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40th Anniversary of Senator Fulbright's "Arrogance of Power" Speech

The Arrogance of Power by J. William Fulbright
The liberal American Prospect wrote about an anniversary in April 2006, which the Atlantic Review missed:
Forty years ago this week, Senator J. William Fulbright delivered a speech at Johns Hopkins University on "the arrogance of power." Talk about a time bomb. "The question I find intriguing is whether a nation so extraordinarily endowed as the United States can overcome that arrogance of power which has afflicted, weakened, and, in some cases, destroyed great nations in the past," Fulbright said. "Power tends to confuse itself with virtue and a great nation is peculiarly susceptible to the idea that its power is a sign of God's favor, conferring upon it a special responsibility for other nations -- to make them richer and happier and wiser, to remake them, that is, in its own shining image."
Many people believe the Bush administration's foreign policy is misguided, arrogant, and headed for disaster. But few were making that argument back when George W. Bush was still in college. Of course, the context of Fulbright's speech was not Bush's virtuous unilateralism or the divine summons to Iraq; it was President Lyndon Johnson's deepening engagement in Vietnam. But it's doubtful anyone in Congress today has delivered a more thoughtful critique of Bush’s foreign policy. What's even more striking from this vantage point, however, is that Fulbright delivered his broadside against a sitting president of his own party. Johnson was still a commanding and fairly popular figure in 1966 -- the Vietnam War, remember, did not lose majority support until spring 1968 -- when Fulbright rose to fulfill what he called "the patriot’s duty of dissent." The White House, Senate, and House were all controlled by one party, as they are today.
In August 2005, the Atlantic Review recommeded an article about Senator Hagel walking in Senator Fulbright's footsteps. The American Prospect writer Francis Wilkinson would like Senators Hagel and McCain to take note: "Do today what William Fulbright did 40 years ago this week, and then we'll talk":
Senator John McCain used to be good for an honest slap at the White House every now and then. But ever since he made up his mind to do whatever is necessary to win the Republican nomination in 2008, he's been a pussycat. Republican Senator Richard Lugar has been known to raise a paternal eyebrow and murmur something -- darned if I can recall what -- on a Sunday morning talk show. Senator Chuck Hagel occasionally strays from party, which is to say, White House, talking points. Arlen Specter held hearings on the NSA spying scandal -- and then refused to swear in administration witnesses. But faced with a situation not unlike Fulbright's in 1966, very few on the Republican side have dared to offer a critical public analysis of White House policy.
Mr. Wilkinson, however, does not outline what criticism and what constructive proposals regarding Iraq he expects from those Republican Senators. There seems to be a shortage of suggestions to improve the Bush administration's Iraq policy, while there certainly isn't a shortage of criticism.

Michigan State University presents a copy of Senator Fulbright's 1966 speech (HT: Phronesisaical). and sell Senator Fulbright's book The Arrogance of Power that followed after the speech.


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Assistant Village Idiot on :

Or he could do what Fulbright did a few years earlier and vote against Civil Rights. What a hero! He was an isolationist, which is fine, but nothing new. It is an attitude that is perennially attractive to Americans, who would rather just be a trading nation and left alone, but has proved to be unworkable. I am so tired of the arrogance accusation. I have read American writers discuss it fairly since Fulbright's era. The counteraccusation, that the perception of arrogance says more about the perceivers (such as the western Europeans), I have yet to see addressed evenhandedly by a German. If you know of some who might even entertain such an heretical idea, lead me on.

alec on :

Are you speaking out against Gods will for the American people? I desire a Fatwah against freedom... or for it. You know what I mean. Miniature American flags for all, abortions for none.

Watcher on :

Here is Keith Olberman's comments on President Bush and the lesson he should learn from Vietnam (he was just visiting). I could not say it better. Impeach this monkey! I am glad that there are still Americans who have not lost their independence of mind and who still show balls! This is the America and its spirit of freedom I once admired, but has been lost since the neocon junta took power. Keith Olbermann on Iraq, Vietnam and Bush Keith Olbermann delivered one of his special comments last night. He responded with such clarity to the spectacle of Bush in Vietnam, comparing it to Iraq. It is a shame and it is embarrassing to us all when President Bush travels 8,000 miles only to wind up avoiding reality again. And it is pathetic to listen to a man talk unrealistically about Vietnam, who permitted the “Swift-Boating” of not one but two American heroes of that war, in consecutive presidential campaigns. But most importantly — important beyond measure — his avoidance of reality is going to wind up killing more Americans. And that is indefensible and fatal. Olbermann continued: Asked if there were lessons about Iraq to be found in our experience in Vietnam, Mr. Bush said that there were, and he immediately proved he had no clue what they were. “One lesson is,” he said, “that we tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take a while.” “We’ll succeed,” the president concluded, “unless we quit.” If that’s the lesson about Iraq that Mr. Bush sees in Vietnam, then he needs a tutor. Olbermann went on to enumerate some lessons for Mr. Bush which included: The second most important lesson of Vietnam, Mr. Bush: If you don’t have a stable local government to work with, you can keep sending in Americans until hell freezes over and it will not matter. Ask Vietnamese Presidents Diem or Thieu. The third vital lesson of Vietnam, Mr. Bush: Don’t pretend it’s something it’s not. For decades we were warned that if we didn’t stop “communist aggression” in Vietnam, communist agitators would infiltrate and devour the small nations of the world, and make their insidious way, stealthily, to our doorstep. The war machine of 1968 had this “domino theory.” Your war machine of 2006 has this nonsense about Iraq as “the central front in the war on terror.” The fourth pivotal lesson of Vietnam, Mr. Bush: If the same idiots who told Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon to stay there for the sake of “peace with honor” are now telling you to stay in Iraq, they’re probably just as wrong now, as they were then ... Dr. Kissinger. Wait! The same man who advised Nixon on Vietnam, is advising Mr. Bush now? A man who was responsible for continuining the quagmire of Vietnam while tens of thousands of more American troops died? Who denied there was a problem until pushed into ending the war because of the protest of people all over the country, including the testimony of one young lieutenant before the Senate Foreign Relations committee in 1971? Now we are told that the men who fought there must watch quietly while American lives are lost so that we can exercise the incredible arrogance of Vietnamizing the Vietnamese. Each day to facilitate the process by which the United States washes her hands of Vietnam someone has to give up his life so that the United States doesn't have to admit something that the entire world already knows, so that we can't say that we have made a mistake. Someone has to die so that President Nixon won't be, and these are his words, "the first President to lose a war." We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? How many times do we have to learn this lesson? How many lives do we have to spend before it really sinks in?

Assistant Village Idiot on :

Yawn. I've heard the accusations before. A test: rather than just point out how stoopid the neocons are, with emotion-laden rather than accurate words like "junta," are you even able to articulate the case opposite yours, even if you don't agree with it? Because I suspect you can't. And without that, what's your argument worth?

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