The Role of Congress in Foreign Policy (1971) — with J. William Fulbright | ARCHIVES
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The Role of Congress in Foreign Policy (1971) — with J. William Fulbright | ARCHIVES

Announcer: “Washington Debates of the ’70s,” a series
of debates designed to bring together for an open exchange of views and opinions, outstanding
authorities on vital issues facing the world of the ’70s. The topic, The Role of Congress in Foreign
Policy. Here is the moderator, Peter Lisagor. Peter Lisagor: Since the end of World War II, the
growth of presidential power and the conduct of foreign policy has been dramatic, and to
many Americans, disturbing. A series of presidential actions from the
Korean War to the conflict in Vietnam have been taken without a declaration of war by
the Congress. A great constitutional debate has developed
in recent years, as the Congress as attempted to reassert its role. Whether Congress has abdicated its authority
under the Constitution or simply had it usurped by the executive is a key question of the
day. The American Enterprise Institute, a nonprofit
and nonpartisan research and educational organization has thought to illuminate the pros and cons
of this question in its series of rational debates on the great public issues. The subject of this debate is the role of
Congress in foreign policy. And the institute has brought together two
senior United States senators to debate the issue. One is Senator John Stennis, Democratic Mississippi,
Chairman of the powerful Armed Services Committee, and a supporter of a strong executive role
in the creation and conduct of foreign policy. The other is Senator J. William Fulbright,
Democrat of Arkansas, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a critic not only
of administration policies but of the encroachment by the executive upon the constitutional authority
explicitly given to the Congress. Also with us is a panel of distinguished citizens
engaged in making, teaching, influencing, and writing on matters of public policy. They will question the two senators after
each has made his statements and offered rebuttals. Senator Stennis will open the debate. Sen. Stennis: Thanks, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, my colleague, ladies, and gentlemen,
there’s often a tenancy throughout the entire country to emphasize the responsibilities
of Congress in domestic affairs and minimize its duties and foreign relations. Let me make clear in the beginning that in
my view, Congress has a vital and important role in foreign affairs that is co-equal with
its duties in domestic matters. And my thoughts are all projected in terms
of the responsibilities of the legislative branch of our government in dealing with foreign
nations. I like to avert too that my primary legislative
experience in the Senate has centered in the areas of military affairs and appropriations
rather than foreign policy since I have not been a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. It’s a historical fact that the duties in
Congress in foreign matters have been the most difficult to fulfill, and I effectively
find it that way in my responsibilities. Several reasons, one of these has been the
strong-willed presidents who have felt that the primary role in foreign affairs should
be left to the president and the Congress should not intervene. For instance, we all know that Theodore Roosevelt,
when he was unable to obtain congressional approval for fuel to send part of our naval
feet around the world, he sent them around anyway. And later Congress acquiesced by providing
the money. I would not want my discussion or the historical
role of Congress to imply that Congress has not played a crucial role in foreign affairs. I would note that at least two instances in
very recent years Congress has taken the affirmative on certain foreign matters and ’63 during
a rebellion in the Congo that I remember quite well. There was the possibility that United States
troops would be dispatched. It is extensive discussion with the chairman
of the appropriate congressional committees, and I was not one of these, and other congressional
leaders the decision was made that no United States soldier would be sent. I mention that just as an illustration. Another independent action of very recent
date in which Senator Fulbright played a prominent role was the National Commitments Resolution
of ’69, which makes it the sense of the Senate that there should be prior congressional approval
before United States troops are committed to foreign action. Now, with respect to our treaty obligations,
it is a fact of life that following World War II was a new beginning, a new beginning
for the United States in world affairs, in foreign policy, in foreign affairs. We all know these treaties that covered more
than 40 countries were overwhelmingly ratified by the Senate. This includes the Rio Pact of ’48, the North
Atlantic Treaty known as NATO in ’49, and SEATO Treaty in ’54, as well as many other
reignments [SP] of lesser significance. I know too the Congress has fully cooperated
with the president with respect to certain resolutions aimed at obtaining congressional
approval for specific policies in various parts of the world. These include the Formosa Resolution of ’55,
the Middle East resolution of ’57, Cuban Resolution, Berlin Resolution of ’62, Tonkin Golf Resolution
in ’64. All these represent support for the president
during specific crises. And these were vital resolutions that cannot
be erased by merely repealing them. They had an indelible imprint on history. And I do not recall a single incident where
Congress had rejected a presidential request for a ground of authority or support doing
any major matter involving foreign policy. I emphasize that not only were there were
treaties and resolution approved at their inception, but they’ve been reaffirmed every
year through the appropriations process as funds were approved to support these various
commitments. I emphasize this to show that there’s a mutuality,
there’s a necessary cooperation in the end, there must be because a nation cannot take
two positions at once. Now my remarks have thus far been limited
with a review here of what’s happened in the past, but what should Congress do for the
