Tuesday, November 29, 2011

For historians/academics interested in Public Diplomacy (a growing "intellectual" cottage industry): Mr. Clean

True story, recollected as best he can by memory-challenged ex-PD (public diplomacy) Foreign Service officer John Brown

Place:  US State Department Human Resources

Time: Early 2000's

Persons Involved: No-Smiles Human Resources officer (NSHRO), sitting behind her desk in an office at Foggy Bottom; returning from overseas posting Public Diplomacy Foreign Service officer J. Brown (PDFSOJB)

NSHRO: So you are looking for a job now that you're back from Russia.

PDFSOJB: Yes, Madam.

(Moment of solemn silence. NSHRO prints out document.)

NSHRO (Looks at paper; then slowly raises eyes to PDFSOJB): You look pretty clean.

PDFSOJB: Thank you, madam.

NSHRO: In over twenty years [of service], all your postings abroad except one have been hardship posts. Not bad.

PDSOJB: Yes, madam. Thank you.

NSHRO: Only one and half years in Washington during that time -- not bad.

PDSOJB: Thank you, madam.

NSHRO: Yes, you look pretty clean.

PDSOJB: Thank you, madam. But why pretty [emphasis] clean?

NSHRO: But you are PD, aren't you?

Image from; see also John Brown, "Getting the People Part Right: A Report on the Human Resources Dimension of U.S. Public Diplomacy" (American Diplomacy, July 22, 2008)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Is This George Kennan?

Is This George Kennan?

New York Review of Books, December 8, 2011
Frank Costigliola. Review of George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis
Penguin, 784 pp., $39.95

It seemed like the perfect match. In the late 1970s John Lewis Gaddis was smart, sympathetic, and eager to write the biography. George F. Kennan admired Gaddis as probably “the best of the younger historians of American policy in the immediate postwar period.”1 Kennan had earned enormous respect over his long career as a diplomat, historian, public intellectual, and critic of US policy in the cold war. Yet he remained thin-skinned about any disparagement. Anxious to have his voice heard by future generations, Kennan worried that “weak and superficial”—and wrongheaded—biographies would garble his message and life story.2

The intellectual turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s amplified that concern. Some younger historians, spurred by their abhorrence of the Vietnam War and by the analyses of William A. Williams and others on the New Left, were critical of the foreign policy establishment, Kennan included, even though he had spoken out eloquently against the conflict in Southeast Asia. Kennan’s American Diplomacy, which had won widespread praise after its publication in 1951, was now being dismissed as “obscurantist and misleading,” a reviewer in these pages reported in August 1968.3

Gaddis, in contrast, praised the wisdom and necessity of Kennan’s famous doctrine arguing that the right approach to the USSR was “containment,” not aggressive military action. Kennan had articulated these ideas in his so-called Long Telegram of 1946 from the US embassy in Moscow, and his “Mr. X” article of 1947 in Foreign Affairs, and while director of the State Department’s policy planning staff from 1947 to 1949. Gaddis’s widely read Strategies of Containment praised Kennan as the brilliant “grand strategist” of the late 1940s who had astutely assessed problems and had recommended the right mix of policies to deal with them. In 1977, Foreign Affairs published a retrospective essay by Gaddis lauding Kennan’s foresight, consistency, and caution regarding the use of US military force.

When two younger historians, citing recently declassified documents, charged in 1978 that the containment doctrine was dangerously vague, and that Kennan in 1948–1949 had in fact recommended military intervention to deal with political crises in Italy and Taiwan, Gaddis publicly mocked them for puffing up such “curiosities.”4 Kennan appreciated this defense. He confided to Gaddis that he was appalled at the inability of many of our scholars to look carefully at the wording of official documents and to put them into the [proper] context…. [While] I have no desire to enter in a polemic with [those] whose opinion I do not greatly value, I do, however, value your own opinion.5

In the fall of 1981, Gaddis put to Kennan, who would soon turn seventy-eight, the possibility of his writing an authorized biography to be published posthumously. He asked for exclusive access to the Kennan diaries, letters, and other papers still closed to other scholars, and he wanted to be able to talk to Kennan about the past. Kennan accepted eagerly: “I can think of no one who…would be better qualified than yourself.” He added, “I value your contribution especially, because so much nonsense has been talked about ‘containment.’”6

There soon surfaced, however, hints of a disagreement that would cause the older man some anguish. Though Gaddis lauded Kennan’s “grand strategy” between 1946 and 1948 to contain the Soviet Union, he remained largely unsympathetic to Kennan’s efforts in the subsequent forty years to propose a changed relationship with the Soviets that would lead through negotiations to an easing of the cold war. Kennan tried to explain this position to Gaddis repeatedly. He had always regarded “successful containment not as an end in itself but as the prerequisite for the ultimate process of negotiation.” Since 1948, he had viewed the division of Europe into Soviet and American spheres as a dangerous “geopolitical anomaly.” The creation of NATO and the Warsaw Pact, the armies eyeballing each other across the West German–East German frontier, and the deadly weapons on hair-trigger alert—all this disturbed Kennan, who increasingly feared nuclear war.

