WASHINGTON — SEN. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana, one of the strongest foreign policy voices on Capitol Hill, says United States attention to international affairs is long overdue.
At a Monitor breakfast yesterday, Mr. Lugar lamented that for the past year, the US has largely ignored world problems, including the volatile situation in the former Soviet Union.
Since Sen. Harris Wofford (D) took Pennsylvanians by storm in the senatorial election a year ago, with his emphasis on domestic needs over foreign affairs, Republicans have believed it more politically expedient to focus on domestic concerns.
"The administration came to a conclusion that it was vulnerable to the charge that it was paying too much attention to foreign affairs," says Lugar, who has been a trusted adviser to President Bush during the past four years.
The senator adds: "It was a political calculation that turned out to be wrong."
"We've tried to remind people all the way through that the rest of the world is still out there, and it's not only a dangerous place, but there are specific dangers," says Lugar, who will travel to several ex-Soviet republics next week.
While a new administration is "always a time of extraordinary renewal and hope," Lugar says, President-elect Bill Clinton has not demonstrated interest, much less expertise, in foreign affairs.
"He's governed a state of 2.4 million people ... you try to extrapolate that kind of administrative activity to this country and to the world and it's sort of a breathtaking leap."
But Lugar says Clinton is "a very quick study."
Clinton's first foreign policy challenge will be the ex-Soviet republics, a region Lugar says is "frought with potential danger."
He questions the assumption that with Russia flat on its back economically, it no longer poses a military threat.
"With all 308 SS-18s still there ... you have a potential for military activity or at least a bluff," Lugar says.
"What if Russia said `You had your chance; you could have helped us but you didn't; we understand that you really wanted us to disintegrate.' "
With grave economic problems, including runaway inflation, Lugar says the Russian situation is potentially explosive.
"My guess is that we're at a point that is extremely critical. The problem for President Bush now or President Clinton January 20 is to lead in very significantly and try to manage this problem before it becomes a catastrophe."