future in terms of its role in American foreign policy? In other words, where do we go from here? It’s my firm convictions, friends, that a
complete review and assessment of our major commitments since the end of World War II
should be undertaken. Treaties like ILO must be reassessed in the
light of changing conditions. The economic conditions and men of the military
assumptions on which NATO, for instance, was founded over 20 years ago have undergone many
basic changes. NATO would formulate, Europe was largely devastated
and impoverished. The United States with a bom in its possession
undertook through collective security reignments to guarantee the security of Europe. I think that’s been one of the outstanding
achievements in this century. No longer is Europe an impoverished state,
on the contrary, most of these countries have strong economies and are prosperous. We all know the defense dollar, which they
make for their own defense, is about half of what the United States appropriates in
terms of gross national product. The entire issue here is whether the United
States can continue to carry its present share of the load or whether European countries
must assume a fairer portion, a fairer portion of the burden. As of the moment, it is my belief NATO countries,
especially Germany, must relieve the United States to some degree of the present load
it is carrying for NATO commitment. Another fact that cannot be ignored is the
strategic threat of Russia to the United States at the present time as compared to that at
the end of World War II. Twenty-five years ago, Russia did not possess
the H-bomb [SP]. And one of the considerations of NATO was
that defense of Europe would amount to an active defense of the territory of that country,
the territory of this country. This assumption, of course, can be challenged
today. Russia possesses both land-based and sea-based
intercontinental missiles including the SS9 carrying a 25-megaton warhead. The tragic fact is that in terms of offensive
weapons, both the United States and Russia are within 25 minutes from mutual annihilation
of a substantial portion of our country and our people. As a matter of fact, the case can be made
that the United States today is spending too little on strategic forces in view of the
Russian missile threat and its growing submarine fleet. Today we’re spending only about $8 billion
a year on our strategic forces as compared to about $25 billion on our conventional and
general preferences. I emphasize these sayings to show the basis
for reappraisal, a real statement, not running out on any commitment, not leaving any obligation
of our own unfulfilled. But a review and analysis and I think we could
bring about adjustments. Let me emphasize that this review must be
worldwide, include not only NATO, but the SEATO Treaty, the Japanese Treaty, and all
the other reignments as well. In summary, therefore, it is a necessity that
a sweeping review be made within the Congress, within the Congress of our foreign policy
commitments and responsibilities. The next question is, what group should make
this reassessment for the Senate? It’s my view that the primary role should
be undertaken by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. However, both the Armed Services and Appropriations
Committee would play an important role in view of their oversight with respect to weapon
systems and funding as well as their connections to a degree also in policy. The original treaty of recommendations came
out of the Foreign Relations Committee. Moreover, Senator Fulbright’s committee as
most fitted for this task by virtue of his long-standing expertise in treaty matters
in addition to the basic fact that this committee has a treaty approval function, under his
jurisdiction. I would emphasize here too that I view this
function as an action independent of the executive branch of the government. The committee would be acting for the Senate
and would make recommendations for possible Senate disposition. At the same time, I strongly urge that this
review be undertaken in an atmosphere of cooperation with the executive branch, and not one of
hostility. Foreign policy is not a partisan matter and
I’m confident that the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate would undertake the review with
only a non-partisan, cooperative attitude. I do not wish to leave the implication that
we should necessarily withdraw or repudiate any of these treaties, but I want it to be
unmistakably clear that the change in military and economic conditions throughout the world
make a review and reassessment imperative on our part, and also make a similar reassessment
imperative with respect to the other countries which have signed these treaties. Now that is my idea of a basic necessary fundamental
approach to this entire problem of foreign policy for the next 30 years. I’m assuming on this that the war in Vietnam
will certainly continue to wind down some more whether it ends or not anytime real soon
is highly problematical and I do not assume that it will. But we cannot wait and wait for this uncertainty. In addition to those issues that I have discussed,
there are a number of others which, in review, must include, for instance, what is the real
meaning of the Nixon document? And how did we undertake to implement it? Implement, that’s the problem that we have
on Armed Services. As members of the Senate, we help make policy,
of course. We contribute or hope something directly in
that field of policy. But after all is said and done, it’s up to
us to pass on legislation that will implement the obligations we have to protect ourselves
primarily to care for our commitments next. Precisely to what extent should foreign nations
undertake their own defense? And to what extent are they able? I think we should also realize that merely
because changes are in order the challenges do not necessarily become easier in view of
this growing Russian strategic threat, which is here today and growing. The job I have outlined will not be easy,
but it is essential. Another thought we should not forget that
we all have a common objective, and that’s not war but to avoid war. I am the old-fashioned view that piece will
result only from our military strength, and not our weakness. Our potential enemy must be aware that any
attack will bring a response from which we cannot recover. I hope that I’ve stayed within my time, Mr.
