WASHINGTON - President Obama merits an "A" so far in his approach to American foreign policy, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said Monday. But he cautioned that tone alone doesn't solve deep and complex world problems.
Lugar, the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, met with a group of journalists for an hour. In response to a question about how he'd rate Obama's performance in the international arena, Lugar said he'd give the new president a top grade.
He said the Obama administration's policies are not much different from the Bush administration's, but his approach is different.
"The idea of being more inclusive and reaching out, alliances, working with the international comities, his own vigor in going all over the world giving these speeches in the first few weeks or months of the administration are really remarkable.
"However, the same galaxy of problems that faced President Bush in his last year still face President Obama. They're the kind of disputes that are not likely to go away just by having a simple conference or another treaty."
He said other countries respond more receptively to Obama's approach than they did to Bush's. But, Lugar said, "in fairness to the Bush administration, the president and perhaps many of his supporters after the 9/11 attack felt that the United States was in such an embattled position that we had to act unilaterally whether the international organizations responded or not in terms of our own defense and security. Time has passed since that point, and it's appropriate that the new administration adopt, as President Obama has, a very new position."
Lugar also said the recent elections in Iran don't change the desirability of the U.S. having more engagement with Iran, but "make it more complex, and it was already complex."
Lugar likened the Iranian election to the 1986 elections in the Philippines, where he was an elections monitor. Lugar said he reported the voting irregularities to then-President Reagan, who initially did not believe that Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos won unfairly. But later Reagan accepted Lugar's report, and his administration encouraged Marcos to step down, which he did.
But there were no international observers in Iran, he said, adding that the Obama administration's reaction has been "appropriate."
"We are not going to be judges of it from afar," he said. "At the same time, I suspect that perhaps the Obama administration might be more vigorous in talking about the virtues of democracy, of checks and balances, of free and fair elections, of ways in which Iran could indicate to the rest of the world the integrity of the process."