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Archive for March, 2005

Saturday, March 26th, 2005


I’m going to attempt a series of provocative and link-rich posts along with offering some heavier duty recommended reading over the next couple of days to keep you folks occupied while I am gone next week on a much needed, long overdue, vacation. I had toyed with blogging out of country but decided that I need a complete break from the computer and blogging would inevitably pull me away from activities that I need to recharge mentally and physically.

More later tonight….

Thursday, March 24th, 2005


The passing of George F. Kennan has not gone unremarked in the blogosphere and the MSM but it was a curiously underwhelming reaction to the death of the author of the most important grand strategy in American history since Winfield Scott’s Anaconda Plan. Perhaps, had Kennan died in 1992, the posthumous commemoration would have matched his achievement. By dying at the venerable age of 101 in 2005, Kennan lived to the point where the end of the Cold War had become, to the iPod generation, ancient history. Lumped vaguely together with Vietnam, Fireside Chats and perhaps the Gettysburg Address.

The most intellectually suitable response to Kennan’s death that I read anywhere can be found at The Glittering Eye. Dave Schuyler undertook a serious examination of Kennan’s ideas and contrasted them with those of Walter Lippman, Containment’s most reasoned critic and the godfather of modern punditry. It was a superb post. From a historigraphic standpoint, I must strongly recommend the efforts of independent scholar Russil Wvong and Marc Schulman of The American Future, both of whom offered an extensive set of links and bibliographical resources for those who wish to experience George Kennan’s view firsthand.

A noticeable and negative ” revisionist” tendency appeared in many of the Kennan articles and posts as writers felt compelled to qualify Kennan’s ideas with his pessemistic outlook and misanthropic, reactionary views on democracy. Daniel Drezner commented:

“Even when his writing was clear, Kennan’s foreign policy vision was not always 20/20. He opposed NATO expansion in the nineties, convinced it would have disastrous consequences. When he was in power, he bitterly railed against congressional influence over foreign affairs, and then changed his tune later in life. Kennan never gave a flying fig about the developing world, believing that it never would develop. Kennan’s narrow world vision consisted only of the five centers of industrial activity — the US, USSR, Germany, Great Britain, and Japan. By the early nineties, when he wrote Around the Cragged Hill, he clearly believed the U.S. to be doomed to decline and devoid of “intelligent and discriminating administration.” And the less said about Kennan’s view of non-WASPs, the better. “

From the Chicago Tribune, historian David Engerman wrote:

“But Kennan’s most curious writing in the 1930s–and the most infamous among the large circle of academic Kennanists–was an essay called “The Prerequisites.” It argued that providing the vote to women, immigrants, African-Americans had degraded American politics (and perhaps American women). Better, he thought, to have a group of statesmen care for these “dependents” than allow them to control their own destiny, let alone their nation’s. He seemed surprised when the essay came in for criticism in a dissertation in the early 1970s; only then did he remove “The Prerequisites” from Princeton’s archive.

But by the late 1970s, Kennan proposed that a Council of State, selected by the U.S. president from a slate of worthies, look after America’s interests.Kennan’s anti-Democratic impulse underlay his foreign-policy positions. His call for “realism” in foreign relations–acting solely on the basis of national interest–was a plea for the fickle American public to leave diplomacy to diplomats like himself better able to discern the country’s interests.”

Drezner and Engerman are correct that George Kennan held some incredibly archaic philosophical views on important subjects. Frank charges of sexism and racism can be made and while that would not be unusual in a man born in 1905, Kennan’s disdain for his countrymen was of a more general misanthropy. The frequent media comment is that Kennan’s elitism was more at home in the 18th century than the 20th or 21st. This is not quite correct, Kennan would have been uncomfortable with the Enlightenment optimism of the Founding Fathers except perhaps with Hamilton and Adams when they were in their darkest and most skeptical moods. Kennan, it seems to me, had more in common, psychologically and politically, with the Patrician optimates of Cicero’s day than with even the American revolutionaries who later became high Federalists.

In any event, while true, such observations about Kennan, when juxtaposed to his ideas give the former a false relevancy. Historically, Kennan’s sour ruminations on fellow Americans are interesting but relatively insignificant. Had Kennan launched a movement to say, repeal the 19th and 15th amendments that had even a moderate political impact, then these rants might be worthy to lay side by side with The Long Telegram. Their inclusion in his obits have a lot to do with bowing to current academic fashion, lest the authors be accused by PC critics of covering up Kennan’s warts. It is a good thing for Kennan that he was a man of conventional sexual tastes or we’d surely be treated now to lurid stories of cross-dressing or sexual harrassment in the Moscow embassy.

