Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

George Kennan, 1904 - 2005

George Kennan, who is generally considered the godfather of realism and containment, died yesterday at 101. Powerline has some thoughts here and here, and the New York Times has an obituary here. For those wondering why he is considered the father of these schools of thought, see his famous 1947 Foreign Affairs article: The Sources of Soviet Conduct, which he authored under the pseudonym "X".

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Kennan exposed a broad streak of unseriousness (to put it charitably) when in the wake of the "X" article he tried to pretend that containment of the armed and aggressive Soviet tyranny could be accomplished purely by economic and diplomatic means and would not need a large military component: For instance, according to a generally laudatory reminiscence of GK by Barton Gellman in yesterday’s WashPost, Kennan denounced the creation of NATO. As I say, unserious, naive, and not something that can be remembered to GK’s credit. Fortunately, Harry S Truman knew better.

In all this, GK showed himself to be a true "cookie-pusher" in the best striped-pants tradition of the US State Department. Bush is trying to wage the war against terror with embassies and a whole building in Foggy Bottom full of people who "think" this way. This is one reason why the four-star theater "C-in-C"s sent by the Pentagon now operate around the world as proconsuls of US policy.

Kennan was also famously a bit of a Luddite crank: He once wrote that he hated air conditioning (very odd for someone who worked in DC). Gellman quotes GK’s famous asseveration against democracy (comparing it to a dinosaur) as if this shows what an incisive and independent thinker GK was, when in fact it’s the usual idle venting, as GK had no serious alternative or even reform to propose to fix democracy’s supposed stupidity in the area of foreign relations.

The two volumes of GK’s "Memoirs" are excellent, and I hope will continue to be read, as is a paperback he wrote critiquing "the student left" (GK’s phrase) back in the Sixties. His diplomatic histories are lucid as well, even if I’m not sure I agree with his suggestion that more clever Bismarck-style diplomacy might have stopped WWI.

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