He lamented his failure, particularly between 1948 and 1958, to convince Washington and its allies in Western Europe to trade their “‘positions of strength’” for a Soviet pullback from Eastern Europe, nuclear reductions, and a reknitting of divided Germany and Europe.7 Kennan never claimed that such negotiations would succeed. Rather he insisted, and in numerous articles and speeches pleaded, that the horrors of nuclear war made it foolhardy not to try. Gaddis, who regarded the cold war as a secure “long peace” and who edged to a more conventional hard-line view from the 1970s on, shared neither Kennan’s concerns nor his analysis. Though their relations remained cordial, Kennan’s letters and diaries show that the aging man was bothered by their differences. It would have been understandable if this disagreement caused some delay in Gaddis’s completion of his masterwork.

By 2000, Kennan, now ninety-six years old, despaired in his diary that Gaddis “had no idea of what was really at stake” in the “long battle I was waging…against the almost total militarization of Western policy towards Russia.” Looking back at the nuclear holocaust narrowly averted during the Cuban missile episode and the Berlin crisis of 1958 to 1961, and at the costly proxy wars waged in Vietnam and elsewhere, he believed that “had my efforts been successful,” they “could have obviated the vast expenses, dangers, and distortions of outlook of the ensuing Cold War.” Then, perhaps thinking of the time and faith invested in his chronicler, Kennan lamented:

That this battle should not be apparent even to the most serious of my postmortem biographers means that the most significant of the efforts of the first half of my career—namely, to bring about a reasonable settlement of the European problems of the immediate postwar period—will never find their historian or their understanding. And this is hard.8

Kennan, then approaching the end of his 101-year life, judged “the most significant effort” of his career not his helping to formulate the policies to contain the Soviet Union, but rather his subsequent push for Washington to establish workable relations with Moscow. He had, after all, predicted in his “Mr. X” article that Soviet communism would come to an end, and he had been proved right.

Despite its problems of perspective and balance, Gaddis’s George F. Kennan remains a monumental and absorbing book. His prose is elegant and lively. Though Kennan will likely attract other biographers, none will be able to match the research on display here. Not only has Gaddis pored through Kennan’s 20,000-page diary, a separate “dream diary” of reflections, and the 300-plus boxes of other papers by Kennan now open for research at Princeton, but he also conducted many interviews with the former diplomat and his associates. Most of those people are now gone. Gaddis had privileged access to family papers still in the possession of Kennan’s daughter. The cordial correspondence and discussions between “George” and “John” fill three manuscript boxes. Gaddis did extensive work in other US archives. There are some British and even a few Russian documents. He is often perceptive, sensitive, and reflective. And he is justifiably proud that George and his wife, Annelise, became for two decades “my companions.”

Gaddis’s political predilections—as evidenced by his enthusiasm for Kennan as cold warrior in 1946–1948 and his skepticism about Kennan as peacemaker in later years—shape this biography. He sides largely with Kennan’s critics, such as former secretary of state Dean Acheson, in the heated debate over Kennan’s advocacy in 1957–1958 for US “disengagement” from the cold war in Europe. Indeed, while quoting extensively from Acheson’s venomous assault on Kennan in Foreign Affairs, Gaddis merely notes but does not quote Kennan’s rebuttal in the same journal.

In 1966–1968, Kennan articulated a set of cogent and prescient ideas and policies in response to the Vietnam War and other changes around the world. The former cold warrior had an important part in making opposition to the Vietnam War respectable. The biography, however, devotes only one paragraph to recounting the substance of Kennan’s testimony in February 1966 before Senator J. William Fulbright’s Foreign Relations Committee. Kennan’s strong testimony in January 1967 on the futility of the war, at a time when it had become a bitter national issue, goes unmentioned. Nor, curiously, does the book even mention Kennan’s early and influential endorsement of Senator Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 Democratic presidential primaries on grounds of McCarthy’s opposition to the war.

