Lugar Plays It Safe in the Senate
Is the Indiana statesman leading from behind?

Indiana’s senior senator, Dick Lugar


John Shaw recently wrote a biography of Indiana’s senior senator entitled Richard G. Lugar, Statesman of the Senate: Crafting Foreign Policy from Capitol Hill. The book tells the story of “one of the most widely respected foreign policy experts in Congress for over three decades,” according to the online book description. Former senator Sam Nunn called the book “a close-up look at the dedication, effectiveness, and outstanding public service of Senator Dick Lugar.” Former secretary of state George Shultz also endorsed it, saying, “Lugar is a true ‘statesman of the Senate’ who, from the Reagan years to the present, has had a major influence on U.S. foreign policy.”

Conservative foreign-policy experts tell National Review Online, however, that Lugar has lost the influence he once wielded.

Elected in 1976, Lugar is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has served as chairman twice, from 1985 to 1987 and from 2003 to 2007. In that time, he has acquired an expertise that both Democrats and Republicans respect.

“Senator Lugar’s long tenure in Washington has been used against him in the primary by a challenger who talks about his having a Washington mind-set,” says Peter Feaver, a professor from Duke University who served as special adviser for strategic planning and institutional reform at the National Security Council from June 2005 to July 2007. “But it’s that same long tenure [that] gave him the chance to become deeply expert on national-security and foreign-policy matters.”

Lugar’s greatest accomplishment was the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. Established in 1991, the law, which Lugar co-wrote with Georgia Democrat Sam Nunn, provides funding for programs to secure and dismantle weapons of mass destruction in the former states of the Soviet Union. “In the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, the loose-nukes problem was one of the highest-priority threats to American national security,” Feaver says. “And the Nunn-Lugar program was an important measure that addressed it.” Despite the law’s failings, Feaver dubs it “a clear net plus.”

Lugar also led the Republican party on several other issues. In 1986, for instance, he served as the U.S. representative overseeing elections in the Philippines between longtime dictator Ferdinand Marcos and democratic opponent Corazon Aquino. Although the Ronald Reagan administration initially backed Marcos and claimed that election irregularities had occurred on both sides, Lugar sided with Aquino. Eventually, Reagan decided to back the challenger as well.