Chairman. I hope to have other points later, thank you. Peter: Senator, I’m aghast, you did stay within
your time. It also seemed that you’ve purloined Senator
Fulbright’s speech, but we shall see. Now I’d like to introduce Senator Fulbright. Sen. Fulbright: Hello Mr. Chairman, and ladies
and gentlemen. I too am very pleased to be invited to the
American Enterprise Institute. I learned a good deal about this distinguished
gathering tonight and I was quite surprised to find so many former ambassadors. I thought it was largely a business organization,
but I find that it covers the waterfront. They’re all kinds of people, which makes it
all the more interesting. May I start out by saying that in this matter
of the congressional role in our government, and particularly in foreign policy that I
consider that I’m a traditionalist, if you like, or is it sometimes said a strict constructionist. I’ve been trying to persuade the country and
the Congress to abide by the Constitution. I know that most of you have read the constitution,
perhaps some of you a long time ago. I wanna read just a very brief one as to the
congressional responsibility, in particular, that is section eight of article one, just
about a few lines. This is the power of the Congress. “The Congress shall have the power to declare
war, grant Letters of mark and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and
water. To raise and support armies, but no appropriation
of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years. To provide and maintain a navy. To make rules for the government and regulation
of the land and naval forces. To provide for calling the militia to execute
the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions.” That is the congressional, it’s a very positive,
it seems to me, unequivocal statement as to the congressional power and responsibility. It is in the first article, and it goes on. The Congress as a whole, the attention and
space devoted to the congressional powers in the constitution, I will remind you is
far greater than that of the executive, the president. Our founding fathers, I think, looked upon
the Congress as the primary, I believe, primary instrumentality of a democratic system which
they were seeking to create in contrast to the regal that is the kingdom of George III. I mean they were greatly impressed by the
arbitrary nature of the then executive of Great Britain. You can go on, of course, in article two and
they say give the president this power. Section two of article two, “The president
shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia
of the several states when called into the actual service of the United States.” That is commander in chief power, they didn’t
elaborate upon that, I do not believe at the time. I thought that that was a power that would
now be considered to override and almost usurp all of the powers of government in the field
of foreign relations. Now, as a strict constructionist, of course,
we sometimes change our minds. The Senator of Mississippi in his statement
referred to the Bricker Amendment, and in a way, he didn’t do it directly, but by implication,
chided me for not having supported it. As I look back upon my service in the Senate,
I have very great doubts of what I was wrong in not supporting the Bricker Amendment. But you see, our views about these matters
change according to circumstances. When you have a president who is not very
particularly interested in exercising the power of the presidency, feels that he only
has one of the roles to play, and is not the only role in our government, why, one tends
to try to strengthen that role. And I have made speeches in the past, which
I thought were at that time warranted, that the president needed greater powers, and he
had. The reasons for that was during those particular
years in which I was then exercising an effort to have some influence, the president of that
time did not see fit to exercise much power. And the congressman, particularly a senator
from Wisconsin, I thought was going a little far in the usurpation of the executive power. So you do…I have at least responded not
always upon principle, but sometimes in accordance with a particular issue at the time. So I say that by way of introduction that
I would not pretend to have always been completely consistent in principle. I think I’ve been more or less consistent
in accordance with the circumstances of the particular time. Now, the Congress has two very major powers,
in my view. The war power, which I’ve read to you, and
I think it’s a fundamental one and a very important one. The other is the treaty power. That is treaties may be made committing this
country to foreign powers only with the advice and consent of the Senate. In both cases, I think the power, the role
of the Senate or the Congress has been eroded during the past 25, 30 years. The first reason and primary reason is because
this has been a period of warfare or crises, which are almost tantamount to war. And I think that warfare always leads to the
concentration of power in the executive under the erosion of the legislative power. I think that warfare is fundamentally inimical,
antipathetic to any democratic system. And if we continue warfare, our democracy
is unlikely to survive. This is not a new thought nor original, Alexis
de Tocqueville expressed is even more eloquently than I have, that warfare leads to the enhancement
of the executive power and the erosion of any legislative or any other power. So I think that Congress has to a great extent
lost its principal role in the initiation of the war power, or the use of the war power,
or the restraint of the war power, or in the field of treaties. And I think that Congress bears the principal
responsibility for this. I do not blame the executive, although every
strong executive always tends and probably always will to exert their power. I wouldn’t for a moment say that Congress
has been without fault, actually, the Congress still has the power, the constitutional power
