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.
The nuclear order seems to be falling apart. Gone is the uneasy balance between the cold war superpowers. We now face a slew of new nuclear actors. North Korea has reprocessed enough plutonium for perhaps ten bombs, in addition to the two it has already tested. Iran’s centrifuge program seems poised to produce weapons-grade uranium. And Syria was apparently constructing a clandestine nuclear facility, before it was destroyed by Israeli air strikes in 2007. It’s not just enemies that pose a problem.
Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War By Robert L. Beisner (Oxford University Press, 768 pp., $35) I. "It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." The speaker could have been Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S Truman, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, or Bill Clinton. In fact, it was George W. Bush, in his second inaugural address; and what he said is what historians will probably remember as the Bush Doctrine.
The first of the giants of American grand strategy during the Cold War lived to be the last of the giants. When George F. Kennan died a few weeks ago at the age of 101, none of his great contemporaries was left. Truman, Marshall, Acheson, Forrestal, Harriman, Bohlen, and Lovett had all preceded him in death years ago; and even Kennan's most formidable rival on matters of policy, his longtime friend Paul Nitze, died last fall at 97. It is an appropriate moment, therefore, to assess what Kennan and his generation accomplished.
Secrecy and Democracy: The CIA in Transition by Stansfield Turner (Houghton Mifein, 304 pp., $16.95) "Arrogant, insensitive, absurd ideas … [he] has ruined the place. …" That was the common run of rightward Washington comment on Stansfield Turner as director of Central Intelligence by the end of 1977, his first year in office. By then Jimmy Carter no longer maintained his deceptive pretension to bi-Pauline balance.
This week in Prague, Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a new version of the START treaty, renewing their commitment to nuclear arms reduction. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also unveiled newly built nuclear centrifuges. And, in a well-timed TNR cover story, Peter Scoblic posed the incisive, probing question: What good is the time-tested doctrine of deterrence in an era where rogue states and terrorists have ready access to nuclear material?