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May 12, 2013

Lugar wary of U.S. involvement in Syria

INDIANAPOLIS — Former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar has been out of office since early January, but he’s still being sought after for his opinion about foreign policy matters he once helped shape.

Last weekend, the longtime Republican senator weighed in the volatile situation in Syria on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt. Lugar was featured along with former national security adviser Zbigniew K. Brzezinski, a Democrat.

Lugar, former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is wary of the U.S. becoming more deeply involved in the Syrian civil war even while he worries about the humanitarian crisis unfolding.

One of Lugar’s concerns is that increasing U.S. military involvement would inadvertently bolster extremists in the Syrian opposition and lead to unknown consequences.

Asked what he thought about using U.S. air power to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria or taking out the Syrian air force or bombing the palace of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad, Lugar responded:

“Well, that really does get into warfare, because [Assad] does have some pretty good aircraft and air defenses. And it’s all well and good to talk about the no-fly zone, but that really does put American people at risk who are flying the planes, as well as the planes themselves, and that really oversteps the line.”

On Tuesday, during an interview in Indianapolis, Lugar repeated his concerns about the U.S. becoming involved in what he sees as an unwinnable situation.

He acknowledged the tragedy of the Syrian conflict. Since March 2011, the civil strife there has killed more than 70,000 people, according to United Nations. That’s why he’s been supportive of humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees who’ve fled into neighboring Turkey.

But Lugar fears that U.S. military involvement in Syria could add to the instability of a  region plagued with deep ethnic and religious divisions and lead to the kind of long-term entanglement that the U.S. found itself in after invading Iraq.

“It’s beyond our ability to sort this out,” Lugar said. “We attempted to do so in Iraq for 10 years. We tried to bring about democracy, human rights, stability and peace, and we had some success. But absent the U.S., it’s become unraveled again.”

Lugar differs from many Republicans in Congress who are pushing for more U.S. involvement in Syria.

He urges caution.

“Countries really have to develop their own institutions and determine their own future,” Lugar said.

Maureen Hayden is the Indiana Statehouse bureau chief for CNHI, the parent company of the Tribune-Star. She can be reached at maureen.hayden

@indianamediagroup.com.

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