Republican Senator Richard Lugar, in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, said the president’s performance on foreign policy has slipped to “at best” mediocre.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana. Senator, thank you so much for being with us.
SENATOR RICHARD LUGAR: Thank you, Al.
HUNT: You said the other day the president’s refusal to seek congressional authorization of U.S. involvement in Libya is both unwise and legally dubious. If the White House persists in refusing to seek authorization, would you vote to cut off funding?
LUGAR: Well, I’m going to wait until we get the hearing that I’ve asked for. And I applaud Senator John Kerry, our chairman, for acceding to my request that we really have the administration on record as - the constitutional rationale for this.
We had one briefing on how the military activity is actually going on at the secret clearance level. But the people from the administration were not empowered to give any reasons why we had the ability to be there at all. And so we need to come to grips with that. Now, other than that -
HUNT: Well, conversely, if Senator Durbin brings up, as he said he might the other day, a resolution in support of what we’re doing in Libya -
HUNT: - would you vote for that from what you know right now?
LUGAR: No. But I admire Dick Durbin. He’s taking a position in which he’s very skeptical, but he (inaudible) to have a vote up or down, he might propose such so that people could debate the thing, and in both houses.
So it would be not just for show, but at the same time, we’re really coming to grips here with something that is a very small conflict, a small war, but - an examination of how we get into wars.
If, in fact, the president simply can say this is a humanitarian effort and, after all, the Arab League has called for it, we’ve sought the United Nations’ permission, our NATO allies - at least a third of NATO - are for it, we ought to be helpful in some respect. Even if we do fire half-a-billion dollars worth of Tomahawk missiles at Libya, knocking out installations, and refuel our allies and do all sorts of things, this is really not a conflict.
HUNT: The White House also says that the mission is not to get rid of Qaddafi. Do you believe that?
LUGAR: No, because at the same time, people in the administration talk about Qaddafi must go -
LUGAR: - that he’s illegitimate, lacks - and so forth. And so they feed this with Europeans, who also believe Qaddafi must go. Now, in the meanwhile, there are rumors from time to time that even Russian diplomats have been visiting with Qaddafi, but have been rebuffed. Qaddafi told them where to go, namely that he’s going to stay, they’re the ones that’ll have to go home.
It’s a situation which 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.”
HUNT: Right. And it’s lasted longer than they thought.
LUGAR: And, perhaps, as was handed (ph), maybe some diplomacy would occur as to where Qaddafi might go, so he would not be in harm’s way. But people weren’t lucky. And you can’t fight wars on the basis somehow people might be bluffed out because now it goes on and on and on. And we’re spending - and the United States is spending real money, at least $700 million to date, estimate over $1 billion by September. Out in the front room, we’re still talking about the budget. In the back room, however, war goes on and it’s almost irrelevant.
HUNT: You keep spending. Well, let me ask you about another troubled spot. You’ve worried about Pakistan for a long time. The situation seems to have gotten worse since the bin Laden. They were rounding up American collaborators. They’re threatening the army chief of staff. What should we do? Should we tell Pakistan, “I’m sorry, we really are going to cut off aid if you keep this up”?
LUGAR: Well, that would not be wise, because we’re dealing with Pakistan because we’re involved in Afghanistan.
LUGAR: And Pakistan has borders and people come back and forth across the borders. On some days, we are grateful that they try to shoot Taliban and stop al-Qaeda types. Other times, we feel they’re highly lax. We are dealing with a government to begin with that is a weak government. President Zardari, vis-a-vis his military, does not have much control -
HUNT: Can we do anything? Do we have any leverage?
LUGAR: Our only leverage is the fact that we both need each other, given the predicament in Afghanistan or elsewhere in the Middle East.
HUNT: I’m going to turn to Afghanistan in a minute, but given the situation, do you worry more about the safety and security of nuclear weapons?
LUGAR: Well, I think there is a real worry, and we’ve raised this question, and the Pakistanis have said this is our sovereign right to deal with this. We don’t want this intrusion.
As a matter of fact, they have felt we have been more and more intrusive and that we ought to get over it, that they’re a sovereign country, and that we ought to deal with them as a sovereign country.
HUNT: You mentioned Afghanistan. You also said that the administration next week is probably going to - well, they’re probably going to announce the beginning of their troop withdrawal. You said more important than any number is for the president to put forth a definition of success in Afghanistan based on U.S. vital interest. What is your definition?
LUGAR: Well, I’m waiting for the president’s definition, because I think we ought to listen carefully to the military people, as opposed to imposing this. But as a starter, I would say that we’re going to have to try to determine what level of security might be obtained by Afghans fighting and governing themselves and how they’re going to pay for it.
HUNT: So what size force would we need to do that, would you imagine?
LUGAR: Well, it was suggested in one of our Foreign Relations hearings, I think by Richard Haass, for whom I have a lot of respect, that we ought to be down somewhere to 20,000 or 30,000 level.
HUNT: And how soon could we get there, would you think?
LUGAR: Well, you could get there, I think, within a year of time, if that was your inclination.
HUNT: Within a year? Right.
LUGAR: Now, for the moment, it does not appear to be.
HUNT: No, but it seems to me that you are favorably disposed towards that -
LUGAR: Yes, I am, because I believe that, 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. In other words, it’s a big world, and the al-Qaeda or Al-Shabaab or the terrorists are in many countries, and therefore, we are going to need a strategy which really, through our better intelligence and through better rifle shots, literally, gets us more security -
HUNT: Let me ask you a final question. Professor Lugar, put your grading cap on. Two years ago, you told the Fort Wayne newspaper that you would give Barack Obama an A in foreign policy. What would you grade him today?
LUGAR: Oh, I think at best a C. And I say this simply because the efforts in Afghanistan do not really have the benefit of objectives and a very clear path. The Libya situation borders on being a fiasco altogether. And our diplomacy with regard to Pakistan, as we discussed, certainly leaves a lot to be desired. We have a NATO alliance that is becoming weaker as time goes on, despite the admonitions of Secretary Gates this week, that - sort of get with it. You can’t have your defense budgets declining every year, everybody out of Afghanistan, that won’t help us.
In short, this is not a situation that is going particularly well. Now, one can say, well, after all, it’s a very difficult and dangerous world. That’s why I don’t say it’s a failure. But it’s at best a mediocre situation.
HUNT: Okay, Senator Richard Lugar, thank you so much for being with us today. And when we come back, 2012 politics and efforts in Washington to reach a deficit agreement. Bloomberg reporters are next.
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