Lugar's farewell sees danger in food, energy constraints

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2012 - Leaving the Senate after 36 years, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., wants to stay engaged in issues that have marked his public career - “preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and developing more efficient ways to feed the world,” he said in an eloquent valedictory speech on the Senate floor yesterday.

The former Senate Agriculture Committee chairman (1995-2001) announced that he will join the faculty of the University of Indianapolis, helping it establish a Washington internship program. “I look forward to announcing additional endeavors of service in coming weeks,” he added. Rumors suggest that he'll be associated with a major foundation or that he will be considered for a high-level position in the Obama Administration.

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His farewell remarks, however, focused less on himself than on the issues that have driven him in the Senate. He is especially concerned that “we face the specter of global resource constraints, especially deficiencies of energy and food that could stimulate conflict and deepen poverty.”

Despite “startling gains in domestic energy production,” the country is still dependent on oil and remains part of a volatile global energy economy. “The potential global crisis over food production is less well understood,” Lugar said. “Whereas research is opening many new frontiers in the energy sphere, the productivity of global agriculture will not keep up with projected food demand unless many countries change their policies.”

He insists: “This starts with a much wider embrace of agriculture technology, including genetically modified techniques. The risks of climate change intensify this imperative.”

Lugar shows some pessimism about the coarsened political environment, in which he was defeated in a Republican primary by a more conservative “Tea Party” favorite who subsequently lost the general election, but maintains hope that it will pass. “Too often in recent years, members of Congress have locked themselves into a slate of inflexible positions, many of which have no hope of being implemented in a divided government,” he said. “Too often we have failed to listen to one another and question whether the orthodox views being promulgated by our parties make strategic sense for America's future.”

He hopes that senators will devote more energy to governance and helping shame a coherent strategy - “a very high bar for any legislative body” - but essential because of “fundamental changes in the world order that will deeply affect America's security and standard of living.”

He traced a list of changes through Asia - where the United States must “pursue prospects for free trade with open sea lanes and other policies that will strengthen America's economic growth” - through the Middle East, with the continued threat of terrorism. “Amidst all these security risks, we must maintain the competitiveness of the United States in the international economy,” Lugar said. “We should see education, energy efficiency, access to global markets, the attraction of immigrant entrepreneurs, and other factors as national security issues.”

Twice chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (1985-87 and 2003-07), he stays hopeful that the president and Congress can establish a closer working relationship, especially on national security. “This cooperation depends both on congressional leaders who are willing to set aside partisan advantage and on administration officials who understand that the benefits of having the support of Congress is worth the effort it takes to secure it,” he said.

The president must be willing to call Republicans to the Oval Office to establish the basis for a working partnership in foreign policy,” Lugar said. “And Republicans must be willing to suspend reflexive opposition that serves no purpose but to limit their own role in strategic questions and render cooperation impossible.”

But he ends with an optimistic note about the country's future. “I believe that both internal divisions and external threats can be overcome,” he added. “The United States will continue to serve as the inspiration for peoples seeking peace, freedom and economic prosperity. And the United States Senate should and will be at the forefront of this advancement.”




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