to change all of this, but by habit and tradition, it doesn’t choose to exercise it. I find myself great difficulty always in talking
about this because very often when I say that we have lost our power and we’re not exercising
power, what I’m really saying is it I disagree with the majority of the Congress. In other words, the majority of the Senate
supports the president’s policy, it supports the war in Vietnam it always has. It supports the military establishment. We’ve come within one vote…well, we had
a tie vote once is the nearest we’ve ever come to winning any vote that was disapproved
by the military establishment led by the distinguished Senator from Mississippi. Now he has the Senate behind him. And when I say that I don’t think that we
are exercising our constitutional role or that we’re wrong and so on, of course, all
I’m expressing is a disagreement with the judgment of the Senate. It’s a little difficult, it’s a subtle and
slippery field to be very accurate about it. But because I think the Congress in its power
of the purse, if they chose to do so, it could limit the executive’s power to carry on the
war in Vietnam, for example, but it does not choose to do so. So you find two very different areas here. In the one sense, we can talk of the constitutional
authority of the Congress as I or perhaps a scholar or a historian would interpret what
the constitution means, what it intended, what the founding fathers intended, is one
thing. But the other is the actual exercise of the
power, or the means that are being used is another thing. And when this executive has the support of
the Congress, even though that is in pursuit of a course or a policy, which I think is
unconstitutional, nevertheless, it has the means to do it, and it does, and it can continue
to do it. The only way we can reestablish the power
of the Congress to do what I think it ought to do under the Constitution is simply to
persuade the Congress to do so. It can do it, it can restrict the executive,
it can refuse to provide the army, navy, for example, that the Constitution gives it the
responsibility for. It can refuse to appropriate the money. So far, it hasn’t done so. So I have to say that even though I have disagreed
with the policy, I sought to try to persuade the Congress to support a contrary policy. It hasn’t up to now done so, there has been
quite a change in its attitude from times past. When I came into the Senate the attitude of
the Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate usually was that it was our duty to support
the executive. There were certain views at that time, one
of them was politics stops at the water’s edge, sometimes called bipartisan, nonpartisan
foreign policy. Well, I think another way to put the same
thought was that democracy stops at the water’s edge. We just turn it over to the executive. I mean my predecessors in the Foreign Relations
Committee, I think, conceived their responsibility as that of supporting whatever the executive
proposed. I don’t recall in the early days when I was
on the Senate of the committee ever taking issue on any important matter with the executive. As Senator Stennis said correctly, that he
couldn’t recall a single instance where the Congress had rejected the president’s request. I’m not sure I can recall one of any consequence
in the foreign policy. The real source and beginning of this agitation
on my part and others about Congress reestablishing its responsibilities, of course, began with
the Vietnam War. The Dominican incident was one which actually
I have chronologically first to talk about, but it accompanied the Vietnam War. Here was a fundamental difference of view
as to what is in the interest of this country on the part of some of us in the Senate, it
is that simple. And then we began to express these doubts. And we were met with the criticism that we
shouldn’t do that, that this was divisive, and it wasn’t our right to do it. And this is where I began to examine and to
be more impressed with the validity of the founding fathers as to the provisions in the
constitution, and a number of us have. And this sentiment, I believe has grown in
the Senate up to the point where we have a substantial number in the Senate who now feel
that we have a responsibility to take a different view. As I see it, there is real validity in the
idea that the Senate, consisting of 100 men, not that any of them are any brighter than
the president, but that they have a collective wisdom. This is the basic theory of our constitution
of a democracy. That 100 men, even though of ordinary, we’ll
say, intelligence, that collectively by discussion and refinement can develop some wisdom that
is important and significant in the particular area. I think that has tended to grow. I have a feeling that the president, once
he moves down to 1600 in some way, is enveloped with the traditional divine right of kings. I mean, George Reedy, in his recent book,
makes this very clear. He described much better than I can, the atmosphere
that is developed in the White House. It’s not new in the White House, it’s the
same kind of atmosphere that has surrounded all leaders ever since the caveman days. The leader is the leader and we all get behind
him in time of trouble. It served us well, in primitive times, it
might serve as well now, I’m not sure. But I think the Constitution specifically
gives the responsibility to the Senate to examine these policies to express itself and
to discuss them in public for the benefit of the people and of the executive if no one
else. So even though we are in a minority on these
current questions, I still think there is some value in raising questions as to whether
or not a specific policy is in the interest of this country. Specifically now, the Vietnam War and the
same would apply to others that have come up. I think there is value in it even though those
of us who do not prevail, I mean, we are outvoted, we still I think have performed a service
in raising these questions. And while I feel that the Congress and the
