Monday, May 03, 2004

Richard Lugar...a voice in the desert

During the eighties and early nineties, it was Poppy Bush who ordered the C.I.A. and other intel agencies to keep members of the Congressional Intelligence Oversight Committees in the dark.

Presently, his arrogant kid is even more disdainful of he role played by Congress in what is, supposedly, a government based on checks and balances:

"Even more important," Mr. Hagel said, "you have an administration that does not reach out to or see much value in consulting with Congress. They treat Congress as an appendage, a constitutional nuisance."

There are very few rational, thoughtful Republicans left in Congress and Richard Lugar is one of them. Unfortunately, his voice is drowned out by right-wing bullies who now dominate the Party.

New York Times - May 3, 2004

In the Fulbright Mold, Without the Power by David E. Rosenbaum

The last time the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had qualms about a president's war policy, he held vivid televised hearings at which the administration's top military and foreign policy officials testified.

That was in 1966. The senator was J. William Fulbright. The president was Lyndon B. Johnson. The war, of course, was in Vietnam.

The memorable hearings galvanized political opposition to the war and changed the course of history.

The current chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana, is out of the Fulbright mold in many respects. Like Mr. Fulbright, Mr. Lugar is a moderate in the president's party, an intellectual, a former Rhodes scholar and a respected authority on international affairs.

But unlike Mr. Fulbright, who left the Senate in 1974 and died at 89 in 1995, Mr. Lugar, 72, has limited influence on the nation's foreign policy. He has not spoken at any length to the president in nearly eight months, he said.

At three days of hearings on Iraq policy last month, the first since September, Mr. Lugar repeatedly asked tough questions about the plans for an interim Iraqi government, the status of American forces in Iraq after the transition, the role of the United Nations, the plans for elections, the composition of the United States Embassy in Baghdad, the security of Americans in Iraq and the cost of the American presence there.

But the only witnesses the administration would provide were second-tier officials. Two who might have made news ? Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, and Joshua B. Bolten, the White House budget director ? specifically declined to appear. Mr. Lugar did not even try to summon Secretary of State Colin L. Powell or Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Without the big names, the hearings were televised only on C-Span. They hardly penetrated the national consciousness.

"This is a completely different political world," said Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, the second-ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee and Mr. Lugar's friend and political ally.

"In 1966, the foreign policy debate was focused on the Foreign Relations Committee," Mr. Hagel said. "It was the only forum the people of the country could go to."

Now, he said, "with all the talk shows, the cable news channels and the constant 24-hour-a-day barrage of news, the culture of the foreign policy debate has changed."

"Even more important," Mr. Hagel said, "you have an administration that does not reach out to or see much value in consulting with Congress. They treat Congress as an appendage, a constitutional nuisance."

In an interview, Mr. Lugar said he had reluctantly come to accept the reality that he and his committee had but a secondary role.

When he was chairman of the committee in the last two years of the Reagan administration, he said, he was included in White House meetings on foreign affairs and had regular breakfasts with Secretary of State George P. Shultz.

"This president and this secretary don't do that," Mr. Lugar said. "I just accept the fact that there are different styles in different administrations."

The Bush administration has the right, Mr. Lugar said, to decide whom "they want around the table. I do not purport to have played a significant role."

Mr. Lugar basically supports the administration's war policy, but he said, "Even if the decisions have been correct, the diplomacy has been deficient."

Others in the Senate said that Mr. Hagel and Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the top Democrat on the committee, had approached the chairman some months ago and had encouraged him to be more outspoken and aggressive, but that Mr. Lugar had resisted.

"It's just not his style," said Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who is an expert on Congress. "He doesn't raise his voice. He is personally a conservative person, and he doesn't want to undermine Bush's re-election."

Loch K. Johnson, a political scientist at the University of Georgia who has written extensively about Congress and foreign policy, said the biggest difference between Congress in 1966 and today was that then the Democrats had a large majority in the Senate and they could afford to challenge Johnson on Vietnam without jeopardizing their control of Congress. Republicans today, with their bare majority, do not have that luxury, he said.

Mr. Lugar agreed with that analysis. "We are a country that's about 50-50, and I want to be a unifying force," he said.

He is especially proud, he said, that his committee is an island of bipartisanship in a sea of polarization in Congress.

Mr. Hagel did not disagree, but he said: "What troubles and surprises me about the administration is that when you have someone like Lugar, as respected and knowledgeable a senator as there is, to not use him. He's smart, he's articulate and it deprives the administration of a tremendous reservoir of knowledge and experience."

Mr. Lugar said he could force the administration's hand by delaying confirmations or holding up financing, but he said he did not intend to do that.

Unlike Mr. Fulbright, he said, "I have no desire to lead a revolt."


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