The biography suffers from this neglect. In the heated cross fire of the Senate hearings, Kennan outlined long-range principles grounded in history. He laid out a strategy that if not grand was certainly wise: scrutinizing old ideas and knee-jerk attitudes, insisting that the nation’s goals match resources, and guarding against both overinvolvement and timidity. He argued that much of China’s fierce rhetoric stemmed from that nation’s past humiliation by the West. “A new generation of Chinese leaders” would likely improve relations, he believed. He was also prescient in warning, a year before the Soviets crushed the Prague Spring, that such an uprising would induce the Soviets to march, just as “the Tsar’s government would have moved in.”9

As in the 1950s, Kennan worried about the military standoff along the border of the two Germanies. For him, serious danger lay not in far-off Vietnam but rather in the nuclear arms race. Washington’s primary challenge was in “the real possibilities for a genuine…exciting and constructive…understanding eventually between the Russian people and our people.” This lifelong lover of Russian culture remarked, “If I did not believe this was a possibility I wouldn’t have led the life I have for the last forty years.”10

Regarding Vietnam, where escalation was yielding only stalemate, Kennan urged securing enclaves in the south, halting military offensives and bombing, and inviting negotiations. He wanted a US withdrawal but not a precipitous and humiliating exit. As millions watched on television, Kennan argued before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Americans should neither forget that “we are a great nation” able to endure the loss of South Vietnam nor delude ourselves with “illusions about invincibility.” Americans were vulnerable to manipulation. “Practically everybody who wants our aid in the world claims that he wants it in the cause of freedom.” No matter the military arguments, “the spectacle of Americans” attacking “a poor and helpless people, and particularly a people of different race and color,” wreaked “psychological damage” to America’s global image. He stressed “that there is more respect to be won…by a resolute and courageous liquidation of unsound positions than by the most stubborn pursuit of extravagant or unpromising objectives.”11

Citing Woodrow Wilson’s futile promotion of elections in Russia in 1918–1919, Kennan argued that such empty rituals could not stabilize South Vietnam. In general, “it is very, very difficult for outsiders to come into a situation”—any foreign situation—”and to do good.” Moreover, “by our interference” in peripheral matters, “we raise questions of prestige which need not have been raised.” Far better to “bring our influence to bear…through the power of the example of our own civilization here at home.” He summed up his testimony by quoting John Quincy Adams’s famous speech of July 4, 1821: “While America stood as ‘the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all,’ she should be ‘the champion and vindicator only of her own.’”12

This carefully argued position does not get adequate attention in Gaddis’s account. Nor, as has been said, does he recount how on February 29, 1968—between the beginning of the Tet Offensive on January 31 and the New Hampshire primary on March 12—Kennan, the originator of the containment doctrine supposedly justifying the Vietnam War, addressed a crowd in Newark, New Jersey. He attacked the war as a “grievously unsound” venture that had invested huge resources in a “single secondary theater of world events.” Escalation threatened nuclear conflict with China or Russia. The gravity of the situation approached “the first months of 1942.” The war was alienating America’s youth and much of the world. Kennan scorned the Johnson administration for forgetting that a country such as ours owed “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” His talk amounted to a devastating critique of the administration’s “grand strategy.”

Kennan finished with a strong endorsement of Eugene McCarthy, who deserved “our admiration, our sympathy, and our support.”13 At first McCarthy’s campaign had seemed a quixotic gesture, notable only for the enthusiasm of its young supporters. That Kennan came out for McCarthy—whose surprisingly high vote in the New Hampshire primary helped persuade Johnson not to run—was a remarkable moment in American political history, and it is hard to understand why Gaddis ignores it.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, with the nuclear arms race seemingly unstoppable, Kennan grew almost frantic about an imminent holocaust. “The only thing I have left in life,” he told Arthur Schlesinger Jr., “is to do everything I can to stop the war.” Appalled at President Ronald Reagan’s ramped-up arms spending and rhetoric about the “evil empire,” Kennan denounced the administration as “ignorant, unintelligent, complacent and arrogant; worse still is the fact that it is frivolous and reckless.” Even after Reagan reversed course and began serious arms reduction negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev, Kennan remained skeptical about the President. Gaddis, for his part, admires Reagan as being “like Franklin D. Roosevelt…an instinctive grand strategist” and finds that Kennan’s “attitude bordered on the outrageous.” Yet at the time, many highly qualified scientists used just such words about Reagan’s insistence on pursuing an impracticable and immensely expensive system of “Star Wars.”

