Just shy of fifty years ago on November 7, 1967, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by J. William Fulbright, Democrat of Arkansas, met in executive session to assess the progress of the ongoing Vietnam War. Secretary of State Dean Rusk was the sole witness invited to testify. Even today, the transcript of Rusk’s remarks and the subsequent exchange with committee members make for depressing reading.
Responding to questions that ranged from plaintive to hostile, Rusk gave no ground. The Johnson administration was more than willing to end the war, he insisted; the North Vietnamese government was refusing to do so. The blame lay with Hanoi. Therefore the United States had no alternative but to persist. American credibility was on the line.
By extension, so too was the entire strategy of deterring Communist aggression. The stakes in South Vietnam extended well beyond the fate of that one country, as senators well knew. In that regard, Rusk reminded members of the committee, the Congress had “performed its function…when the key decisions were made”—an allusion to the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, a de facto declaration of war passed with near unanimous congressional support. None too subtly, Rusk was letting members of the committee know that the war was theirs as much as it was the administration’s.
Yet Fulbright and his colleagues showed little inclination to accept ownership. As a result, the back-and-forth between Rusk and his interrogators produced little of value. Rather than illuminating the problem of a war gone badly awry and identifying potential solutions, the event became an exercise in venting frustration.
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By now we should realize the true purpose of the "War Powers Resolution" - it passes the war making powers which only Congress should have to the President in a wholly unaccountable fashion.
If we need to go to war ... fine - but we seldom really NEED to. Our wars are wars of choice, by a government which never seems to know the meaning of the word "diplomacy".