Clinton: Adrift Abroad

WHEN I interviewed youthful, articulate Rhodes Scholar Richard Lugar in Indianapolis back in 1972, he was being spoken of in government circles as the most exciting, innovative mayor in the United States. Many credited him with setting that city on a path of vibrant economic growth, civic activism, and improved racial relations - at a time of decline for most other US cities.

Senator Lugar has been a frequent guest at Monitor breakfasts since coming to Washington. This particular morning, some 25 journalists assembled to hear the highly respected member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hold forth on how President Clinton was doing in foreign affairs. Lugar seemed at times supportive and understanding of the president. He spoke of the complexity of the Bosnia problem. But as would be expected of a Republican, Lugar was far from satisfied with the performance of this president.

Asked if he was hearing the same questions about Mr. Clinton's abilities in foreign policy that he said he was hearing during the presidential campaign, Lugar replied: ``Yes. They are abundant at home and abroad.'' He said Clinton ``has no game plan.'' Of what might happen in trouble spots such as Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti, and North Korea, Lugar said: ``He might get lucky.''

Lugar said he felt that the president was holding up in the polls simply because of his luck in having a growing economy. He said he saw no outstanding domestic Clinton accomplishments yet.

Lugar also said he thought that Clinton's problems with foreign policy did not stem from the performance of his top people. ``Even if that team were very good,'' he said, ``I don't think the president's style is such that it would have afforded them much time or attention. It's not my impression that this president spends quality time on foreign affairs every day.''

Asked what could be done about conflicting policy or strategy statements being issued by Clinton's top people, Lugar said: ``There is no resolution of this problem without a president who says, `This is my presidency. You may run your department any way you want but it better be consonant with what I want.'...

``If I were secretary of defense or state, [I would find that] with this president you are up the creek without a paddle.... You don't know what the president wants, what his idealism is, what his world view is.''

Harsh words. But Lugar holds a special place among reporters. He is regarded as the rare public figure who sits back and genuinely tries to provide objective answers. And many Democrats in Congress and elsewhere would agree that Clinton is, at the least, finding it very difficult to measure up as a president with a firm grip on dealing with problems abroad.

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