Senator Richard Lugar, the leading Republican foreign-policy expert in Congress, said President Barack Obama is following the right policy in Iran and warned of the dangers of war.
“The idea of moving with our allies, as many as we can find, on effective sanctions on the country has been the right move” on Iran, Lugar, 80, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Obama administration have disagreed over how to handle Iran’s production of enriched uranium.
“I understand even some wanting to go to war immediately to stop it where it is and so forth,” said Lugar, an Indiana Republican. “But even within Israel, the reports are that the debate with Netanyahu is very intense.”
“We’re really going to have hell to pay. They will come back on us, and the implications for the Israeli people here are very severe.”
Netanyahu has insisted the best way to stop Iran’s nuclear program is to set explicit “red lines,” limiting its enrichment of uranium that would justify military action if crossed. The U.S. and Europe have rejected that approach, preferring a combination of economic sanctions directed against Iran and diplomatic engagement with Tehran.
Lugar, whose 36-year Senate career is coming to an end after he lost re-nomination in a May primary, rejected Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s stance that Obama hasn’t been tough enough on Iran and that he hasn’t offered enough support to Israel. Romney has sought to use signs of differences between Obama and Netanyahu over Iran to raise doubts with U.S. Jewish voters about the president’s commitment to Israel and his ability to manage turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa.
Lugar widened his distance from Romney’s foreign-policy platform, saying the nominee’s plan to call China a currency manipulator is a “campaign mode.”
The U.S. had a $295 billion trade deficit with China last year, an 8.2 percent increase over 2010. A report last month by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington said the imbalance has cost 2.7 million U.S. jobs in the past decade.
“It’s not a new argument, but it’s one that has some fervor with people who believe this gives a competitive disadvantage to us,” Lugar said in the interview. “And it does, in some industries, without any doubt. All I’m saying is that, whatever the disadvantage is, it’s being narrowed bit by bit.”
Lugar said the Federal Reserve’s third round of quantitative easing, with the central bank announcing it will buy $40 billion of mortgage bonds every month until the employment outlook improves, is narrowing that gap as well, with the Chinese protesting “that we’re undercutting their currency in the process.”
Asked about his disagreement with Romney on such matters as the nominee’s statement that Russia is the U.S.’s main adversary, Lugar said the former Massachusetts governor “has not had a great chance to study all of these issues.”
“He is trying to pick up advice on the fly, trying to pick up campaign slogans or something that might sell in a particular state or situation,” Lugar said. If Romney is elected, Lugar said, he has “much greater faith in his overall intelligence, his comprehension of the world, once he actually has the responsibility.”
While he sided with Obama on his handling of Iran sanctions, Lugar said the president made a mistake by not meeting with world leaders at the United Nations this week.
“He is a candidate for re-election, and it’s a close election,” Lugar said. “At the same time you’re president of the United States.”
While conferring with the world leaders is part of Obama’s duty when the UN General Assembly meets, the demands of the campaign and the openings for opponents to attack led to Obama opting out, Lugar said.
“The difficulty of the president meeting with these leaders is each one of them comes filled with various controversies,” Lugar said. “And he might count upon his opponent, Mitt Romney, to point out how badly he handled the meeting or how badly our relations are or what have you.”
Obama and Romney had separate phone calls with Netanyahu yesterday following the Israeli leader’s speech the previous day at the UN. Netanyahu welcomed Obama’s commitment “to do what we must to achieve” the goal of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, the White House said in a statement.
Romney told reporters on his campaign plane that he and Netanyahu spoke “about his assessment of where the red line ought to be drawn and my own views with regards to Iran.”
The UN meeting followed violent protests in several Islamic countries after an anti-Muslim video produced in the U.S. was posted on the Internet. Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in a Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, Libya, following the posting of the denigrating video. Stevens had worked on Lugar’s staff for a year in 2006 on a State Department fellowship.
“It just wasn’t very much security there in Benghazi, which I think is evident now as they’re making longer studies of it,” Lugar said. “When it finally comes down to it, all of our embassies and consulates should be secure.”
Lugar said it appears that members of al-Qaeda informed “one of the militias” involved in the Benghazi attack.
Some of the people who carried out the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya “were linked to groups affiliated with, or sympathetic to, al-Qaeda,” according to a statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
As he finishes his Senate career after losing to a Tea Party-backed candidate in the primary, Lugar said he is staying out of the close November contest in Indiana between Republican Richard Mourdock and Democrat Joe Donnelly.
“I’m not a factor” in that race, Lugar said.