Remembering Senator Fulbright

Since taking office in January of 2017, President Donald Trump’s policies have alienated our country from the world at large.

Trump has questioned the value of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, threatened the foreign aid packages of countries who disagree with American policies, engaged in a Twitter fight with North Korean Leader Kim Jung-un and threatened to leave the Iran Nuclear Deal. The President’s foreign policy seems to be defined by a way of viewing the world where our country does what it wants to the world stage and pays little attention to the world as a whole.

Is there a model for something different? Former Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright passed away 23 years ago on Friday – February 9,  1995. Fulbright was elected to the House of Representatives from Arkansas as a Democrat during World War II in 1942 and elected to the Senate two years later in 1944. From the beginning of his political career, he was known as an advocate of multilateralism and supported the creation of the United Nations in 1945.

Fulbright was President John F. Kennedy’s first choice to be Secretary of State but many found his views too controversial and he never held the office. The former Senator was not afraid to oppose the President of any party, as Fulbright raised serious objections to Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs invasion and also President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s involvement in the 1965 Dominican Civil War in Santo Domingo. The Arkansas Senator believed that if the Legislative branch operated as a check on the Executive branch then the country might avoid unnecessary wars. Fulbright served as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1959 to 1974.

As Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair, Fulbright held hearings on the Vietnam War that were televised to the country as a whole, a rarity in the era before cable news. In 1966, Fulbright published the book “The Arrogance of Power” where he attacked the justification of the Vietnam War, Congress’s failure to set limits on it, and the impulses that gave rise to it. Fulbright’s analysis undermined the idea that the war was necessary due to Cold War geopolitics. In this book, he also talked of his opposition to interfering in the affairs of other nations. Fulbright stated his belief in international law in “The Arrogance of Power.”

“Law is the essential foundation of stability and order both within societies and in international relations,” Fulbright stated. “As a conservative power, the United States has a vital interest in upholding and expanding the reign of law in international relations. Insofar as international law is observed, it provides us with stability and order and with a means of predicting the behavior of those with whom we have reciprocal legal obligations. When we violate the law ourselves, whatever short-term advantage may be gained, we are obviously encouraging others to violate the law; we thus encourage disorder and instability and thereby do incalculable damage to our own long-term interests.”

Fulbright was elected to the Senate four times and left in 1974. He was defeated in the Democratic primary by the Arkansas governor Dale Bumpers. The internationalist was a target of more conservative elements in his party due to his opposition to the Vietnam War. After his retirement from politics, Fulbright practiced international law at the Washington D.C. firm of Hogan and Hartson from 1975 to 1993.  Is there a J. William Fulbright in the Senate today?



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