Complexities require bipartisan approach

Looking forward to the coming session of Congress, Iraq clearly will be high on the foreign-policy agenda. But despite an election-shortened calendar, the Senate also will have an opportunity to take initiative in areas that do not yet command the same media profile, such as energy, conventional-weapons proliferation and global health.
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.)

The Foreign Relations Committee, which has held 30 hearings on Iraq, will continue to provide oversight of U.S. stabilization and reconstruction efforts. In November 2005, the Senate passed a resolution endorsing the “phased redeployment” of U.S. troops. Iraq’s subsequent parliamentary elections have set the stage for that to begin, provided that conditions on the ground permit.

The resolution also called for the Bush administration to inform Congress better about its strategy for a successful completion of the mission and the progress in training Iraqi troops to take over. Following the State of the Union address, the Foreign Relations Committee will have an opportunity to examine the details of the administration’s plans when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testifies in February.

To help the Senate examine the complexities of the Iraq situation and the real choices our policymakers face, I will continue to send regular “Dear Colleague” letters highlighting important reports and analyses that can contribute to more thorough debate both in the Congress and among the public.

Ongoing tensions throughout the Middle East — Iran’s nuclear program, the political transition in Israel, the Syria-Lebanon situation, to name a few — have a common link with other sources of potential trouble around the world, such as the current friction between Ukraine and Russia or the anti-American machinations of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. That link is energy.

With the price of crude oil soaring to more than $60 a barrel and some experts warning that global oil production may have peaked, it is increasingly clear that energy has become a major national security issue. Wars in the past have been fought over oil. When we reach the point where the world’s oil-hungry economies are competing for insufficient supplies of energy, oil will become an even stronger magnet for conflict.

High oil prices have hurt American consumers at the gas pump, and record revenues flowing into oil-producing nations are changing the world’s geopolitical landscape. Increasingly, oil is the currency through which countries leverage their interests against oil-dependent nations such as ours.

During this session, I plan to highlight how our dependence on oil places at risk our critical international security goals — including countering nuclear-weapons proliferation, supporting new democracies and promoting sustainable development.

Congress took an important step last year toward reducing energy dependence with passage of the Fuels Security Act, which I introduced along with 21 other Republicans and Democrats. The bill aims to nearly double the current production of American-made renewable fuels. We need to build on that bipartisan success.

We also need to build on the success of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which has accomplished so much to rid the world of former Soviet nuclear weapons and safeguard nuclear materials to keep them out of terrorists’ hands. Congress should pass new legislation, which I developed with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), to eliminate vulnerable stockpiles of conventional weapons.

The Lugar-Obama legislation, modeled after the Nunn-Lugar program, aims to secure arms that could fall into the hands of insurgents or terrorists. These include hand-held surface-to-air missiles that can shoot down civilian aircraft. Lugar-Obama also would offer assistance to countries that are cooperating with us in the effort to intercept illegal shipments of weapons or materials of mass destruction.

Fighting global disease also will be an important focus of our foreign policy, both to protect our own citizens and to assist developing countries racked by AIDS and other devastating illnesses. An AIDS orphans bill I introduced in the Senate was enacted last year, and Congress has appropriated $3.8 billion for avian-influenza preparedness, including money for development, production and stockpiling of drugs and vaccines.

This year, Congress will have a chance to pass a bipartisan vaccine bill, which I authored, that would use public-private partnerships to accelerate the development of vaccines for HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria and other infectious diseases. Although the initial cost of creating these vaccines may be high, it will be far less than the cost of treatment and the economic impact of these diseases.

In fact, that principle should guide Congress in all our work this session: responding to crises is far more expensive — and dangerous — than working diligently to prevent them in the first place.

Lugar is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.