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George Kennan: A Great American

John Simkin

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George Kennan died this week. There are those on the left who blame Kennan for the Cold War. However, Kennan is someone who is much understood.

In November, 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. William C. Bullitt was appointed as United States ambassador, and Kennan became third secretary at the embassy in Moscow. After two years in the Soviet Union he was assigned to Vienna. This was followed by spells in Prague and Berlin.

Kennan was opposed to the idea that the United States should appear to be supporting the Soviet Union against Germany. He feared this would identify the United States "with the Russian destruction of the Baltic states, with the attack against Finnish independence, with the partitioning of Poland... and with the domestic policy of a regime which is widely feared and detested throughout this part of the world".

The bombing of Pearl Harbor, brought America into the Second World War. Kennan was still in Nazi Germany at the time and he was interned. In April 1942 Kennan was released and was reassigned to Lisbon in Portugal. At the time this was a notorious centre of international espionage. In 1944 Kennan returned to the Soviet Union where he took up the post of minister-counsellor and chargé d'affaires.

Kennan remained critical of the actions of Joseph Stalin. This included the decision by Stalin not to order the Red Army to support the Warsaw Uprising against the German Army in 1944. Kennan reported to Franklin D. Roosevelt that he should have a "thorough-going exploration of Soviet intentions with regard to the future of the remainder of Europe".

After the war Kennan returned to the United States where George Marshall appointed him as director of the State Department's policy-planning staff. Over the next couple of years Kennan developed the foreign policy of containment. Kennan argued that communist influence should be contained within existing territorial limits, either by armed intervention or, more often, by economic and technical assistance.

On 22nd February, 1946, Kennan sent a series of five telegrams to President Harry S. Truman. This eventually became known as the Long Telegram. It included the following passage: "At the bottom of the Kremlin's neurotic view of world affairs is traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity. Originally, this was insecurity of a peaceful agricultural people trying to live on vast exposed plain in neighborhood of fierce nomadic peoples. To this was added, as Russia came into contact with economically advanced West, fear of more competent, more powerful, more highly organized societies in that area."

The following year Kennan wrote an anonymous article in the Foreign Affairs magazine, where he argued that the Soviet Union was fundamentally opposed to coexistence with the West and desired a world-wide extension of the Soviet system. However, Kennan argued that communism could be contained if the West showed determined opposition to their expansion plans. Kennan's ideas subsequently became the core of United States policy towards the Soviet Union and was reflected in both the Truman Doctrine and the European Recovery Program (ERP).

Kennan's views had a tremendous influence of a group of important political figures based in Washington. Known as the Georgetown Crowd, it included figures such as Dean Acheson, Frank Wisner, Joseph Alsop, Philip Graham, Katharine Graham, David Bruce, Clark Clifford, Walt Rostow, Eugene Rostow, Chip Bohlen and Paul Nitze.

In 1949 Kennan clashed with John Foster Dulles over the issue of the recognizing communist China. Dulles leaked the story to a journalist and Kennan decided to resign from his policy planning post. He joined the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton but in 1952 Harry S. Truman appointed Kennan as the United States ambassador in Moscow.

On his return to Washington Kennan became critical of the foreign policies of President Dwight Eisenhower. Kennan opposed the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and claimed that developments in Korea and Vietnam sprang from nationalism rather than Marxism. Senator Joseph McCarthy denounced Kennan as "a commie lover". John Foster Dulles contacted Kennan and told him he was no longer wanted by the administration. Ironically, his brother, Allen Dulles, offered him a job with the CIA. Kennan refused and decided to become an academic.

In 1956 Kennan was appointed as professor of historical studies at the Princeton Institute and while there revised his views on containment. Kennan now advocated a program of disengagement from areas of conflict with the Soviet Union. He remained at Princeton until John F. Kennedy appointed Kennan as the United States ambassador to Yugoslavia (1961-63).

''This whole tendency to see ourselves as the center of political enlightenment and as teachers to a great part of the world strikes me as unthought-through, vainglorious, and undesirable," Kennan said in a 1999 interview. ''I would like to see our government gradually withdraw from its public advocacy of democracy and human rights. I submit that governments should deal with other governments as such and should avoid unnecessary involvement, particularly personal involvement, with their leaders."

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  • 2 weeks later...

It is interesting and important to note that Kennan, disagreed with the US view expanding his containment policy into third world countries. Imagine if US presidents had listened to him. It is possible that Korea, Vietnam and other foreign policy debacles that caused so much division in America alone. Would the US have had the policy that led to the overthrow of the Iranian govenment and the placement of the Shah? What would this have done to the Iranian revolution if the US had not moved away from true Kennan's containment policy.

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