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Lugar Gives Obama ‘at Best’ Mediocre Grade for Foreign Policy

Senator Kent Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Senator Kent Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

June 18 (Bloomberg) -- Republican U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, a onetime supporter of Barack Obama’s foreign policy, said the president’s performance has slipped to “at best” mediocre.

“The efforts in Afghanistan do not really have the benefit of objectives and a very clear path,” Lugar, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. “The Libya situation borders on being a fiasco altogether.”

U.S. diplomacy with Pakistan “certainly leaves a lot to be desired,” said Lugar. “In short, this is not a situation that is going particularly well.” In addition, he said, “We have a NATO alliance that is becoming weaker as time goes on,” referring to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Lugar said he would give Obama a foreign policy grade of “at best a C.” Lugar said two years ago the president deserved an “A” because the administration was more inclusive and reached out more to U.S. allies than did Republican President George W. Bush.

Lugar reiterated his criticism of the Obama administration for its refusal to seek congressional approval for U.S. involvement in Libya.

Obama is in conflict with some lawmakers over his commitment of U.S. forces to an air campaign with NATO allies against Muammar Qaddafi’s troops. The administration argues that it doesn’t need authorization from Congress, and Lugar has called that position “legally dubious and unwise.”

‘Might Get Lucky’

Lugar suggested that the administration miscalculated in its decision to join the conflict, which is entering its fourth month with Qaddafi still in power.

“My guess is that the president or others felt they might get lucky, that if they did look as if NATO was coming in, Qaddafi would say, ‘It is time for me to go,’” Lugar said.

The six-term Indiana lawmaker said if a resolution to support the U.S. action in Libya were brought up for a vote in the Senate, he wouldn’t support it.

Lugar said he would wait until after a hearing he has sought on the administration’s rationale for involvement in Libya before deciding whether to support cutting off funding for the mission if the president continues refusing to seek authorization.

War in Afghanistan

On the war in Afghanistan, Lugar embraced the idea of a reduction in U.S. forces to 20,000 or 30,000 as suggested by the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, at a congressional hearing.

That level of troop drawdown could probably be reached within a year, Lugar said.

The Pentagon has started paring U.S. forces in Afghanistan, even before Obama decides on the full size of the promised reduction, by re-routing 800 soldiers that were in training for the conflict.

The administration is considering how much to cut troop strength in Afghanistan to meet the president’s December 2009 pledge of starting to reduce the U.S. presence there next month.

Obama is under pressure from fellow Democrats and some Republicans for a sizable cut in the almost 100,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan, fighting alongside 47,000 troops from other countries in the NATO-led coalition.

“Even though the administration has said that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are only costing $117 billion this year as opposed to $159 billion the year before, this is a disproportionate amount of the defense budget on one small country,” Lugar said.

He also said Pakistan “is a real worry” in terms of the safety and security of its nuclear weapons.

“We’ve raised this question, and the Pakistanis have said this is our sovereign right to deal with this,” he said. “As a matter of fact, they have felt we have been more and more intrusive and that we ought to get over it.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Catherine Dodge in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at

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