Times Exclusive

Mr. Lugar stays in Washington

At 80, former senator is determined to continue his work on global causes
2013-02-10T00:00:00Z 2013-02-10T23:58:08Z Mr. Lugar stays in WashingtonRobert Blaszkiewicz robert.blaszkiewicz@nwi.com, (219) 852-4314 nwitimes.com

WASHINGTON | The Dupont Circle office building is just 2-1/2 miles from the U.S. Capitol, where Richard Lugar built a legacy of statesmanship over the past 36 years.

Bright and open with glass dividers and sleek, modern decor, the cluster of offices are a contrast to the hallowed halls of the Senate. But the surroundings represent a new start for Lugar, who at 80 years old shows no sign of slowing down.

He keeps a full schedule these days working to set up a non-profit organization that will continue the work he did as a senator on global security issues, and partnering with universities to mentor a new generation.

It's a change that he didn't necessarily seek out, losing his 2012 re-election bid in the Republican primary to Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock. Democrat Joe Donnelly assumed Lugar's Senate seat in January after defeating Mourdock in the general election.

One month after leaving the Senate, Lugar invited The Times to his new offices for a wide-ranging exclusive interview.

"It's been a very busy transition. Before we left, I knew that I would have opportunities for affiliation with Indiana University, University of Indianapolis, Georgetown University and the German Marshall Fund," Lugar said.

Lugar is a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, which works with ambassadors throughout Washington.

"I already had a breakfast with 25 ambassadors. We're talking about how there can be much greater understanding between ambassadors and Congress," he said.

On the academic front, Lugar will coordinate a Washington internship program for students at the University of Indianapolis and will lecture there, as well as at Georgetown University.

In January, Indiana University announced Lugar would join the faculty of IU's School of Global and International Studies and serve as co-chair of the new IU International Advisory Committee with former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton.

Lugar also deposited 1,000 boxes of his Senate papers at the IU archives.

But his most ambitious plans are to continue his work on global security. Lugar's legacy includes the Nunn-Lugar program, where he partnered with Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Georgia, to secure and deactivate nuclear weapons after the breakup of the Soviet Union. More than 7,600 strategic nuclear warheads were deactivated under the program.

"We have staff members that have great skills in trying to control weapons of mass destruction and in feeding the world ... So we're hopeful that we'll be able to gain some traction through grants by various foundations that would like me to continue on this work. And if that is so, we will be able to employ some of our most valued staff members in the past who will continue their research, publications, lectures. In other words, we will be a hub of activity in trying to advance these projects."

Among Lugar's chief concerns is food security, which he thinks could play a key role in future conflicts. It's a subject where his experience running his family's Marion County farm comes into play.

"Many countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa have had chronic food shortages. This happens because of lack of production skills or research in proper seed and fertilizer," Lugar said. "Climate change and droughts in various countries have created huge shortages. This doesn't work for a stable world."

Lugar says over the years, thanks to better farming techniques and technology, he's seen a quadrupling in yields on the same acreage of his family farm.

"That is going to have to occur throughout the world if the increasing population is to be fed."

But, Lugar adds, trade policy is a big concern with the protectionist sentiments of many countries.

"There is no area where things are more gummed up than the foreign trade of food," he said.

Another big battle on the horizon, Lugar said, is over genetically modified seed, which has met resistance in Europe and stalled progress in Africa.

"People are coming to the conclusion that not only is genetically modified safe, but it's absolutely essential if you're going to get the yields required to feed countries or feed the world."

If not food, Lugar believes conflicts in the coming decades could arise over fuel, as supplies strain to meet the demands of a rising standard of living.

"The Chinese situation is sort of instructive in this, with hundreds of millions of people moving from the farms and rural settings where frequently there were no lights, no constant source of power. ... They move to cities, where they turn on the lights or heat a small apartment. It's a huge revolution occurring."

One of the battles Lugar fought in his final year in the Senate was over the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring crude oil from the Canadian oil sands region to U.S. refineries and has been stalled by the Obama administration over environmental concerns.

"The production of all that pipeline will create jobs for Americans at a time when the jobs issue is still right upfront," Lugar said. "The consequence of not doing this is that the Canadians have said quite frankly that they are going to sell every bit of it to China. So it's going to reappear somewhere in the Earth's atmosphere, but in this case the Chinese would be the beneficiary and we would have lost a good bit of friendship with the close people up in Canada."

As a former member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Lugar watched with interest the recent hearings held on the embassy attack in Benghazi, Libya, and the confirmation hearings of secretary of state nominee John Kerry and defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, both his longtime colleagues in the Senate.

In the case of Benghazi, the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens holds particular importance for Lugar.

"He was one of my staff members six years ago or so. He had an internship of sorts with the Foreign Relations Committee — a brilliant guy. So it was a personal loss."

Lugar saw the Benghazi hearing, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was grilled by Republican senators, as a continuation of the 2012 campaign, with Republicans hammering away at what they perceived as a vulnerability.

"So after the campaign is over, everyone wants their due," he said.

Lugar thought that too much of the focus in Hagel's confirmation hearing was about the former Nebraska Republican's past statements, and not enough about the topics relevant to national security.

"In other words, what is the role of the Defense Department in the pivot in Asia? Or the setting up perhaps of a new base for drones in northern Africa? Or how soon should we come out of Afghanistan? Or what's happened in Iraq since we left there?"

Lugar said rumors that the Nunn-Lugar nuclear reduction program would end were concerning to him. And he's gone to the Pentagon to get them "stirred up and moving ahead" on the project. For the Russians, Nunn-Lugar is a jobs issue and one they want to continue, he said.

"This is something that is important to me. I think it's important to our country," he said. "I believe it's going to continue, but it's going to be an argument."

In the fights ahead, Lugar has allies, including former Senate staff members, who remain loyal and committed to the cause.

Andy Fisher, Lugar's communications director in the Senate, is helping get the new operation going and will continue as a consultant while operating his own public relations firm.

Fisher says Lugar still has the energy and vitality to make his new endeavor a success.

"He's always forward looking, always looking at what the future problems are," Fisher said. "He's been through these things before. He's always been a risk taker."

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Follow The Times

Latest Local Offers

Featured Businesses

Poll

Loading…

Do you expect the former Sheraton Hotel in Gary to be demolished by the end of the year?

View Results

National Video