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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, April 13, 2017 1:00 am

Old sage offers wisdom to new administration

The following is an excerpt from an address presented Tuesday by former U.S. Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Indiana. He delivered the Andrew Carnegie Distinguished Lecture On Conflict Prevention before the Foreign Policy Association in Washington D.C.

Under normal circumstances, I might address ... the Middle East peace process, the need to secure weapons of mass destruction, the fate of the Iran nuclear agreement, or relations with Russia and China. But at the beginning of a new administration in Washington, we face an even more fundamental dilemma for conflict prevention. This is whether the United States will continue to provide comprehensive leadership in a dangerous world.

... (T)he president and many of his aides have been outspoken in their skepticism or even disdain for continuing America's global role. It is my contention today that if strong and comprehensive American leadership is withdrawn from the global stage, broader efforts at conflict prevention will fail. The people of the United States and most countries of the world will become poorer and will have to endure more frequent conflict. Solutions to threats that impact us all, including climate change, extreme poverty and hunger, communicable diseases, nuclear proliferation, cyberwarfare, and terrorism will be almost impossible to solve.

I am sure that President Trump wants to succeed and that he is learning on the job how our government functions, what powers the president can and cannot exercise, and how he can interact with the rest of the U.S. government. He is also having his first experiences with international politics.

A good bit of the critical commentary surrounding Trump administration foreign policy has been centered on statements and actions by the president that appear to have been poorly vetted.

These episodes are indicative of a president who has just started to get his foreign policy team in place and has not yet found his footing. Though such missteps come with costs, we should see them in a long-range context and have some optimism that time and better staffing will smooth out some of the ... rougher edges.

What worries me far more ... are the administration's deliberate foreign policy choices. ... (A) president who campaigned on his ability to achieve grandiose results is offering a vision that is so lacking in ambition and so devoid of American heroism. So far, Trump foreign policy has been an outgrowth of the 2016 Trump political campaign, rather than a sober assessment of global conditions and U.S. interests.

We elect administrations not just to execute policies that have political momentum. We also expect them to construct a strategic vision that attempts to integrate all levers of American power. We expect them to play geopolitical offense, not just hunker down in a defensive posture.

Many of the Trump administration's foreign policy goals are simplistic, prosaic and reactive. (T)hese policies do nothing to enhance American productivity or competitiveness at home or influence overseas. These are goals that normally would be associated with a selfish, inward-looking nation that is being motivated by fear, not a great superpower with the capacity to shape global affairs.

What the president will learn ... is that geopolitical power is not primarily about deal-making or even decision-making. It has much more to do with building and maintaining leverage that can be brought to bear both in times of crisis and in the normal course of international operations. American leverage comes from numerous sources, not just military power. It comes from strong alliances and trade relationships. It comes from global leadership within international institutions. It comes from robust diplomatic capabilities. And it comes from the respect and confidence other governments and peoples have in the historic leadership role of the United States.