Commentary Magazine


Topic: Nunn-Lugar

U.S.-Russia Relations Keep Plummeting

Now that Moscow has expelled USAID from Russia and announced it will not renew one of the pillars of U.S.-Russia post-Soviet cooperation–the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program–the Obama administration and other disappointed actors will be looking for a silver lining.

At least the Obama administration can take solace in the fact that while Putin is thoroughly dedicated to publicly and without consequence bullying Obama in the last month of the presidential election, he isn’t only isolating the U.S. As usual, Putin reserved some of his ire for NATO as well. Reuters reports:

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Now that Moscow has expelled USAID from Russia and announced it will not renew one of the pillars of U.S.-Russia post-Soviet cooperation–the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program–the Obama administration and other disappointed actors will be looking for a silver lining.

At least the Obama administration can take solace in the fact that while Putin is thoroughly dedicated to publicly and without consequence bullying Obama in the last month of the presidential election, he isn’t only isolating the U.S. As usual, Putin reserved some of his ire for NATO as well. Reuters reports:

Russia will stop cooperating with NATO over Afghanistan after 2014 unless the alliance gets U.N. Security Council authorization for its new training mission in Afghanistan, a senior Russian diplomat said on Wednesday.

A NATO official said only that it would be “helpful” to have a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the post-2014 training mission, but stopped short of saying it was essential.

Nikolay Korchunov, Russia’s acting ambassador to NATO, did not specify what any halt to Russian cooperation with NATO on Afghanistan after 2014 would mean, but Russia will be an important transit route for NATO as it ships out billions of dollars of equipment from Afghanistan in the next few years.

This morning, the New York Times also reported that Turkish authorities forced a Syrian plane en route from Moscow to land in Ankara, and the Russians–perhaps feeling they were caught red-handed–lashed out in response. “I think that tension will now develop in the relationship between Russia and Turkey,” a Russian Foreign Ministry official told the Times.

Turkey claims there were materials on the plane that violate international regulations, but there were also passengers on the plane, leading a Russian arms export official to offer a quote that is both amusingly arrogant and ominous: “If it had been necessary to ship any military hardware or weapons to Syria, this would have been done through the established procedure rather than in an illegal way.”

Of course Russia will help a dictator murder thousands of his own people in broad daylight–but they’d never do anything illegal.

The question lingers, however: What does Putin want from Obama? The answer is, the last concession remaining: the plans for a missile shield in Europe. Yet regardless of Obama’s decision on that front, Putin’s habit has been to simply pocket concessions and then renegotiate. Which means despite the administration’s attempts to placate Putin, the U.S.-Russia relationship, at a low point during the first Obama term and in many ways since the fall of the Soviet empire, will remain where it is. The new low will become the new normal.

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Lugar Proves His Critics Right

Richard Mourdock’s decisive Republican primary victory over six-term Indiana Senator Richard Lugar was fretted by the D.C. foreign-policy establishment as yet another death knell for comity in Washington. But it turned out that it was Lugar, not Mourdock, who eschewed civility and grace with an angry and bitter response to the election.

Politico reports that time has not yet healed Lugar’s wounds or his ego. In his last months in the Senate, he has turned his attention to cementing his legacy abroad while Mourdock is locked in a close, and “costly,” general election fight. It’s true that Lugar has left at least one important legacy: his efforts, along with Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, to gain control of the collapsing Soviet Union’s nuclear material. But that was two decades ago, and in the foreign policy community the phrase “Nunn-Lugar” is a household term, and as such his legacy is in no need, and arguably cannot even really benefit, from his farewell tour. Instead, there is another legacy Lugar can cement in the coming months, and it isn’t a good one. From Politico:

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Richard Mourdock’s decisive Republican primary victory over six-term Indiana Senator Richard Lugar was fretted by the D.C. foreign-policy establishment as yet another death knell for comity in Washington. But it turned out that it was Lugar, not Mourdock, who eschewed civility and grace with an angry and bitter response to the election.

Politico reports that time has not yet healed Lugar’s wounds or his ego. In his last months in the Senate, he has turned his attention to cementing his legacy abroad while Mourdock is locked in a close, and “costly,” general election fight. It’s true that Lugar has left at least one important legacy: his efforts, along with Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, to gain control of the collapsing Soviet Union’s nuclear material. But that was two decades ago, and in the foreign policy community the phrase “Nunn-Lugar” is a household term, and as such his legacy is in no need, and arguably cannot even really benefit, from his farewell tour. Instead, there is another legacy Lugar can cement in the coming months, and it isn’t a good one. From Politico:

Mourdock “will achieve little as a legislator” if he pursues his goal of pushing partisanship in Washington, Lugar wrote in a 1,425-word statement. And he has insisted for months that he has no plans to campaign for Mourdock. In an interview with POLITICO, the lame-duck senator declined to say why he won’t stump for Mourdock or whether the nominee has even requested his help.

But Lugar recently told an Indiana blogger: “I’ve not been a factor in the campaign and I don’t intend to do so.”

This behavior will ensure that Indiana voters won’t regret voting Lugar out no matter how the general election turns out. Lugar’s behavior has, in fact, proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that voters’ complaints about Lugar were spot-on, and Lugar’s defenders way off the mark.

The two most common complaints about Lugar were that he has become too comfortable and embedded in D.C. culture and far removed from those he is supposed to represent, and that he no longer possesses loyalty to the Republican Party—something that may earn him bipartisan plaudits from the media and his peers in Washington, but which would certainly concern, if not perturb, Republican Party voters to whom Lugar owes his cozy spot in the nation’s capital.

Lugar’s bitterness and refusal to help the candidate voters chose to serve in his place has shown the very sense of entitlement and disregard for the wishes of the voters that elites often settle into. And Lugar’s decision not to help his state party’s Senate candidate, in a year in which any race could theoretically make the difference between a Democratic Senate and a Republican one, shows that he does not feel any obligation to help his party. It doesn’t much matter to him whether a Democrat or Republican wins in November. The “No Labels” crowd loves this sort of thing, but it proves correct the Republican voters who sensed they were becoming indistinguishable, in Lugar’s mind, from their Democratic counterparts.

Lugar’s foreign-policy experience is something the GOP, whose congressional candidates are getting ever younger and focused on fiscal issues, should not dismiss in and of itself. Indeed, both parties will always need experienced hands on deck. But the policies matter too. We’re a long way from Nunn-Lugar, and despite that policy’s success Lugar can’t expect to trade on that legacy forever. And the presence of John Kerry at the helm of the Senate’s foreign relations business shows that some lifelong senators never learn a thing, no matter how much time they spend on Capitol Hill.

Lugar may have been hailed by his peers as a model of civility in an increasingly uncivil age, but he is now establishing a second legacy—as a man of dispiriting bitterness, entitlement, and haughty elitism who simply cannot let go.

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