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Former Sen. William J. Fulbright, Critic of U.S. Cold War Policy, Dies

By David Lauter and Burt A. Folkart
Los Angeles Times

Former Sen. J. William Fulbright, an urbane intellectual from rural Arkansas who became one of the most influential shapers and strongest critics of America's Cold War foreign policy, died Thursday at the age of 89.

In a congressional career that covered parts of four decades, Fulbright concentrated his energies on establishing support for an assertive American role in the world: writing a resolution as a freshman member of Congress that helped provide the foundation for U.S. involvement in the United Nations, sponsoring the international scholarship exchange program that still bears his name and eventually rising to a position of pre-eminence in the American foreign policy establishment as chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

But his greatest renown came, not as a builder of U.S. policy, but as its most influential opponent at the period of its greatest distress - the war in Vietnam.

In a series of nationally televised hearings starting in 1966, Fulbright's committee subjected senior Johnson administration officials to unprecedented public cross-examination, galvanizing public opposition to the war and hastening the process that unraveled Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency. His initial support for Johnson's policies - particularly the Tonkin Gulf resolution that the administration cited as legal justification for the war - was his worst mistake in public life, Fulbright later said.

Fulbright's hearings were "the first time that organized congressional opposition had been put together at a senior level. It legitimized dissent," said Stanford University historian Barton Bernstein.