Senate specifically has very little real influence, direct influence at the present time upon
the course of our foreign policy, because we have lost practically every contested vote. I nevertheless think I detect a trend in that
direction that has been advocated by the minority. It’s a trend, there is a de-escalation of
the war in Vietnam. I don’t mean to say that the dissenters deserve
all the credit, but they have advocated that. There is a trend towards de-escalation of
the military establishment, not because anyone wishes to disarm this country. But we believe the emphasis should be also
upon a greater emphasis upon non-military relations, diplomacy if you like, the greater
use of the State Department and a greater use of the United Nations in these non-military
means. This doesn’t mean we wish, as we are accused
of, unilateral disarmament. I find it difficult to feel that we are not
armed, that the chairman of the Armed Services Committee the House the other day said we
were second-rate, that we were beneath Russian and so on. Immediately the question arose in my mind
is why we should be so when we spent much more money on armaments in the last 20 years
than the Russians. This seems to imply that our people, that
our industrialists are inferior to the Russians, or that our military planners are inferior,
that we don’t get as much value for our money as they do. Or in some mysterious way, they’re smarter
than we are. I really am not willing to accept that yet. And I don’t believe, therefore, without going
into details, that they’re stronger than we are either, or that they’re stronger and threaten
us because they are out of order. So I don’t accept that, I think that Congress,
in one sense, it hasn’t lost the power, it retains the power, it hasn’t chosen to exercise
it in the way I would like. That’s not the same as saying we don’t have
the power, sometimes we do, we’re loose in the way we express things and not very precise,
and we say that Congress has given up its power, or it’s lost its power. I don’t think that either is true. The Constitution stands and the Congress still
has the power of the purse, and if they chose to use it, it could have a very decided effect. It does not choose to use it directly. We have, I think, had some exercise, some
influence by the debates, by the hearings, by the arguments, which many of us have put
forward that have had some influence upon the course of these policies. I read [SP], I think, it’s a relatively minor
one, it hasn’t really changed the course, it hasn’t really stopped the war, it hasn’t
really changed the emphasis within our government of our attention and our expenditures, although
there is some move in that direction. Well, I see my time is up too and I don’t
want to infringe upon Senator Stennis’ time for rebuttal or your questions. I think this is the most interesting subject,
it’s one that I have given a great deal of time to, and my committee has, in trying to
reestablish what we call a better balance between the executive and the legislative
branch of our government. Because as I said, I am a traditionalist,
and I believe there is great value in the legislature playing its role in foreign relations
just as it does in domestic relations. It does in domestic policies, it is never
given up its right to contest with the executive in the domestic field. It doesn’t hesitate to override a veto in
domestic area. But as Senator Stennis said, not in one instance
can I recall since the days of the League of Nations has the legislature or the Senate
really contested with the president in the field of foreign policy. Thank you. Peter: Thank you, Senator. Now, each senator will have five minutes more
or less for rebuttal. Senator Stennis. Sen. Stennis: Well, Mr. Chairman, I fully
appreciate Senator Fulbright’s remarks. Now, as I understand the situation, the principle
complaint the Senator has raised so far was not upon the Senate’s failure to vote or exercise
power, but the vote just didn’t come out the way he thought it should. And he just is fine in his conclusions as
anyone could be, but that’s a part of our system. And I want to take issue, though, on this
matter of subservience, or just wanting to do the president’s will or wanting to do the
easy thing on those votes. And I call your attention to two of those
amendments that I’m very familiar with, to the procurement bill this year. One was the amendment that called for the
ending of the war in Vietnam totally by June 30th, 1971. Now the easy thing to do was to vote for that
amendment, I know because I’ve discussed this thing fully. The popular thing, perhaps immediately popular,
was to vote for that amendment. To a great degree, it was going against a
major part of public sentiment. But when all the arguments were made, and
the votes were in, I can’t give the exact number but it’s was 58, I think, to 39 against
the amendment, against the easy route. Another was the volunteer army, and it caught
on there, and I call names if I may, men like senators like Senator Hatfield, Senator Goldwater,
for instance, were both supporting the amendment. Far afield of logic like that, senator from
Montana, Senator Mansfield, Senator Scott from Pennsylvania, the two floor leaders. When we got down to the real hard facts, though,
that amendment was overwhelmingly defeated. That won the popular vote, that was not the
easy vote, it was the hard vote. So men were standing on that floor getting
the facts and they were voting what they thought was necessary, in my own opinion, a crucial
matter at a crucial time. And I could repeat over and over instances
like that. I agree with the senator there has been good
that has come from these debates. And I like the idea of a good hard fight and
an honest conviction in the votes. And it’s trimmed down and modified those previous
senators that we all got into the ’50s and the early ’60s. We all were committed ourselves, I don’t claim
to have had any wisdom about it, but I sensed it to a degree then, I didn’t vote for all
of them. And I’m concerned about this war power, and
