Lugar: Measured, Methodical - and Worried on Iraq ; Senate's Foreign-Relations Chairman Plans a Hearing Tuesday to Spotlight Long-Term US Role in Iraq
Gail Russell Chaddock writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
Few senators have waited in line so long to take back a committee chairmanship, been so well prepared for it, or assumed it at such a pivotal moment.
Studious, unflashy, and methodical, Richard Lugar of Indiana is taking the reins of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a time when the move toward war in Iraq appears almost inexorable - and he appears ready to use that position to critique the Bush administration's foreign policy.
Tuesday, his committee holds hearings on the administration's plans for a post-Hussein Iraq. While not an overt opponent of US military action, Mr. Lugar says the president has failed to talk straight with Americans about the long-term commitment involved.
"There hasn't been an on-the-record presentation for the American people," Lugar said Thursday. "We need to stake out what the parameters of success in Iraq will be: Are Americans going to invest time, money, and a lot of diplomacy in building democratic institutions, ensuring a functioning economy, peace between [Iraqi] Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds?"
It's trademark Lugar. A policy wonk who devours books - footnotes and appendices included - he has a softspoken sagacity on global affairs that seemed boring or off-point to some in the booming and secure 1990s. Today, while not everyone agrees with his views, his voice counts on both sides of the aisle and may be one of the few in Congress to penetrate a White House that is not inclined to take notes on Capitol Hill.
Lugar considers himself a team player and enjoys cordial relations with President Bush, but as other presidents have found, he won't be bullied off the pulpit - not on issues he knows deeply.
A former Rhodes Scholar, Lugar served as a Naval intelligence officer, a school board member and mayor of Indianapolis, where he gained the tag line of "Nixon's favorite mayor," for cutting back on federal programs. After a failed bid for the Senate in 1974, he was elected in 1976, and, by wide margins, ever since. After nearly half a century in public life, he still runs 15 miles a week around the Mall or with high school cross-country teams back in Indiana.
While many committees in Congress are still getting their phone lists straight, Senator Lugar has set the Foreign Relations panel on an exhausting pace: In his first two weeks as chairman, the committee voted for a new treaty with Russia and held high-profile hearings on Iraq, North Korea, and the State Department. After Tuesday's Iraq hearing, it takes up the reconstruction of Afghanistan on Wednesday.
Nor are these events just for show. Even though wartime Congresses are usually eclipsed by the commander in chief, Lugar expects to make this committee a serious counterpoint to the White House on all the big foreign-policy issues of the day. …