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Two veteran lawmakers worry global diplomacy is being undervalued

March 30, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT
President Trump vowed on the campaign trail to improve America’s global standing. After two months in office, the president has shaken up the world stage, from dust-ups with allies to continued questions about Russia. Judy Woodruff gets views from veteran lawmakers former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., and former Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., about how they see Trump foreign policy so far.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: President Trump promised often during the campaign to improve America’s standing across the globe.

Now, more than two months in office, Mr. Trump has shaken up the world stage, from dust-ups with longtime allies to continued questions about Russia.

We examine the administration’s foreign policy now with two veteran lawmakers who helped to shape U.S. national security, former Republican Senator Richard Lugar, and former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton, both from Indiana. They are now both distinguished scholars at Indiana University.

And welcome to the NewsHour to both of you.

The New York Times reported today — and I will start with you, Senator Lugar — that the United States is expanding — expanding and deepening its military involvement in the Middle East under President Trump in Iraq, in Syria, in Yemen. At the same time, he’s calling for cutbacks in spending on diplomacy.

What do you think of this approach?

FORMER SEN. RICHARD LUGAR, R-Ind.: Well, I believe the approach is very fearful.

And we really need to have all of our alliances as strong as possible. I mean, as a matter of fact, to have a military strategy for the Middle East, as opposed to a few troops that are going here and there at various times, I’m really concerned about the president’s lack of enthusiasm for NATO, for example.

I’m worried about our — even the alliance problems in our own hemisphere with the NAFTA, quite apart from those ties with the Far East. In other words, we need to reach out, offering leadership in the world. And we need to be finding new allies, new people to help us.

The Middle East will not be solved by a few Americans who are sent over there, even if we augment that by a few more.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Representative Hamilton, your take on the first two months of this presidency on foreign policy?

FORMER REP. LEE HAMILTON, D-Ind. : Well, I agree very much with what Dick said.

You need to have I a strong military and be prepared to use it on occasion as a last resort. But you certainly have to have strong diplomacy.

Almost all of these problems that we’re dealing with, I think all of them, ultimately have a political solution. You do not get that kind of a solution through military action. You get it through diplomacy, negotiations, consultations, endless meetings, and conversations of all kinds with your friends and your enemies.

We need a strong diplomatic effort in order to advance our interests in the world.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, between the two of you, you served, I think, a total of more than — of 70 years, between the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House.

Senator Lugar, what is it exactly that you would like to see the president do when it comes to diplomacy that he isn’t doing right now?

RICHARD LUGAR: Well, first of all, he needs to indicate that we are not going to cut the budget of the State Department, that we’re not going to cut foreign aid or potential assistance even to starving people around the world.

In other words, we really need a burst of enthusiasm for American humanitarianism, American reach-out to other countries and other people. We have those resources here. They’re tremendously important.

And we are the leader. It won’t do really just to augment the defense budgets, while you’re cutting back foreign aid and you’re cutting back on treaties. We have already seen the dissolution of the Pacific pact. That’s a treaty for foreign trade.

We are already seeing the diminishing interest of foreign trade generally by the president, a diminishing of Americans accepting other people coming into our country.

We really need to sort of reverse these courses and get back into American leadership.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we should note that is coming from a Republican.

Representative Hamilton, what is the formula that you see? What would you like to see this president do, say that we haven’t heard or seen so far?

LEE HAMILTON: Look, I think American leadership in the world is absolutely necessary.

I come from the school of thought — and I think Dick does too — that American leadership, though not perfect — we make mistakes — is crucial to progress in the world, economic growth, peace and stability, extension of freedom and liberty to all people.

You have to step forward and take on that burden of leadership. And that’s what the president has to do. If you look back over the past hundred days or so of the Trump administration, all of the news has been internal or external problems of the Trump administration.

He’s having a very hard time getting started and exerting his authority as a president because of these internal and some external problems.

The world needs our leadership in all kinds of ways. And we have to step up to that responsibility. And, if we do not do it, then others will fill the vacuum. We have a marvelous record of global leadership over decades since World War II. We have got a — we see signs now that that leadership may be waning in some respects.

And we have to step up our game, assert our leadership. And President Trump has to take the lead on that, so that the United States can fulfill the expectations of the world for our leadership for good around the world.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Two distinguished American lawmakers, Representative Lee Hamilton, Senator Richard Lugar.

It’s very good to see both of you again. We thank you.

RICHARD LUGAR: Thanks so much.

LEE HAMILTON: Thank you.

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