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Senator Kennedy's Legacy Includes Major Influence on US Foreign Policy


The late Senator Edward Kennedy was known as a champion of many U.S. domestic causes, such as establishing health care as a right for all Americans, raising the minimum wage for workers and supporting civil rights. But he also left behind a strong international legacy, which includes helping refugees around the world and opposing South African apartheid.

Though he was best known for his legislative battles for America's poor, disadvantaged and disabled, Senator Edward Kennedy was also a major contributor to U.S. foreign policy legislation.

He became a strong voice for ending America's war in Vietnam, and was one of only 23 U.S. senators, who in October of 2002, voted against authorizing former President Bush to invade Iraq.

Senate historian Donald Ritchie said Senator Kennedy did not start his career as a so-called "dove"(anti-war leader).

"When he came into the Senate, he was what you would describe as a liberal cold [war] warrior, like his brother John. This was the year that he came into the Senate. 1962 was the year of the Cuban missile crisis," he said.

Ritchie says Kennedy's nearly five decades in the Senate made him aware of the impact of war on children and other civilians, and that intervention did not always turn out the way the U.S. intended.

"He was a very vocal opponent of the idea of going to war in Iraq. And I think that was not something that was instinctive to him, but something that he grew to think over time," said Ritchie.

In a September 2002 speech, Senator Kennedy warned that a war in Iraq without serious international support would undermine what he called America's most pressing national security priority, the war against al-Qaida.

He was also a major force leading the anti-apartheid movement in the United States, speaking up for the equality of all people on a trip to South Africa in 1985, and introducing legislation later that year to impose economic sanctions on South Africa. The Anti-Apartheid Act became law in 1986 after Congress overrode a veto by then President Ronald Reagan, with Kennedy crucial to the Senate battle.

Senator Kennedy, who came from an Irish-Catholic immigrant family, helped negotiate peace in Northern Ireland in the 1990s, ending decades of violence.

He also had an abiding commitment to help refugees around the world. Joel Charny is the Acting President of Refugees International.

"I think the single achievement of Senator Kennedy was the Refugee Act of 1980. If you think back to that time, that was when tens of thousands of refugees were fleeing Vietnam and Cambodia in the aftermath of the wars there," he said.

The refugees act formally established a legal framework for U.S. overseas assistance to refugees, so there would be regular funding available. In recent years, Kennedy worked hard to make more funding available for Iraqi refugees.

Charny points out that Senator Kennedy also was involved in assisting civilians in the early 1970s when Bangladesh was founded.

"He [you know], was very concerned about the plight of the eastern Pakistanis, as they were then called, and [you know] had again legislation speaking out about the vulnerability of people in Bangladesh, and was instrumental in seeing that the U.S. supported Bangladesh after its founding."

Charny says Kennedy's devotion to refugees fit in perfectly with his focus on the poor and the downtrodden in America.

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