George F. Kennan: An American Life By John Lewis Gaddis (Penguin, 784 pp., $39.95) I. George F. Keenan, who was born in 1904 and died in 2005, and served under presidents from Calvin Coolidge to John F. Kennedy, left as deep an imprint on American geopolitics as any intellectual of the twentieth century. But the exact nature of his achievement continues to elude full or even coherent description. One reason is that most of his very long life was spent in comparative obscurity.
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.