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Journal of Cold War Studies 2.2 (2000) 115-117

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Book Reviews

J. William Fulbright, Vietnam, and the Search for a Cold War Foreign Policy

Randall Bennett Woods, J. William Fulbright, Vietnam, and the Search for a Cold War Foreign Policy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. 293 pp. US$59.95 (hardcover), US$18.95 (softcover).

This book is an abridged version of Randall Woods's 700-page biography of J. William Fulbright, which appeared in 1995. Woods delves into the central aspects of [End Page 115] Fulbright's thoughts and career, tracing his evolution from a proponent of "liberal internationalism" into one of its most penetrating critics. The publication of the book is a welcome event, not least because it may bring Woods's remarkable account of Fulbright and his times to a new audience. Moreover, the book is highly relevant in its treatment of a still unresolved issue--the question of who shapes and controls U.S. foreign policy. Fulbright would not have been surprised, for example, by the recent revelations that the Pentagon thwarts congressional restrictions on weapons systems by continually transferring unused funds to keep alive its favorite projects.

After two years at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship in the late 1920s and the start of a career in politics during World War II, Fulbright was an eager internationalist. His greatest achievement at this time was the creation of the international exchange program that still bears his name. In 1959, after spending ten years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he became its chairman. He retained that post for the next sixteen years. Counseled by aides Carl Marcy and Seth Tillman, Fulbright decided that the committee must play a larger role in even the most privileged areas of U.S. foreign policy. Woods points out the irony of Fulbright's similarities to Henry Cabot Lodge, a Republican and previous chairman of the committee. Both men had advanced degrees in politics or history, both had a high regard for the British parliamentary system, and both believed that foreign policy should have conservative aims. Walter Lippmann aptly described Fulbright as a nineteenth-century British liberal.

Fulbright had many supporters in his bid to become secretary of state after the election of John Kennedy, but Fulbright's long record of opposition to federal civil rights legislation ruled out his candidacy. Woods does not argue that Fulbright's resistance to federal action on civil rights was motivated simply by a desire to survive amid the reality of Southern electoral politics. Rather, Woods maintains that Fulbright personally accepted the dominant Southern attitudes of the time. In the same way that Fulbright later opposed American interference abroad, so he believed that Washington's intrusion into local conflicts in the United States only worsened disputes that had to be resolved in accordance with inherited cultural "realities." In any case, it was unlikely that Kennedy would have desired such a skeptical secretary. The perfect foil for Kennedy's ambitious agenda was Dean Rusk, who had long been convinced that the State Department was too slow in formulating important foreign policy measures.

Fulbright's racial attitudes and voting records would later be used against him when he criticized Lyndon Johnson's war policies. Johnson neatly skewered Fulbright more than once for allegedly having no sympathy with the people of Southeast Asia because of the color of their skin. Nonetheless, Fulbright hoped that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would become a more important player in foreign policy during the Johnson administration. Woods points out that although Fulbright delivered powerful lectures on the "Arrogance of Power," he himself was strong-willed and not overly diplomatic in his dealings with presidents.

Fulbright's doubts regarding internationalism began to emerge in the 1950s during the tenure of John Foster Dulles as secretary of state, but his criticisms of the internationalist position took some time to develop. Fulbright did not immediately seek to draw out the connections between the U.S. interventions in the Dominican Republic [End Page 116] and...