we will talk about it more. But we were doing the things then we thought
the UN was going to do far more than they’ve been able to do. We all were expected, we thought we, as I
see it, that we were going to supplement the UN, and we were going to have a guarded, almost
guaranteed peace. But it hadn’t worked that way and I’m not
going to run out, but I call again for the reevaluation, reassessment, and a restart,
just like we made a start after World War II. And I think regardless of who’s president,
there will be a fine contribution made there on the floor of the Senate and the House involving
these problems. And I do not agree that we in the process
of disintegrating our system, our form of government just because we are plagued with
wars and may have more, God forbid that we have any more, especially a nuclear war. But I believe that in a very formidable way,
we have been able in our system to meet these crisises, and we’ll keep our eye on the ball
and we’ll recognize these problems, and we won’t agree totally, but we’ll find a way,
and we’ll find that way within our system. I don’t think you could have had, at this
time, a better subject chosen than to try to bring this in focus with the thinking of
this fine audience, you’re already familiar with it. But I believe that the next 10 or 20 years,
if I may enlarge on that a little, is going to be, instead of war, is going to be a reevaluation
of these agreements, what we can do, and what we should do, what others can do. And in that way, an inch at a time rather
than 1,000 miles at a time as we’ve tried it before, we will move forward to some kind
of effective, collective agreement. And we’ll do our part right here, men like
the senator from Arkansas and others working on our system, I believe it will work. Peter: Senator Fulbright. Sen. Fulbright: I don’t feel there’s quite
enough difference of view here on some of these things. I’ll have to see if I can find one. Now, on the Governor Hatfield matter, the
Senator says that the easy way was to vote for it. I voted for it. The reason Gallup poll indicates that the
clear majority of the American people are foreign, and while I don’t think we always
just follow slavishly the polls, at least that gives it a certain degree of validity. It was simply designed to try to end the war
earlier, I think the great majority of the people wanted to end it earlier, and we thought
that was one way to give the president some encouragement to move in that direction. That wasn’t the only way, the only suggestion
we have had with regard to the ending of the war, that was simply the most recent one. There have been many other efforts to prevail
upon the president to move not only this president, his predecessor. I mean, listen, in all fairness, I don’t have
to remind this audience that this administration didn’t start this war. Before I leave it, I wanna come back to that
matter, starting the war too and the role that Congress could play. On this question of the volunteer army, I
voted the same as the Senator, I don’t approve it, partly because I think the voluntary army
is not characteristic of a democracy. If we intend to keep our democracy, I think
that people should have some link with the army, with the military establishment, and
that there ought to be some participation by men who go in and out of it, there ought
not to be a segregated, professional army, which I feel is more characteristic of an
authoritarian state. But anyway, in that particular case, I voted
with him. I don’t know that it made much difference
whether it’s easier one way or the other. I never find any of these votes very easy
because I always have some reservations as to which is the right course to follow. I’ll come back to the beginning of this war,
as an example of what I meant, I didn’t want to take the time a moment ago. The Tonkin Gulf Resolution, I know something
about this. To me, this is one of the clearest examples
of a very disastrous distortion, departure, I should say, from proper constitutional practice. This should have been submitted as a declaration
of war, this would have given clear evidence, a clear warning to the Congress, to the Senate
in particular, but the whole Congress as to what was involved. Instead of that, it was presented as a resolution
under an atmosphere of the greatest urgency, and in my view, with a clear misrepresentation
of the facts justifying it. We’ve had long studies about this. In my committee, there has been one long book
written by Mr. Gould who went to interview many of the participants in that incident. I don’t wanna belabor the subject unless you
wish to but there is, I think, ample evidence to raise serious doubt as to the correctness
of the facts presented to the Senate and to the House justifying that resolution. But even if it had been true, in my view,
would have been much healthier and we would have probably had a much better opportunity
to avoid what I consider one of the greatest tragedies in our history. If there had been an opportunity to consider
a declaration of war in the regular manner with full debate. As a matter of fact, that resolution was presented
and it was presented to me and other members of the Congress as a way to avoid a war, it
was presented as exactly the opposite of a declaration of war. The president and the secretary of state,
and the secretary of defense said, “If you will pass this resolution quickly, without
any delay, showing unity of the people in there, this is the way to prevent a war, to
prevent any increasing of the war. This will be evidence to the North Vietnamese
that they cannot possibly divide our country, and overwhelm this tremendous power, the most
powerful nation in the world.” This is the way it was presented not as a
declaration of war, but it is now as subsequently used in place of a declaration of war. I think this is one of the grossest deceptions
by any executive power of legislative power in the history, certainly of this country
or any other one. Now recently, we have an example of the treaty
