Senator Richard Lugar, the leading Republican foreign-policy expert in Congress, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that President Barack Obama is following the right policy in Iran and warned of the dangers of war.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana. Thank you so much for joining us, Senator.
RICHARD LUGAR: Thank you, Al.
HUNT: Senator, the courageous ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, who was killed two weeks ago, is a former staffer of yours. Was this a security lapse? Should we have known about this attack?
LUGAR: I don’t think it was a lapse. It just wasn’t very much security there in Benghazi, which I think is evident now as they’re making longer studies of it. But I think Chris Stevens was aware there was not much security, from at least the diary that they have uncovered.
I think that’s the problem, however, really throughout our situation in Libya. It’s a situation of attempting to build security and trying to work with the Libyans on their security. In fairness, they have been trying to do a much job of it, too.
HUNT: But shouldn’t we have done more?
LUGAR: Of course. When it finally comes down to it, all of our embassies and consulates should be secure. This particular situation, it looked like it was almost an improvised building, along with the other four that were to be associated with it and just sort of getting under way in terms of our representation there.
HUNT: Senator, do you think al-Qaeda was involved in this attack?
LUGAR: It appears that there were some members of al-Qaeda who were informing one of the militias. I don’t know whether the count of 18 militias in Libya is correct, but most Americans don’t understand that even though there is a new government there, it’s not been accepted maybe by these 18 groups of people who are armed.
Now, afterwards, to the credit of the Libyan people, I understand that Benghazi, Libyan citizens overwhelmed two of the militias, took their arms away, terminated two maybe of the 18, but I hope the Libyan government is going to proceed in this way. They apparently are trying to do so.
HUNT: And they’re cooperating with the FBI and us?
LUGAR: Yes, they are. But at the same time, after that war or whatever with Qaddafi, a lot of arms got away.
LUGAR: We’ve had people in Libya ever since trying to track down all sorts of armament that were a part of that situation that fell into the hands either of militia or, worse, other countries.
HUNT: Senator, let me switch the subject. Did President Obama make a mistake by not meeting with world leaders at the UN this week?
LUGAR: I think he did. I understand, as a campaigner in various elections that I’ve had, the pressures that are on you for - the appearances around the country, the fundraisers, all the party functions and so forth. And he is a candidate for re-election, and it’s a close election.
At the same time, you’re president of the United States. It’s almost the same burden if you were a senator. And the Congress keeps meeting, and you’ve got people back home who are saying, where are you? We haven’t seen you.
LUGAR: And it’s a question of many - most of us sort of do our duty. We’re there for the roll call votes and for the meetings with foreign leaders and all the rest. I think when the UN meets - but I think there may be another factor here, and I’m not trying to impugn motives. The difficulty of the president meeting with these leaders is each one of them comes filled with various controversies.
And so, for example, if he had met with Benjamin Netanyahu or - not certainly whatever - meet with the Libyan president, but with any of these folks, then this raises all sorts of questions in the campaign. 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.
HUNT: Speaking of that, the drumbeats of war are sounding again. This time, it’s Iran. And Mitt Romney says that this president has been soft, he hasn’t been nearly tough enough and nearly supportive enough of Israel - of the Israelis.
LUGAR: Well, and Benjamin Netanyahu would agree, as he went -
HUNT: What is - what is -
LUGAR: - before the U.N. and -
HUNT: What if Senator Lugar -
LUGAR: - had his chart. I think that the idea of moving with our allies, as many as we can find, on effective sanctions on the country has been the right move. This doesn’t obviate for a moment our intelligence services keeping track, really, of how far the centrifuges are going and how much enrichment is occurring. It doesn’t really detract - and I’m not ascribing either praise or blame to anybody - for people using cyber warfare to slow it down altogether in means that we would not have thought of.
HUNT: So you think the policy is about right?
HUNT: You do?
LUGAR: I think it’s very important that we understand that, because very clearly, I understand we want to draw red lines.
LUGAR: I understand even some wanting to go to war immediately to stop it where it is and so forth. But even within Israel, the reports are that the debate with Netanyahu is very intense. The military is saying, hang on here. You know, leaving aside a unilateral attack without American approval or support, the fact is, 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.
HUNT: Let me switch to China. Mitt Romney said, if he’s elected, on day one, he’ll declare China a currency manipulator and get tough and force them to back down on their trade policies. Is that a good approach?
LUGAR: Well, I think it’s a very broadside situation which is shared by many people in manufacturing industries or others who always have felt the Chinese currency has been too competitively valued arbitrarily by them. At the same time, the Chinese right now are very unhappy over Chairman Bernanke’s views at the QE3 program, the United States pouring more and more currency into our banking system, because they claim that is undermining the Chinese competitive situation. So we’re getting protests from the Chinese that we’re undercutting their currency in the process.
HUNT: So would it be a productive or a non-productive policy to declare them a currency manipulator?
LUGAR: Oh, I think it’s a campaign mode -
HUNT: As opposed to a serious policy?
LUGAR: Yeah. And if you had a serious policy - after all, people have been condemning the Chinese for their arbitrary situation for a long time. So 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. 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, and in some cases, a big way by Bernanke presently.
HUNT: Senator, you are the Republican’s foremost foreign policy expert in the Congress.
LUGAR: That’s a very generous assessment.
HUNT: I think most people agree. And yet it seems to me, on a lot of big issues, you really fundamentally disagree with your party’s nominee. You disagree with him, what he said about Russia being our main adversary. You disagree with him on Iran, saying the administration ought to get tougher, disagree on China currency. It seems the so-called neocons, the old Cheney-Rumsfeld people, are really his top advisers. Does that worry you?
LUGAR: Well, some of the neocons are there, but there are other persons, as I understand, that are not neocons.
HUNT: But they tend to be dominant. The neocons tend to be dominant.
LUGAR: Well, perhaps, but I just look at this way, and that is that Governor Romney 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. I have much greater faith in his overall intelligence, his comprehension of the world, once he actually has the responsibility.
HUNT: Will you stay out of the Indiana Senate race?
HUNT: You will? You’re not going to change your mind on that?
LUGAR: No, I’m not - not a factor.
HUNT: Senator, an extraordinary 36 years’ service in the Senate. Thank you so much for joining us, and I hope -
LUGAR: Thank you, Al.
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