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Is there a Fullbright in the Senate?

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Message John McDonald
Tonight it is expected that President Bush will stand before the American people and call for an escalation of troops in the War in Iraq. Call it surge or escalation, it amounts to little more than a call for more sacrifices of American lives on the funeral pyre that is the Bush legacy in Iraq.

Thirty years later, the President's new strategy is spookily mindful of calls for the build up of troops in Vietnam in 1967. In the beginning of that year, in the midst of a war that many in the military and government were already calling unwinnable, President Johnson was preparing for an escalation of some 50,000 to 200,000 troops.

On March 7, J. William Fullbright, a Democratic Senator from a southern state stood up to take on the president of his own party, criticizing the plan for escalation and demanding the President consult with Congress before committing any more troops to battle. According to coverage by the New York Times of Fullbright's speech, his comments "provoked an outpouring of protest" by members of Congress against Johnson's policy. The late Senator Robert F. Kennedy was quoted as saying it was" "immoral and intolerable to continue the way we are" and warning the president that "it would be a major mistake to escalate the war without the support and understanding of the Senate and the American public." Senate Majority leader Mike Mansfield cautioned "we should not get in deeper" because "escalation only begets escalation." We are, Mansfield said, "in the wrong place and we are fighting the wrong kind of war."

Iraq is not Vietnam, but the words of these Democrats seem almost prescient in the light of current events. Unfortunately, their challenge to the President did little to slow the wars expansion and a few years later some 50,000 brave American soldiers lay dead.

One has to wonder if we are doomed to repeat history. Or is there maybe a Republican in the Congress with the heart to step into Fullbright's shoes to take on the president of his own party? If so, maybe this time we can get it right.

Source: New York Times, "Criticism of War Widens in Senate of Build Up Issue." March 7, 1967, John W. Finney.
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John McDonald is a writer and consultant in Los Angeles.
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