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."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":
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.
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).
Amazon.com and Amazon.de sell Senator Fulbright's book The Arrogance of Power that followed after the speech.