probably as important. As a common sense problem, it comes down to this: How do you handle cases of people who you strongly believe are al Qaeda adherents or at least caught in some degree of terrorism or organization to create those conditions, or in the war against us in Afghanistan? Usually, these are prisoners of war who stay that way until the war is over. But now people are saying, “Who knows when the war on terrorism will be over?” This is not a conventional war. World War II lasted for four years, ditto for World War I. But no one is really able to define when this war is over. If you release a person who is an al Qaeda terrorist and they appear later in another part of the war, that doesn’t seem like a very good idea. So some would say we shouldn’t release them but try them. But under what set of rules? This has led to more sensitivity in Guantanamo to examine if there are people who down deep we don’t feel are that guilty, and we release those folks. This is sort of a long answer to a question I don’t know the answer to. I’ve listened to people who argue well on both sides. The Homeland Defense Act, the Patriot Act and other laws adopted as a result of 9-11 can result in changes in the quality of life in our country, and we need to be sensitive to that. We also have to have some degree of common sense in terms of security. Even the strongest civil libertarian will not find it excusable if there are gross intelligence deficiencies and a repetition of 9-11. NUVO: We have run several stories about the African AIDS crisis. Many activists are very concerned that the president’s State of the Union promise of a $15 billion contribution over five years is not being fulfilled, given that he ultimately supported only about $2 billion for the first year. You have been very involved in the efforts to secure national and international funding to combat AIDS, so do you share that concern? Lugar: All things considered, I would prefer it was $3 billion this year. But I would just say the AIDS debate is one that has gone up and down so many ways that I am grateful that we are at this point. Senator Frist became the Senate majority leader and had to back out of being the AIDS champion, so I became the AIDS champion by default, and the president asked me to get this done. By the time we got into the appropriations cycle, the administration said it is already late in the year, and they would not be able to spend $3 billion productively. So they said they would include $2 billion, which started the argument. Ultimately, in an amendment offered by Senator DeWine, the amount was increased to $2.4 billion. By this time it was apparent we had deficits and had no money and no place to subtract it from, but still there was enough feeling we had to do more that the $400 million was added at that point. And that, I suspect, is what the expenditure is likely to be, given all the intractability in all the spending bills at this point in the year. Jim Morris [a former Lugar aide and CEO of Indianapolis Water Company, now executive director of the United Nations World Food Program] and the World Food Program people testified brilliantly in front of our committee and others about the horribly fatal combination of malnutrition and AIDS. Twenty-four thousand people die every day from starvation and malnutrition. About 8,000 more die from a combination of that and AIDS or tuberculosis. If we lost 32,000 people in a battle in one day, it would be world-shaking news. We are losing people like that every day, which is almost beyond human comprehension, and likewise beyond much reporting. But there is a combination of forces now working for humanitarian food and medical assistance with sometimes very difficult regimes. It is coming together much more slowly than any of us would want, but I’m encouraged that on all these fronts, there is movement. And it comes largely, I think, through U.S. leadership in cooperation with U.N. people who have been in the field for a while. NUVO: You mention the huge problem of hunger and disease in developing countries. Given your experience [Lugar was chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee from 1995-2001 and has been a vocal opponent of agriculture subsidies], what does the U.S. need to do to make sure that people in developing countries have a fair opportunity to compete and sell their crops? Lugar: They may not be able to compete under any circumstances, but surely they will find it very difficult so long as we have such huge agricultural subsidies. This has come to the fore specifically with regard to sugar and cotton and nations in our own hemisphere have made that point specifically. If you are paying American farmers X number of dollars that is maybe 50 percent more than the market price, they inevitably produce too much. If you have controls to keep out everybody else to protect that situation, you have a double whammy. That’s what broke up the World Trade Organization in Cancun this time. Developing countries and even others like Brazil say, “So long as you got these subsidies, don’t talk to us about world trade, world economy, world new order and so forth.” The other countries just said, “The hell with all of you, you’ve essentially fouled up the whole agricultural thing in ways that are egregiously unfair.” I’m afraid that the sugar and cotton situation is not going to go away easily, and we are going to have to come to grips with it. NUVO: You voted for the McCain-Feingold bill regulating campaign finance and expressed support for the Supreme Court ruling this month [December] upholding most of the law. Would you be open to supporting even tighter restrictions of campaign finance? Lugar: Probably. But having said that, I’m not sure what type of restrictions I would support. I haven’t spent a great deal of time studying the different proposals. But I did support this law. With so-called soft-money campaign advertising, either side you are on, you are bound to be embarrassed nearly every day. And most voters will assume you are responsible for the negative ads against your opponent, even though you are not. Some people in my party say that this law is a horrible thing for free speech, that anyone should have the right to put as much money as they want in the last days of a campaign and crucify somebody. It’s as American as apple pie, the way they see it. Obviously, I take a different view. NUVO: Seventeen American servicemen who were tortured as POWs during the Gulf War have received hundreds of millions of dollars in a court judgment against Iraq, but the Bush Administration has withheld the money and is suing to nullify the award. How do you feel about that? Lugar: I conducted a hearing and heard excellent testimony from legal experts about this, and proposed on behalf of the State Department a bill to try to solve this problem and bring some equity to the situation. The bill has gone nowhere, and the hearing was very interesting but deeply conflicted. There are many more potential claims out there, and the State Department says if you attempted to pay off claims of all the people who say they are owed this money, there is not enough money left in Iraq to pay everyone off. So they proposed a mechanism of certainty at much lower judgments. The trade-off is, as opposed to a hypothetical judgment you may never get, that you do get some money from a fund set up. At this point, this hasn’t been acceptable to anyone. For the time being, I don’t think any judgments are going to be paid. The American public is paying $87 billion to rebuild Iraq, and common sense says perhaps a portion of that money should be used to set up a fund to compensate those who were injured. But we’re not at a point where any of the parties have made any reasonable negotiation. NUVO: Have you begun thinking about whether you will want to run for a sixth term in 2006? Lugar: I haven’t thought about 2006 yet. (Laughs) I obviously am excited about the work I’m doing, and I feel privileged, as any American would, to have such interesting events, people and ideas in my life every day. Leaving aside whether the voters in Indiana would want me to continue doing it, that is still three years away. I’m not predicting I am going to be run over on Hanna Avenue walking out here today. So I think that, all things considered, it is probable that I will ask people to allow me to continue.
For a full Lugar timeline, pick up the printed version of NUVO.

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