power distortion, in my view, here was this treaty with Spain, that is an agreement with
Spain. Of great importance involving obligations,
involving hundreds of millions of dollars worth of material, supplying of the most modern
weapons, airplanes and so on. And expressions within it, which I think to
an objective, reasonable person would amount to an obligation to come to the defense of
another country. The administration positively stated, “Oh,
no, there is no such commitment.” So we take them at their word because there’s
nothing we could do about it as a matter of fact. When I asked the committee, and I don’t mean
just I was speaking for the committee, the whole committee was there when we had represented
the executive branch and we said, “Would they not consider bringing it as a treaty?” In fact, we employed them, I virtually begged
them to present this agreement as a treaty, so the Senate could discuss it and approve
it or reject it. Far as I could see, it would probably have
approved it, but I don’t know how to foresee what they’ll do. Instead of doing that they hastened the process
and called the foreign ministers of Spain over and signed it as an executive agreement. So that you now have a complete reversal of
the original procedure, something really important involving troops, 10,000 troops or more, at
least 10,000 stationed in Spain, vast amounts of money and so on, is not an executive agreement
without the participation of the Congress. If it involves a very minor agreement on the
allocation of radio waves with Mexico is presented as a treaty. If it’s a tax treaty with Luxembourg is to
equal treatment as and now, it’s a treaty. But if it involves the circumstances likely
to result in a war, it’s an executive agreement without…not only participation but kept
secret until after it’s signed. So I think this is an example of the way this
the attitude of the executive toward the Congress and its role. Secretary Acheson…again, this isn’t new
with this administration. Secretary Acheson right after World War II,
and particularly along about the time of the Marshall Plan, made some of the most extreme
statements which I have quoted in my formal statement, more or less amount to saying that
the Congress should keep its nose out of the foreign policy. We had no business in there, our only function
was to endorse and to fund whatever the executive thought was proper. He made, I think, some of the most extreme
statements of anyone and showing his contempt for the Congress in general, and in particular
in the field of foreign policy. So this attitude has grown, however, it’s
the Congress’s own fault that we have not reacted to it earlier. I think it’s healthy that the Congress should
seek to reestablish a role in it so that there wouldn’t be discussions on any future Vietnams
or Tonkin Gulf Resolutions before they have been used as an excuse or a justification
for entering into that kind of a war. Peter: Senator Stennis basically disagrees
with Senator Fulbright’s contention that Congress has failed to play a crucial role in foreign
policy. He points to some 40 mutual security treaties
ratified by the Senate since the end of World War II, and resolutions passed in support
of the president on Formosa, the Middle East, Cuba, Berlin, and the Tonkin Gulf. Senator Stennis and Senator Fulbright agree,
however, that the Congress should make a sweeping reassessment of the nation’s overseas commitments,
it would consider the validity of all present alliances. For his part, Senator Fulbright says Congress
has advocated its war-making function under the Constitution. He also contends that the Senate has been
deprived of its advice and consent function on treaties because of the practice of making
executive agreements as a substitute for treaties. During the questioning period, Dr. William
Kintner posed a question for Senator Fulbright, which brought about these comments on the
controversial Tonkin Gulf Resolution. Dr. Kintner: How do you propose that the Senate
can act quickly enough and has the constitutional authority to act with respect to the executive
who must, as commander in chief of the United States, deal with problems as he sees fit
in a crisis circumstance? Sen. Fulbright: Well, I don’t believe that
many of these instances where they are the kind of crisis requiring urgent action, immediate
action, the Tonkin Gulf certainly was not. Even if what they alleged had happened, it
was not a threat to the United States. It’s generally accepted, no one disputes that
whenever the United States is attacked, even its forces are attacked, the president has
the right without consulting Congress to repel…not only has a right, he has a duty without consulting
Congress to repel an attack upon us. That’s what I would call a crisis or urgent. The Dominican affair was certainly not urgent,
there was no threat to the safety of the United States, there was no threat of any kind really
except an internal rebellion there of any consequence. He alleged there was a threat to the lives
of a few American citizens, but that did not prove to be very serious. They were there and it was quite a while before
they were evacuated. I think the executive has used this as an
excuse, not as a valid reason. I think that there are very few instances
where there was really an emergency of the character threatening the security of this
country, and therefore, requiring presidential action, there is plenty of time to consult
with the Congress. And as demonstrated with Tonkin Gulf, again,
you said I put through the Congress as if I initiated that resolution. That resolution had been lying in the State
Department in somebody’s drawer for several months waiting for an incident. And they thought they had an incident, the
fact that it turned out not to be the way they thought it was only incidental to them. But there was certainly no emergency about
it, and it was no threat to the security the united states. I think in that point of view it was absolutely
fraudulent and that there was no excuse for not having a genuine declaration of war, and
