Senator Lugar’s defeat in the Indiana Republican primary will remove from the Senate its leading voice in support of the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR). CTR is housed in the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). DTRA manages the CTR program. It does so with a highly professional staff seasoned in the issues surrounding the prevention of nuclear war, accidental or purposeful
These alphabet soup Washington programs and agencies are not household names the way MEDICARE and MEDICAID are but their existence is vital to make sure that countries with nuclear weapons are responsible about getting rid of their nuclear weapons, including nuclear warheads and missile launchers. warheads.
Beyond the important issue of nuclear control and reduction, the Lugar defeat has important political consequences for the Republican Party and its inextricable connection to the Tea Party , a voice of political extremism. The Tea Party, in snake-like fashion, has its arms and legs wrapped around the Senate and House Republican Parties. So far Governor Romney, the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee, has not separated himself from the Tea Party.
I. Senator Lugar’s Legacy
Senator Lugar is a strong conservative who believes in government that is accountable, responsive, efficient and effective. He is a builder, not a destroyer. As a conservative he believes that a foreign policy must be stable as it reduces risk and prevents chaos. He cares about his country before stoking partisan wars. As a conservative, he believes in the use of American power and at the same time recognizes the need for restraining that power. Lugar regularly voiced warnings about the adverse consequences of committing U.S. troops to foreign wars. He wanted us to have an exit strategy before we committed ourselves to long troop commitments fighting abroad.
Lugar stood up to special interests. Nobody fought the wasteful subsidies associated with our farm program as hard as he did. As a farmer, he advocated against his own economic interest. We liberals knew that his conservatism was a sharp area of disagreement as he regularly opposed critical domestic safety net programs or important innovations such as the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
Lugar though believed in the necessity of government. He was one conservative who recognized that raising the debt ceiling was not a liberal or conservative issue. When Democratic appointees were competent he supported them as he did Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. Lugar consistently gave his constituents his judgment as he vigorously represented their interests.
Responsibility and deliberation is part of what Lugar will be remembered for. That combination is now lacking in too many of our elected officials.
II. Lugar’s Initiatives: Part of the Legacy
Senator Lugar, with his ally Senator Nunn (D-Ga), then the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, created a congressional initiative that influenced the direction of our foreign policy as the Soviet Union was falling apart. These Senators had the foresight to create the Cooperative Treat Reduction (CTR) program and house it in the Defense Department. They persuaded their congressional colleagues in the Senate and House to support the legislation which was accomplished two weeks before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Their careful work gained the support of then-President George H. W. Bush, his cabinet and particularly military officials in the Pentagon. At the time, bi-partisanship was still not an endangered idea. Its bi-partisanship and conception made it a significant innovation. Results matter. CTR deactivated hundreds of nuclear weapons. Better yet the legislation led to de-nuclearizing of three states in the former Soviet Union–Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. These states possessed more nuclear weapons than China, France and Great Britain combined.
Lugar and Nunn did not rest on their laurels. They have stayed at it, Lugar as a Senator, and Nunn through Georgia Tech’s Sam Nunn School of International Affairs and Nuclear Threat Initiative. They worked on practical ways to stop threats posed by nuclear, chemical and biological materials.
III. Senator Lugar and the New Start Treaty
Lugar was a prompt supporter of the New Start Treaty. He played no games. This is politically important because as the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, he is subject to a Senate Republican caucus vote. That threat of discipline from hard line Republicans, who follow a policy of no cooperation with Democrats, has made other ranking members quake in their boots. Not Lugar on New Start.
What is under appreciated is that the legacy of CTR, and its being housed in the Defense Department, led the way to the military officials understanding the value of New Start. Their solid support for its ratification put senior military officials and Lugar and the Obama Administration in the same place on New Start. That contributed to the support from Senator Alexander (R-TN) which brought further support for New Start.
The changes among Senate Republicans is far-reaching. In the midst of the cold war, a majority of Senate Republicans approved the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963. Long after the Cold War ended, a majority of Republicans opposed the New Start Treaty in spite of the military’s enthusiasm for it. Their principal reason was they were opposed to any achievement for President Obama.
IV. Ugly Politics
The Lugar defeat shows that conservatives are not exempt from the fanatic zealotry of the Tea Party. Voting for New Start, lifting the debt ceiling, voting to confirm Justices Sotomayor and Kagan are now considered mortal sins that require excommunication.
Obama’s praise for Lugar for the work they did together on nuclear non-proliferation, when Obama served in the Senate, was distorted into making it appear that Lugar was an Obama lackey. As an old timer, I recall conservative George Smathers attacking liberal Claude Pepper in the Florida primary by saying over and over again in rural Florida that Pepper’s sister was a thespian. Facts and quotes, even if by themselves are truthful, can lead to fear or a lie as it did with Lugar and Obama.
Republicans who win landslide elections as Lugar and Olympia Snowe of Maine did are now threatened in primaries because they do not measure up to ideological purity. Snowe chose to not fight. Senator Hatch (R-Ut) prided himself once on working with Senator Kennedy on anti-smoking legislation and juvenile delinquency issues. He races the other way now, abandoning the Dream Act which Lugar did not do.
The Lugar defeat shows that conservatives who speak softly, and carry a nuanced stick, are an endangered species. Being conservative is no protection against excommunication.
With it the Republican leadership–McConnell, Kyl, Boehner and Cantor– are paralyzed by the Tea Party. In every respect they are intertwined with the Tea Party. The Republican Congressional leadership, by their silence and weakness, aid and abet political extremism. Governor Romney’s silence on extremism makes him one who aids and abets political extremism.
V. The Future
If President Obama is elected to a second term, I hope he finds a way of involving Senator Lugar in his Administration. There is a place for statesmen of Richard Lugar’s quality who will give advice without fear or favor.
Others need to take up the mantle on Cooperative Threat Reduction. I hope that Senator Levin (D-Mi), the Armed Services Committee Chairman, and Senator Kerry (D-Mass) the Foreign Relations Chairman, do so. Their task is to engage Republicans who will not be fearful. One such possibility is Senator Alexander (R-TN), who stepped up on New Start, and has been mentored by another statesman, Howard Baker.
That bi-partisan combination will provide a living legacy to Senator Lugar’s contributions.