Et tu, Dick?

Lugar isn’t buying McCain’s criticism of Obama’s foreign policy.

Another grown-up puts some distance between himself and the McCain campaign.

John McCain’s campaign for President, insofar as it doesn’t consist merely of character assassination, is based on the idea that McCain is, and Barack Obama is not, prepared to keep the country safe: that compared to McCain’s “steady hand,” Obama is “naive and irresponsible.”

Richard Lugar, who was the Chairman of Senate Foreign Relations when the Republicans controlled the Senate, and who has forgotten more about foreign and security policy than McCain ever knew, doesn’t seem to agree:

Typical of hard fought Presidential campaign issues, this debate has been characterized by hyperbolic rhetoric that seeks to influence the gut-level impulses of voters. Even so, the exchange is a reflection of one of the most frequently discussed issues in U.S. foreign policy circles. Specifically, what relative weight should be assigned to diplomacy versus other instruments of power – including military force – as we seek to address challenges posed by hostile nations?

Clearly, there is truth in the positions of both Senator McCain and Senator Obama. As Senator McCain suggests, there are times when diplomatic approaches to rogue regimes have little efficacy. No President should undertake discussions for the sake of appearances, and the President should be mindful of the legitimacy such talks might confer on particular leaders. But as Senator Obama has argued, isolating regimes, though sometimes necessary, rarely leads to a resolution of contentious issues. He correctly cautions against the implication that hostile nations must be dealt with almost exclusively through isolation or military force. In some cases, refusing to talk can even be dangerous. Negotiations on some level are particularly necessary in circumstances where the nations in question are prone to miscalculation or misinterpretation of U.S. intentions.

Despite the surface even-handedness, there could hardly be a sharper repudiation of one of McCain’s central claims. Other Republicans (Collins, Coleman, Gordon Smith) have been distancing themselves from McCain, but Lugar isn’t up for re-election until 2012; in any case, he was unopposed last time. And Lugar is no blue-state RINO: he ran for President in 1992 as a conservative Republican, and his domestic-policy voting record is reasonably orthodox, with a lifetime ACU rating of 78%.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com