Amid mounting tensions abroad, Richard Lugar visited the Baker Center on Tuesday to give a lecture on foreign policy.
A native of Indianapolis, Ind. and member of the Republican Party, Lugar served continuously as senator of Indiana from 1977-2013. During his years in the Senate, Lugar served as chairman of the Senate Committee for Foreign Relations two separate times. His 36-year run in the U.S. Senate ended this year when he lost the Republican primary to Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock.
Lugar was invited to the Baker Center as a part of the Ashe Lecture series, named after Victor Ashe, mayor of Knoxville from 1987-2003 and United States ambassador to Poland.
Formed in 2012, the series brings government leaders to UT to talk about relevant national policy issues, such as the United States' difficult position in Syria, a topic freshman in global studies Colleen Ryan was particularly interested in.
"I was really interested in hearing his perspective on the situation in Syria right now," Ryan said. "Things are starting to really ramp up in that region."
After rebel forces claimed that 1,300 people died as a result of chemical weaponry in a recent CNN report, President Barack Obama said chemical weapon use had crossed a "red line" of acceptability.
"On the one side, we don't want to become involved in a war," he said. "However, the Syrians ought to be punished for using these chemical weapons. The issue is complex because we may accidentally kill innocent civilians if we interfere in Syria and these are the same kind of people who were being hurt by the chemical weapons in the first place."
The problem, Lugar argued, was idealism with which the U.S. invades other countries, like Iraq.
"We go in thinking that what we need is a shining city on the hill in the Middle East," Lugar said. "If we're ever going to change that culture, we need a country that has democracy, that has human rights."
Yet, even protecting human rights comes at a cost, sometimes compromising national interests.
"It may not be in our national interest to help countries with humanitarian crises," Lugar said. "But we may be the only people on earth who have a fleet that can go everywhere, that can get armed forces everywhere. And if we don't act, people will die. That's an important new part of the foreign policy dialogue."
A primary witness to President Obama's numerous reforms, Lugar watched the transformation of American foreign policy from world-war era isolationism to more modern humanitarian efforts.
"I had the temerity to ask the President what the national interest of our country is in what happens in Libya," Lugar said. "The president said that that's not the question. He said the fact is that Gadhafi's forces are going to go door-to-door shooting people and we've got to stop that. It's a humanitarian effort."Lugar admitted addressing issues of foreign policy can be hard in a country like the U.S., where domestic concerns, like medical care and education, prevail.
"Each person in America has limited time and concentration to spend on this," Lugar said. "My hope is that Americans will become more interested generally in the rest of the world."Encouraging the students to become globally-minded citizens, Lugar concluded by addressing the younger audience members directly, calling the ability to think, speak, and write well "the elements of power." More specifically, however, Lugar recommended language courses."I would hope many students at UT would take a foreign languages," he said. "Americans who can speak Chinese for instance, or Arabic are going to be great assets to this country.
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