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Wednesday, August 8th, 2007


Dr. Barnett, opining yesterday on the recent NYT op-ed on Kennan:

“The dearth of strategic thinking reaches a new low, or maybe this is just a Kennan scholar pre-hawking his new book.

Now we get the out-of-time argument that containment is the answer on radical Islam.

It’s not much of an argument, but rather a decent rehashing of Kennan’s thinking on the Sovs. The problem here, of course, is that al-Qaida doesn’t translate well to an authoritarian empire already in existence.

Another problem, which I flayed at length in PNM, is that global historical forces are moving in a direction very different from that of the late 1940s and early 1950s. We’re not in some bilat standoff of camps with little dynamic interchange between them. We’re watching a consolidation period unfold following a massive expansion of globalization, one that’s simultaneously accompanied by its further expansion thanks to the huge resource draw from rising Asia. ”

We have a severe shortage of Kennans these days. While of course, there was only one Kennan writing the Long Telegram there were also the Stimsons, Marshalls, Achesons, Nitzes, Forrestals, Vandenbergs, Lovetts, Dulles’, McCloys, Wohlstetters, Kahns and many others who came before and after Kennan who made their own contributions to the development of the Containment strategy. Our diplomatic and national security bench was deep in those days and often, these statesmen brought real experience in international finance, logistics and linguistics to the table ( Wohlstetter and Kahn were the cutting edge of the academic -strategist wave that replaced the Wall Street and Railroad company lawyer generation).

Today, we see most of our big picture and thinkers outside of government and often academia as well, writing books, giving speeches or building private sector companies. Tellingly, the most innovative policy of Bush’s second term was developed not by a White House aide or a Cabinet secretary but by General David Petraeus – and his counterinsurgency strategy for Iraq was only accepted by the powers that be out of political and military desperation. The Democrats are no better, having had essentially no new policy ideas in almost two generations and a deep desire to ignore the existence of foreign policy altogether.

In part, this is a generational problem. Not only are the Boomers an amazingly self-centered lot, endlessly obsessing on ( and trying to re-live) the political traumas of their now distant youth, but the statesmen among them cut their teeth on the Cold War, bipolar, pre-Globalization, rigidly hierarchical world and are, for the most part, unwilling to revisit their anachronistic assumptions. There are exceptions but these people are usually outliers in some way, personally or professionally.

We may need to construct our defenses for the 21st century by retooling civil society to become more resilient, adaptive and dynamic – for the short term, our governing class may be a lost cause.

Sunday, July 29th, 2007


Matt at MountainRunner has a fine post on lessons that can be drawn from George Kennan’sLong Telegram“.

For those who frame the modern conflict in Cold War images, it might be useful to remember the real designs and purposes of early Cold War policies. For those who think public diplomacy is simply a beauty contest to hopefully “win hearts”, should go back to the aggressive “five-dollar, five syllable” foundation of public diplomacy as a psychological struggle for minds and wills against an enemy who understood perception management.”

Kennan’s two volume memoirs make for some interesting reading, as does his work Russia and the West Under Lenin and Stalin, though it helps to have some of the period’s diplomatic historiography under your belt to better read between the lines of Kennan’s prose. If we have any George Kennan equivalents today, they are probably employed by the Defense Department or have been, which says a great deal about the intellectual and political decline of the State Department since Kennan’s time.


America and the Russian Future (1951)” by George F. Kennan

More reflections on George Kennan” by Dave Schuler


George Kennan Speaks to the War on Terror” and “Tipping Points” by CKR

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