The Spine

Parsing George Kennan


Nicholas Thompson tells us in today's Times that George Kennan's
famous "X" article in Foreign Affairs was completely misunderstood. By
everybody. Including, I suppose, President Truman. Kennan wanted "soft
power" but we gave the Soviets hard power. Still, we did win the Cold War,
didn't we?

Thompson's interest in Kennan's opinions is to project them onto the world
scene today. Poor Kennan, he's already dead two years; and, in the years
before he died at 101, he wasn't exactly clear in his thinking. And if
people couldn't grasp what he wrote in 1947 how could they grasp what he
mumbled since, let's say, the year 2000?

The robbing by Thompson of Kennan's grave is pilferage disguised as
homage. And who actually cares what Kennan thought? Is this what the op-ed page thinks is significant opinion? Thompson believes that we have to
spend "more time and money building up our Muslim allies." And just how do
we do that?

Frankly, I think selling advanced air weapons to Saudi Arabia will do more
to tilt the Arab balance than "democracy promotion." Whatever that means.

By the way, if you want to read a devastating essay on George Kennan, one
of the certified gods of the twentieth century high-minded, take a look at
Henry Fairlie's article in TNR 30 years ago:

My interest is in what an old man of the establishment then
wants to do. He wants to achieve "a more workable
consensus behind our policy towards the Soviet
Union." When I hear the word "consensus," in such a
context, I reach for my water pistol. It is always the
conviction of the George F. Kennans, which seems to
grow stronger with their own debilitation, that a
consensus may somehow be manufactured to paste
over differences.

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