Former congressmen from different parties come together at IU to seek solutions to global concerns

Hamilton, Lugar joined by distinguished roster of former ambassadors, government officials, policymakers and scholars

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Lee Hamilton, center, listens as Richard Lugar makes a point during a conversation before a conference session. Photo by Ann Schertz

In Congress, former Rep. Lee Hamilton and former Sen. Richard Lugar served Hoosiers as members of opposing political parties. But unlike many in Congress today, they often expressed mutual respect for one other -- and still do.

Hamilton and Lugar, two of the most esteemed voices in foreign policy, serve together today as professors of practice at Indiana University's School of Global and International Studies. This week, they co-convened a conference at the school, "America's Role in the World: Issues Facing the New President."

"I'm very grateful to have the opportunity to work with my dear friend, Lee Hamilton, who has meant so much to the progress of this state and this nation," said Lugar, who served six terms in the U.S. Senate and two terms as mayor of Indianapolis. "I look forward to continuing both that friendship and partnership that provides opportunities for leadership."

"There are very few members of the Congress over the past century that have made a greater contribution to foreign policy and just plain good government than Dick Lugar," Hamilton, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1965 to 1999, said in return.

The nonpartisan conference, which began Wednesday and wraps up today, is addressing topics such as the rising anti-democratic tide around the world; U.S. relations with its allies and with Russia and China; and challenges presented by Iran and North Korea and by global trade and inequality. Politico's Playbook Power Briefing previewed the conference.

A distinguished roster of former ambassadors and federal government officials, policymakers and scholars traveled to IU Bloomington to participate.

"We have a lot of foreign policy talent in this room and participating in this conference," Hamilton said. "I doubt very much that you can find a place in all of America where you can find a better collection of foreign policy experience.

"If any of you are considering running for president -- any volunteers? -- may I suggest that you could form your own foreign policy team without stepping outside this room."

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Former Sen. Richard Lugar welcomes those attending the "America's Role in the World" conference at the IU School of Global and International Studies. Photo by Ann Schertz

In their opening remarks, Lugar and Hamilton offered context on national and global issues based on decades of experience in government and public service.

Lugar discussed the impact of climate change and the importance of globalization. He said he was encouraged to read in the Indiana Daily Student that about 3,000 IU students are heading abroad this year; "despite all the troubles … America's role in the world is going to be determined fortunately by many people who are studying here now."

But just as important, Lugar said, are the many international students coming to study at IU and other major universities across this country.

"We have an opportunity for sharing as international students come here to this campus, to this country, which leads me to the thought that: I hope that while we will not have open borders, (we'll) still have possibilities for entry of talented, thoughtful people into our country," Lugar said. "No walls, no boundaries. We have all come -- in most cases -- from somewhere else on Earth. We need to be enriched by those possibilities."

He reminded those in the crowded auditorium that international alumni may become leaders in their respective nations in the future.

Lugar highlighted the dispute between many in the United States who continue seeing their nation as a leader in international affairs and many others who believe the country should be more focused on domestic issues.

"I think this is going to be an ongoing debate throughout the world," he added, pointing to the Brexit decision in Great Britain and elections across Europe.

"Representative democracy depends on citizens who are discriminating in their judgment, about politicians and policies," Hamilton said.

The IU conference was well-timed to consider challenging issues, chaos and stress on every continent. Europe is straining to remain united. Russia threatens its neighbors. China is becoming more aggressive, and North Korea is becoming more threatening. Conflict engulfs the Middle East. The United States also is fighting a few problems of its own.

"I believe the world still looks to us to step up and lead," Hamilton said, adding that he has "an uneasy feeling" that the United States' role as a world leader may be waning.

"We are the only superpower -- the world's strongest and wealthiest nation -- but we appear to be consumed by our own challenges," he said. "My hope is that you'll help us find a way forward and show how the U.S. can lead the rest of the world, willingly and without arrogance."

By leading and strengthening its own democratic institutions, the United States will encourage other countries to spread democracy, economic growth and freedom, Hamilton said. He hopes it will again "seize the reins of leadership."

"If we fail to lead, others will step in. Indeed, they are already doing so if you keep your eye on the international conferences and meetings," he said. "For my part, I want us -- the United States -- to be in the vanguard of trying to improve the lives of people across the world, recognizing that as we do, the lives of Americans will improve too."