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Dick Lugar

Sen. Dick Lugar 

INDIANAPOLIS — The former chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee is warning that America risks losing its leadership role in global affairs if President Donald Trump does not rethink his foreign policy positions.

Dick Lugar, a Republican who represented Indiana in the Senate for 36 years, declared last week in a speech to the Foreign Policy Association that the first three months of Trump's presidency have been "an exercise in squandering America's international leverage."

He said Trump's focus on building a wall on the Mexican border, extracting additional payments from European military allies, threatening to tear up longstanding trade agreements, pledging to deport undocumented immigrants and cutting funds for diplomacy are not the kinds of policies that preserve America's place in the world.

"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," Lugar said.

"One of the ironies of this is that 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."

Lugar said it's too soon to judge Trump's decision to authorize military strikes in Syria, and he agrees with Trump that the United States requires a powerful military.

But Lugar said Trump needs to understand that the history of this century shows military force alone cannot substitute for other types of geopolitical leverage, such as international alliances, trade relationships and robust diplomacy — all things Trump has vowed to cut or eliminate.

"We cannot bomb our way to security," Lugar said. "If strong and comprehensive American leadership is withdrawn from the global stage, broader efforts at conflict prevention will fail."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."

At the very least, Lugar said Trump must reassure America's allies, especially in Eastern Europe — and remind their adversaries, namely Russia — that the United States always will stand with those countries it has pledged to defend.

Failing to do so is "dangerous and can lead to deadly miscalculation," Lugar said.

Despite his take on Trump, Lugar insisted that he remains optimistic about America's future due to its strong institutions and resilient Constitution, both of which he said are powerful examples to other nations, and, in turn, help preserve American security.

"The United States has been and still is a force for good in the world. I believe this is indisputable from any objective point of view," Lugar said.

"But it has to be maintained. Once it is gone, it is very difficult to retrieve. Other power structures will occupy the void, and many of them are not sympathetic to American values and interests."

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Statehouse Bureau Chief

Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.