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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

11 Responses to “”

  1. deichmans Says:

    Absolutely agree. Two additional points on Kennan’s “Long Telegram” bear emphasis: (1) he introduced a strategic lexicon that shaped the policy of Containment [which still permeates the minds of our U.S. security establishment], and (2) his masters’ willingness to shape major policy directives [e.g., NSC-68] show both team cohesion and senior leader hubris that we have not seen inside the Beltway in decades.

  2. mark Says:

    Hi Shane,

    You raise an interesting point with NSC-68, which is to operational guidelines in foreign policy that the Long Telegram/X Article was to Grand Strategy.

    One the one hand, we have to discount by degree the strength of Kennan’s later 1970’s to early 1980’s protestations about Nitze -Dulles militarization of Containment. Kennan lived a very long time and his opinion of the Soviets and the projection of American power underwent more evolution than he cared to frankly admit.

    That being said, NSC-68 was not what Kennan had in mind either and it was a revolutionary document at odds with American tradition by laying the framework of a national security state.

    Truman and Eisenhower faced the difficulty of a Wallace -Left that apologized for Stalinism at every turn and a Taft-Right that abhorred Communism but disdained any practical measures by the USG to oppose it outside of the United States ( Thank God for Vandenberg). Pragmatic and visionary measures like the marshall plan, NATO, the Coal-Steel Community, the CIA, the NSC only passed because of a combination of the executive branch ” scaring the hell out of the country” and the late 1940’s behavior of the Soviets, the fall of China, Hiss, the Rosenbergs, Berlin, the Soviet A-bomb and the Korean War. NSC-68 was in part plan and part byproduct of that psychological-historical moment in time.

  3. deichmans Says:

    Isn’t it ironic that Nitze became the “tactician” while the Chargé d’Affaires in Moskva served as the “Grand Strategist”? Kind of like a Professor from the Naval War College describing a grand strategy while the potentates in the Pentagon dive into bureaucratic minutae…

  4. mark Says:


    In fairness to Kennan, he was a cut above the norm for the foreign service at the time ( scions of Yankee investment bankers and southern Bourbon aristocracy) which was the cream of the USG. Kennan was there on merit, weird given his paternalistic/oligarchal views but he probably identified strongly with the class he badly wished to be part of.

    He gets double credit for saving the U.S. State Russian/Soviet library by storing a statistically significant part of it in his attic when the Eleanor Roosevelt-Harry Hopkins fellow travellers pressured SECSTATE Cordell Hull to have it destroyed ( and it was so ordered)for being too critical of Stalinist Russia.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    As is usual with history, we have to remind ourselves that Kennan didn’t know how the conflict with the Soviet Union would come out. He did a better job of predicting than anyone else at the time, but he had little (except history) on which to depend.

    The Soviet Union was on a tear, having occupied large swathes of central and eastern Europe, although it had been hurt badly by the war. The US was forced to cooperate with it in occupying Germany.

    Many in the US believed (vociferously) that the US should nuke the Soviet Union (SU, love that symmetry) before it could get nuclear weapons. Kennan’s advice was opposed to that.

    I’m not sure of the history of influence, but the Marshall Plan certainly followed Kennan’s advice both in substance and in time.

    There are many parallels to today. I was reading a review last night of Dennis Ross’s Statecraft. The Long Telegram was statecraft. Incessant war and selling arms to all is not.

    Thanks for the links. You had to go back some way to find those posts.


  6. Anonymous Says:

    More today about Kennan in the NYT.


  7. The Lounsbury Says:

    Your near irrational dislike of your State Department amuses. Kennan thinkers housed in the Department of Defence?

    That’s so risible that I could can’t quite keep a straight face even reading it now. Your current fiascos evidently have made no impact on …. ahem your ability to think clearly on the issue.

    Queer, this insane paranoid dislike you all keep for your diplos.

  8. mark Says:

    Hi Col,

    You have been away from home too long or you are getting lazy, lumping me in with LGF types and such. Nor is the entirety of the DoD equivalent with Bush neocon assistant secretaries wandering in from AEI.

    State as a bureaucracy is not functioning well and has not for some time. Talent does not go where it is needed, the incentives are wrong to develop personnel who can be regarded as ” old hands” for problem areas of the world. They are unable to keep up their share of interagency tasks, State lacks competent linguists(!) in Arabic, Urdu,Pashto, Farsi, Dari and Chinese but has an overssupply in European languages. State has dropped the ball with both development policy and public diplomacy whose porfolios they received in the 1990’s ( long before Bush II made public diplomacy infinitely harder). I could go on.

    I am not against diplomats or diplomacy – I’m all for giving State the resources, salaries and freedom of action on the ground to get a difficult job done that Congress generally denies them. I cannot pretend though that things are ok or that once Bush leaves office it will be smooth sailing at Foggy Bottom. It won’t. There needs to be comprehensive structural reform to get the priorities right.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Hey Mark, couldn’t State’s problems be at least partly attributed to a lack of that flowing green stuff that is so plentiful over at Defense? It’s what you need to hire those translators and other sorts of competent people.


  10. mark Says:

    Hey Cheryl,

    It is bad form to quote myself but…

    ” I am not against diplomats or diplomacy – I’m all for giving State the resources, salaries and freedom of action on the ground to get a difficult job done that Congress generally denies them”

    An additional $ 10 -20 billion, which is insignificant in the context of the Federal budget but huge next to State’s annual budget, would be more than enough to bring existing programs, personnel and infrastructure up to par and create a few new soft power/public diplomacy initiatives at State.

    Comprehensive reform and the cash to do the job right.

  11. The Lounsbury Says:


    I am and was not mistaking you for the retards at lgf (or the sad Right Bolsheviks that have taken over National Review, etc).

    What I am saying is I find, given my contacts with these people (largely in the Great Coalition Prov Auth. Days), is your strange delusion that Defence houses thinkers (as opposed to lunatic Bolsheviks of the Right) more than State to be driven more by your sympathies than by actual reason.

    The other sins you accuse State of, well, I’m indifferent. Certainly I am surprised to find American diplos who actually speak languages – pity really – but frankly when I hear their salaries and look at their working conditions (including the irrational contempt which they seem to be held in your sort of quarters)…. well of course their is a flight of quality.

    Frankly, in my view, your problems in Washington are rather very much due to a loss of pragmatism and a take-over of Bolshivist type party-line thinking, queerly more so on the Right in terms of the Imperial Capital populace to judge from the what one sees in the media than the Left (although perhaps it is merely that the hard Bolshy Left is just so ridiculous one never bothers with them anymore – except when anti-Globo things come up).

    In short, it’s the silly pretence the Defence people have the new Kennan that I find risible, insofar as until this Gates fellow, it seemed full of the sort of person Kennan worked against (the nuke them and let God sort them out sort, or the sort who was unable and unwilling to sophisticatedly use divide & conquer between Left ‘fractions’).

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