More relevant was how Kennan’s growing antipathy for his own country affected his foreign policy views. Over time,Kennan gradually came to reject substantial aspects of Containment which he regarded as ” overly militarized” and provocative to the Soviets. Indeed, he believed that much of what constituted the Cold War could have been avoided and was strangely uninterested for a geopolitical strategist in the large swaths of the Third World that were coming under Soviet influence in the 1960’s and 1970’s. By the early 1980’s, Kennan was substantially at ease with the implications of the Brezhnev Doctrine and viewed the Reagan administrations attempts at what Kennan would have called ” counterpressure” with suspicion. Given Kennan’s trepidation over nuclear armaments a fair argument could be made that he had been daunted by the potential costs of opposing Soviet military power. Or sought to use Soviet might as an excuse to urge his country out of the superpower role in world affairs that Kennan found distastefuly unrealistic.

Even this caveat, remains secondary to the magnitude of Kennan having crafted the Containment strategy, a tool that proved useful for the United States even when it swiftly moved from Kennan into the hands of other wise ( and not so wise) men. A strategy sound enough to survive errors in execution many times over for a span of decades.

George F. Kennan was a giant.


Two Kennan retrospectives worth reading come from two blogs intimately involved in foreign affairs. CKR of Whirledview writes of Kennan:

“Kennan’s so-called errors came out of his search for balance, hence his trepidations about admitting the Baltic States into NATO. Much as I appreciate the value of extending this military umbrella to people I love, I can also see that repercussions of this decision may eventually be more negative than positive. We haven’t seen the full outcome yet, and I just don’t know that Kennan won’t be proved right.”

A useful point to remember for American policymakers.

And at the Daily Demarche, Dr. Demarche sees the resonance in Kennan’s analysis of the Soviet challenge with today’s struggle with militant Islamism:

“The Cold War may be over (I reserve the right to comment on that topic later), but Kennan’s 1947 piece still rings true today, and is just as applicable to the struggle against Islamic radicals as it was against communism. Read the following excerpt of the X piece and substitute Islam or Islamo-fascists for Russia/Soviets/Soviet Union “.

The germ of a good cross-blogospheric debate is in that paragraph.

Thursday, March 24th, 2005


In the aftermath of a week best characterized as work hell I’m finding my brain unwilling to organize thoughts into a coherent whole this evening. At least sustained thought required for semi-intelligent writing on the historical legacy of George Kennan. Therefore, my executive decision is to pop open a Sam Adam’s and go relax with a book.

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2005


I will be posting a retrospective piece on Kennan later today with a lot of links to other blogs andMSM articles but in the meantime, for you hungry strategic thinkers out there, some important posts.

From The Armchair Generalist ” Developing Military Strategies” on the National Defense Strategy and the National Military Strategy. Here’s an excerpt that I think indicates that the Pentagon might be conceptually buying into Dr. Barnett’s ” System Perturbation“.

“The NDS has some interesting concepts, to include its discussion about “weapons of mass destruction or effect” or WMD/E:

The term WMD/E relates to a broad range of adversary capabilities that pose potentially devastating impacts. WMD/E includes chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and enhanced high explosive weapons as well as other, more asymmetrical “weapons”. They may rely more on disruptive impact than destructive kinetic effects. For example, cyber attacks on US commercial information systems or attacks against transportation networks may have a greater economic or psychological effect than a relatively small release of a lethal agent. “

From Global Guerillas – an outstanding post on an evolving threat, ” Transnational Gangs“:

“Third generation gangs have ridden the rapid growth of the transnational criminal economy which already has a UN estimated Gross World Product of $2.5 trillion a year (this criminal economy grows in parallel with globalization). They are heavily involved in drugs, kidnapping, protection rackets, and smuggling of all types. To protect their activities, these gangs target governments with bribery and intimidation. Given that most of their activities are beyond the reach of any one government to influence, they have become very effective at subverting states through the:

* elimination of the state’s monopoly on violence.
* distortion of legitimate market activity.
* conversion of states into corrupt kleptocracies”

From the Eide Neurolearning Blog looks at how the brains of successful strategic thinkers actually work in “ Strategic Thinking: Into the Minds of Gamers “. A good PDF link here for those who are inclined toward Game Theory analysis:

“It turns out successful strategic thinking negatively correlated with insular activation. Insular activation, they suggest, was an indicator of too much self-preoccupation and emotional feeling. “

Evidently whining gets in the way of winning. Just like Dad always said…

UPDATE: Play a high realism wargame with Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett. An East Coast event good for a corporate executive or think-tank team-building exercise.

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2005


The potential regulation of political speech on the internet by the FEC under the auspices of the odious McCain-Feingold campaign finance ” reform” law, has begun to alarm the well-established old media.

