November 11, 2011


Cold Warrior: No single person encapsulates the drama, the deadly confrontations, and the self-destructive follies of the Cold War better than George Kennan. (Ronald Steel, November 11, 2011, American Prospect)

In 1943, the millionaire statesman Averell Harriman, chosen by President Roosevelt as the new envoy to Moscow, appointed Kennan to run the civilian side of the embassy. This, Gaddis writes, gave Kennan the "opportunity to mount a sustained assault on Roosevelt's approach to the Soviet Union." Writing to his friend Charles Bohlen, before the 1945 conference at Yalta, where Bohlen would serve as interpreter for the president in his meetings with Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill, Kennan warned against any efforts to achieve cooperation with the Soviet Union. Europe, he argued, should be divided into spheres of influence. Eastern Europe should be written off, Germany divided between eastern and western zones, and any pretense of shared interests between Russia and the West abandoned.

In February 1946, Kennan's distrust of the Soviets boiled to the surface in the form of a 5,000-word dispatch that he sent to Washington as a telegram to emphasize the message's importance. Coming at a critical moment, when wartime collaboration had given way to mutual suspicion, it had an electrifying effect beyond his wildest hopes. In language designed to shock and frighten, Kennan declared that Soviet officials sought foreign enemies to justify their harsh internal rule and were intent on undermining the United States. "We have here," he charged, "a political force committed fanatically to the belief that with US there can be no permanent modus vivendi, that it is desirable that the internal harmony of our society be disrupted, our traditional way of life be destroyed, the international authority of our state be broken, if Soviet power is to be secure." What came to be known as the "long telegram" turned into, Gaddis writes, "the conceptual foundation for the strategy that the United States and Great Britain would follow for over four decades."

 Word spread throughout a bureaucracy searching for an understanding of how to deal with a recalcitrant Russia. In July 1947, the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs featured an article based on the "long telegram," signed as "X" to conceal Kennan's identity as a government official. There he argued, in vivid words that were to animate American foreign policy during the Cold War, that American policy must be guided by the "long term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies." If the United States pursued such a "policy of firm Containment, designed to confront the Russians with unalterable counterforce at every point where they show signs of encroaching upon the interests of a peaceful and stable world," Kennan maintained, the ultimate result would be "either the break-up or the gradual mellowing of Soviet power."

To see the Soviet Union clearly, for the anti-human monstrosity it was, but then argue that Eastern Europe and the Russian people should be left to suffer under its rule was abominable.

Posted by at November 11, 2011 6:25 PM

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