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Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sessions: Preface

“You certainly are getting more than your share of crises,” one senator commiserated with Secretary of State Dean Rusk during an executive session of the Foreign Relations Committee in 1967. Although national attention necessarily focused on the war in Vietnam, where the United States had sent a half million troops and spent billions of dollars to fight a war that had come to seem endless, foreign policy crises were erupting around the world that year at an alarming rate.

Members of the Foreign Relations Committee displayed mounting skepticism about Vietnam, discounting the overly optimistic reports they received from the State Department and from U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam Elsworth Bunker. Increasingly, committee members looked toward a negotiated settlement as more likely than a military victory in Vietnam. Because of such attitudes, the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson kept the committee at arm's length on anything related to the war. Secretary Rusk cancelled scheduled appearances to testify so often during the year that Senator Albert Gore, Sr., complained of seriously impaired communications between the committee and the State Department. Instead of Vietnam, therefore, the committee devoted its hearings to the state of the world, from a coup in Greece to a war in the Middle East and a rebellion in the Congo. However, members always kept in mind the potential connections between the Vietnam war and events occurring elsewhere.

Committee members worried that America's preoccupation with Vietnam could serve as an invitation to troublemaking in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Committee chairman J. William Fulbright cited involvement in Southeast Asia as having hindered the United States' response to the ``Six-Day War'' between Israel and its Arab neighbors. ``I do not hesitate to make a decision that the Middle East is far more important to the security of this country than Vietnam,'' Senator Fulbright lectured Secretary Rusk--who earlier that year had assured the committee he did not foresee a war in the Middle East. In his own explanation of the world situation, Secretary Rusk insisted that the United States was fighting communist aggression where it existed, not communism as an ideology in the abstract. He wanted to assure the committee that despite the war, the Johnson administration sought detente with the Soviet Union, but committee members remained dubious. By the year's end, Senator Claiborne Pell chided an assistant secretary of state that the administration seemed to see everything that happened anywhere as ``one vast Communist plot, and that what went on in any part of the world had its effect in any other part of the world because the strings are all being pulled from one place.''

Through its hearings, the committee also demonstrated concern over the ``militarization'' of U.S. foreign policy. Subcommittees devoted a great deal of time to examining arms sales in the Middle East and in the Indian-Pakistani territorial disputes, and followed closely the development of anti-ballistic missile systems and the negotiations for nuclear non-proliferation. Senator Eugene McCarthy complained that the Johnson administration had embraced an arms sales philosophy that unless the United States sold arms to other countries it would lose its influence over the policies of those countries.

Vietnam and its larger implications caused committee members to ponder the Senate's constitutional responsibilities over foreign policy. When President Johnson sent planes to the Congo, Senator Fulbright raised the possibility of the president sending as many troops as he wanted without congressional authorization. ``I do not see that it would be entirely inconsistent with Vietnam or any other place,'' the chairman said to Secretary Rusk. ``How many did you send to the Dominican Republic? You sent 22,000. You could have sent 100,000 if you wanted. I do not know why you could not sent 100,000 or 200,000 into the Congo if you thought it desirable.'' He added, ``I do not know where you draw the line here.'' During another closed committee meeting, Senator Fulbright complained to his colleagues: ``I get fed up with being told we are committed to something all the time,'' simply because the president said the nation is committed. That was not what he meant by commitment, Fulbright asserted: ``I think the commitment is something that is taken by the Congress and the Executive, not just a unilateral action.''

Committee members of both parties agreed that a Republican Policy Committee report had asked the single pertinent question of the year: what is our national interest in Southeast Asia? For all their efforts, the committee could never get a satisfactory response from the Johnson administration. Admitting his mistake in supporting the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and his assumption that President Johnson had not intended to widen the war, Fulbright lamented that the war had ``grown so gradually that we never have been able quite to get the full impact of where we are going.'' That sense of drift and helplessness pervades these hearings.

The selection of transcripts for these volumes represents the editor's choice of the material possessing the most usefulness and interest for the widest audience. Subheads, editorial notes, and some documents discussed in the hearings, are added to bring the events into perspective. Any material deleted (other than ``off the record'' references for which no transcripts were made) has been noted in the appropriate places, and transcripts not included are represented by minutes of those sessions, in chronological sequences. Unpublished transcripts and other records of the committee for 1967 are deposited at the National Archives, where they are available to researchers under the access rules of that agency. Some transcripts may require further declassification procedures.

In accordance with the general policy of the series, portions of the volumes were submitted to the Departments of State and Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency for review and comment.

The Foreign Relations Committee extends its appreciation to the Senate Committee on Armed Services for its cooperation in approving the release of those sessions in which its members participated.

This volume was prepared for publication by Donald A. Ritchie of the Senate Historical Office.


Sources: Federation of American Scientists