February 21, 2004

George Kennan

One of our greatest diplomats turns 100.

Kennan, of course, was the author of the famed Long Telegram that analyzed the Soviet worldview:

"The Long Telegram provided, in the clipped style of a cable, a persuasive synthesis of elements in the psychology of the Soviet leaders. "At the bottom of Kremlin's neurotic view of world affairs," Mr. Kennan wrote, "is traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity" caused primarily by countless foreign invasions across the defenseless plains separating Russia from Europe.

This insecurity had since 1917 been married to Marxist dogma, giving rise to a state of mind that was now beyond change by any agreement or arrangement with outside powers, Kennan wrote. The Kremlin leaders Stalin in particular were now compelled by a combination of their fears and dreams to work "in patient but deadly struggle for total destruction of rival power." Coexistence, in the sense of live and let live, was impossible, Mr. Kennan warned. By 1952 his string of perceptive white papers had led him to an appointment as ambassador to Moscow."


Some later felt Kennan had somewhat overreached in his description of the Soviets as hell-bent exporters of revolution:

"Over half a century later the Long Telegram remains perceptive. But it is not wholly prophetic. Mr. Kennan's presentation of Stalin as a fanatical revolutionary rather than a shrewd calculator of power is overdrawn, and his emphasis on Marxist ideology as a motivating force, as opposed to considerations of security and national purpose, is at odds with his later positions." [ed. note: We'll take a look at Kennan's views on al-Qaeda when time permits].

Former Ambassador Richard Gardner is quoted in the article:

"All of us who aspired to careers in the Foreign Service still look to Kennan as a role model," said Richard Gardner, a former United States ambassador to Italy and Spain. "Just look at the Long Telegram. How many ambassadors today could write such a document?"

Not many indeed, one suspects.

Note: Still on the road with little to no time to blog. Apologies.

Posted by Gregory at February 21, 2004 12:03 AM
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