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Lugar, Helmke both in Hagel’s corner


– The Washington Post has described former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana as a foreign-policy mentor to Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for secretary of defense.

In a December story, Lugar called Hagel “an excellent candidate” to lead the Pentagon.

The two Republicans were members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during Hagel’s 12 years in the Senate.

Lugar was committee chairman for four of those years, 2003 through 2006.

“They are friends and talk with some frequency,” Andy Fisher said Tuesday in an email. Fisher was a spokesman for Lugar before he left the Senate last week after 36 years there.

Fort Wayne native Mark Helmke, a former aide to Lugar and the Foreign Relations Committee, said in an email: “I think Hagel is first rate. Like Lugar, he is a serious student of foreign policy and defense issues.”

Last May, when Lugar lost in Indiana’s Republican primary election, Hagel told NPR, “There is nobody, not one senator in the Republican Party today, who is in Dick Lugar’s universe.”

Several Republican senators – including Indiana’s Dan Coats – have expressed reservations about or outright aversion to Hagel’s nomination as Pentagon chief.

News media have pointed out that Hagel broke with Republican ranks by questioning the need for the U.S. to go to war in Iraq in 2003 and opposing President George W. Bush’s war-surge strategy in 2007.

Lugar also was cautious about the war. In “Richard G. Lugar: Statesman of the Senate,” author John Shaw wrote that Hagel pushed Lugar to be more outspoken about his concerns and urged the Bush administration to talk with him.

“They didn’t use him. It was a terrible, terrible squandering of a resource,” Hagel told Shaw in the 2012 book.

Favoring diplomatic negotiations instead, Hagel and Lugar were the only senators to vote against renewing the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act in 2001.