a debate, and an explanation of why we should do that rather than the way it was presented. The implication that I presented it, it was
my baby, I deny, it was not, I was the agent being president, chairman of the committee
and I handle all of those resolutions. I was taken in by the misrepresentation like
everybody else was. Everybody in the House voted for it and everybody
but two in the Senate. And I was merely the agent of a situation
in which the president and his principal officers imposed upon us and including me and I was
naive enough to believe them. One never approaches a president or a secretary
of state suspecting that he’s going to deceive you, you always give them your trust until
they prove otherwise. Peter: Senator Stennis wants to… Sen. Stennis: Mr. Chairman, I understand this
is going to be printed. I haven’t had anything to say about the Gulf
of Tonkin Resolution, so before we leave it, let me just make a brief comment. Now the Senator complains, as I understand,
about the Senate failing to act in cases, and then he complained about them acting when
they do not vote, the majority do not vote with him. And now on the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution,
this is a case where the Senate did act. The Senate used its power and the majority
of the Senate did side with Senator Fulbright. Now, in fact, this is not personal, I remember,
Senator, coming in on the floor not as well informed as I should have at that moment,
but I listened very carefully to you as I always do. And you convinced me, you converted me, and I cast one of those Fulbright majority votes, and now you say, “Well, I had been
fooled”. Well, if you’ve been fooled, you fooled me,
and I don’t think we write anything in the constitution to keep us from being fools sometimes. I thought that that was really a well presented message, but I thought that that was well presented. I know your sincerity always and I was satisfied
then, I think now we had our day in court, the Congress did. And we acted and we saw this thing it went
on the way it did. But I think that’s a perfect illustration
of our system, it worked, it operated, and we can’t complain now. Sen. Fulbright: Mr. Chairman, I can’t accept
that. To say a case where a president, the secretary
of state and secretary of defense lie to the Congress is not a perfect illustration of
constitutional government in my opinion. And they did lie about it, in my opinion,
and in the opinion of a great many other people who studied it. And I cannot say that this is a perfect illustration
of constitutional government. I think it’s one of the grossest distortions
by important public officials that I have ever encountered. And I resent the idea that I misled them because
of what I did. I’ve already… Sen. Stennis: Oh, no, Senator, I didn’t say
you misled anyone. Sen. Fulbright: I confess that I was hoodwinked
and taken in by the president of the United States secretary of state, and the chief of
staff, and the secretary defense, who told us about certain alleged incidents, which
I do not believe occurred. That was the emotional background against
which they requested immediate passage of a resolution, which they had prepared. Believing that we had been attacked without
provocation on the high seas, I along with all members of the House of Representatives
where it already passed, this had passed unanimously this resolution in the House, we were requested
to have an emergency meeting at 9:00 in the morning. And we met for 1 hour and 40 minutes, the
committee did, and under the impact of this alleged outrageous attack upon our forces
on the high seas where they said we had a right to be and where they were engaged in
unprovocative actions, while this was an insult to the honor and so on, and prestige, and
safety of the United States. And that was the circumstances of it passing. Now, I can imagine that this could be a perfect
example of a constitutional government. I think it is a disgrace to a constitutional
government. What should have happened, if they wanted
a declaration of war, which they later said, “This is a functional declaration of war,”
is to come up to give reasons why they wish to go to war and present it. I don’t care whether it’s in form ofa declaration
of war or a joint resolution declaring war, or authorizing it. It isn’t the form I’m arguing about solely,
although I think the form of this was very equivocal because they were seeking to make
it equivocal. And because their principal allegation was
that this was necessary to prevent a war. Now, if that was what they had in mind, if
any of you believe they really had that in mind. well, then maybe that’s one thing. I, looking back upon it, don’t believe that
is what they had in mind. They were seeking to deceive my committee
and the Congress. And I was a part of it, I’ve admitted that,
I was naive to believe them. But I confess I had had no previous occasion
to believe that such officials approached the committee of the Congress with any such
design in mind. Sen. Stennis: Well, I make crystal clear I
didn’t accuse you of misleading anyone. Sen. Fulbright: Well, I did under those circumstances. Sen. Stennis: Your judgment was what I followed
and I… Sen. Fulbright: That’s true, I was the spokesman. Peter: The American Enterprise Institute hopes
that this debate will enable the American people to make a judgment about the necessary
adjustments to make the system of checks and balances in foreign policy work. This is Peter Lisagor in Washington. Man: “Washington Debates of the ’70s” is created
and supplied to this station as a public service by the American Enterprise Institute, Washington,
DC. Produced in the nation’s capital by Broadcast
News, Washington.

One Comment

  • Ben Hillman

    I love listening to these while I work AEI, keep 'em coming! There's a very different kind of pageantry focussed on service and responsibility on show here compared to today's discourse.

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