From The Omaha World Herald, newspaper where the highly regarded blogger, Geitner Simmons, is an editor:

“Free speech has deep roots in America’s political life. In the 1770s and ’80s, Americans used the printing press to express their political views. The Federalist Papers themselves, first published in newspapers, were an exercise in vigorous political argument.

In the 21st century, new technologies are opening new vehicles for political speech. The Internet, among others.

During the 2004 election campaign, the Democratic and Republican Parties both used online outreach as a major new way to raise contributions. The Internet is also home to an ever-growing assortment of weblogs – do-it-yourself commentary sites that individual citizens are creating and then using with gusto to express their personal political passions.

These “blogs” range widely in quality. Some consist of little more than ranting. Others offer serious analysis. One thing they all share, however, is that they epitomize American free speech in action in a high-tech, 21st-century environment.

A concern has arisen in recent weeks over whether the McCain-Feingold election law requires federal regulators to restrict Internet speech. (McCain-Feingold, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled constitutional by using dubious logic, tramples on First Amendment rights by stigmatizing certain types of political speech by special-interest groups as out of bounds and worthy of prohibition by the Federal Election Commission.)

Concern that the FEC would extend McCain-Feingold restrictions to Internet speech arose after a federal judge ruled that political advertising on the Internet may well be subject to that law. A majority of FEC commissioners chose not to appeal the Internet-related portion of the ruling.

Bradley Smith, an FEC commissioner, stated that the ruling could well require federal regulators to examine whether to clamp down on weblogs. Smith told an interviewer the judge’s ruling might apply to “any decision by an individual to put a link on their home page, set up a blog, send out mass e-mails, any kind of activity that can be done on the Internet.”

Such connections could be interpreted as the type of campaign-friendly “coordinated activity” that McCain-Feingold prohibits. In such a situation, regulators would classify weblog content – in particular, links to campaign Web sites – as an in-kind political contribution.

Edward Morrissey, a conservative political blogger, wrote a letter to U.S. senators in which he explained what an absurd situation such topsy-turvy regulations would encourage.

If the FEC began regulating weblog content, he wrote, it would cause him “less legal heartache to convert my site to a porn blog and do nothing but post hard-core pictures all day long.” As a result, he added, “in the twisted environment of the McCain-Feingold Act, that kind of Web site would enjoy greater First Amendment protection than my political speech.”

Morrissey points out another potential problem. Morrissey is a staunch supporter of President Bush, but during the 2004 campaign season, Morrissey’s weblog actually linked more frequently (for purposes of criticism) to the campaign site of John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee.

So, if McCain-Feingold were used to regulate political speech on the Internet, Morrissey’s links would be classified by regulators as an in-kind contribution to Kerry’s campaign (whose candidate Morrissey heatedly opposed), or else federal regulators would need to examine each link to determine whether it was intended in a favorable, hostile or neutral fashion. The situation, in short, illustrates the headaches and unfairness that speech restrictions would involve if extended to the Internet.

Several FEC commissioners have come forward to damp down fears of regulation of weblogs. But the judge’s ruling still stands, and it is easy to see how regulation of online political advertising could, over time, move into broader restrictions on Internet comment.

Critics are right that Congress needs to consider amending federal statutes to address this concern. Otherwise, the potential would exist for a troubling intrusion by the federal government into a fundamental American right. “

Nor is the Omaha World Herald alone. From the Chicago Tribune in a news article:

“The furor has its origins in the 2002 McCain-Feingold law, which regulates campaign financing while exempting some online activity. But last September, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that the Internet exemption “undermines” campaign finance law, and essentially ordered the FEC to redraw its rules.

The case was filed in 2002 by Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Martin Meehan (D-Mass), both sponsors of the McCain-Feingold law. The lawmakers sued the commission because they thought the FEC exemption misinterpreted the campaign finance law through “loopholes that had allowed soft money to corrupt federal elections,” according to court records. Kollar-Kotelly agreed, striking down the exemption.

Some critics have been upset by online activities that they see as end-runs around the campaign law. Watchdog groups have cited TV-style political ads that ran during the 2004 campaign but–because they aired online–were exempt from FEC scrutiny. Others noted that candidates have paid bloggers to write favorably about them.

Other issues are trickier. If a blog features a link to a campaign Web site–which can be a valuable political gift–is that an “in-kind contribution” to that campaign, or free speech protected by the 1st Amendment?”

The question here is not the text of the McCain-Feingold law itself, as antithetical to the Constitution, liberty and democracy as that law may be but rather the interpretation that will emerge ten Federal lawsuits down the road as overreaching Federal judges are goaded by hyperpartisan, elitist, activist-lawyers seeking advantage for their party at the expense of our ancient liberties. Rights in a free society are seldom abolished whole; the enemies of an open society prefer to erode them bit by bit.

McCain-Feingold needs to be repealed. No other solution will do.

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