In 1981, when he made his agreement with Gaddis, Kennan wrote that while he thought Gaddis the most qualified historian “so far as the political-intellectual part of the biography is concerned,” he was unsure about Gaddis’s understanding of his personal life. Gaddis responded, rightly, that the personal sphere could not be separated from the political one.14 That Kennan struggled to control his emotions was obvious not only to his biographer but also to other close observers. The Russian expert Charles E. “Chip” Bohlen, who had known Kennan since the early 1930s, remarked that his friend could not always “divorce his visceral feelings from his knowledge of facts.” Another colleague saw him as emotionally fragile: “It was difficult for him to take unpleasant things.” Isaiah Berlin, who was with him in Moscow in 1945, recalled that Kennan “was terribly absorbed—personally involved, somehow—in the terrible nature of the [Stalin] regime.”

Kennan himself “stressed the importance of the psychological dimension” in his life.15 He told Gaddis that “the inner emotional life of any person, as Freud discovered, is a dreadful chaos. We all have vestiges of our animalistic existence in us.” Consequently, “good form,” whether it involved the ceremonies of diplomacy or the constraints of marriage, “is really the thing to live for.” He continued, “‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.’ My God, I’ve coveted ten thousand of them in the course of my life, and will continue to do so into the eighties.” “All that has to be fought with. But the main thing is to try to play your role in a decent way.”16

Gaddis deals with the political implications of Kennan’s personal character in a bifurcated way. By characterizing Kennan as the cool Clausewitzian in 1946–1947, he plays down the sense of frustration that Kennan experienced in Russia—an emotional state that was reflected in his advocacy of containment and helped make the language of the Long Telegram and the “Mr. X” article so eloquent and persuasive. Quite different is the way that Gaddis emphasizes the emotional concerns with war that supposedly marred Kennan’s strategic thinking in the mid-1950s, when he sought negotiations to head off a nuclear confrontation in Europe, and again in the 1970s–1980s, when he sounded the alarm against the feverish nuclear arms race.

Though he captures much of the man’s complexity, Gaddis’s depiction of Kennan is ultimately clipped and flattened. Perhaps the problem is trying to frame within “an American life,” as the subtitle has it, the biography of someone who mused that even his friends did “not know the depth of my estrangement, the depth of my repudiation of the things [the American public] lives by.”17 As compared to the portrait in the biography, the personality revealed in Kennan’s diaries and letters—even the figure who emerges from the transcripts of Gaddis’s interviews—was more irreverent as a collegian, more deeply identified with Russian culture as a fledgling diplomat, more ambivalent about his marriage, more alienated from American life, more inclined to concealment, and more tortured by the limitations of old age. The Kennan of the letters and diaries is far less conventional and more complex and elusive than the person we encounter in Gaddis’s biography.

In his conclusion, Gaddis characterizes Kennan as a teacher, a word that Kennan himself used and that is certainly apt. But Kennan also said he was “a prophet. It was for this that I was born.” Gaddis makes little of this self-description. Prophets are more intense and more given to jeremiads than academic teachers. Kennan, perhaps worrying about Gaddis’s suitability for depicting his character, remarked to him: “People who are a little unusual—the Boheme—they understand me, better than do the regular ones.”18

Distinctly non-Bohemian, it seems fair to say, were both Gaddis and the late Annelise Sørensen Kennan, to whom the biography is dedicated. The author acknowledges that “Annelise had her way with this book.” She urged him to write about the personal as well as the professional side of her husband and to include his lighter moments. She stressed, and Kennan himself acknowledged, that he tended to write in his diary when he was feeling morose, and rarely when he was not. Annelise was by all accounts a strong-minded spouse. They were close and their marriage lasted seventy-three years. Nevertheless, Kennan once “went out of his way to say that she is not a particularly ‘intellectual’ woman.”19 Nor did she always empathize with her husband’s moods and worries. Perhaps as a consequence, he sometimes did not confide in her. When Gaddis asked Annelise what she remembered about the unhappiness with US policy that had spurred Kennan to write the Long Telegram, Annelise reflected. “I don’t know whether I took [the discontent] so entirely seriously…. I don’t think I was aware that he was so frustrated.”20

Kennan turned to other women for solace and to meet other needs. He had, as Gaddis tells us, a series of affairs, flirtations, and fantasies. He wrote sections of the diary, including some entries about other women, in Russian—at one point reminding himself that he had to perfect the art of hiding from his wife nothing but the big things. Annelise held her husband “down to earth.” As Gaddis puts it, she pulled him “to the center.”21

He does the same in this book. Such emphasis on the conventional misses some idiosyncrasies that were important to Kennan’s thinking. The older man once described to Gaddis his habit, going back to childhood, of picking up on seemingly disassociated sights, sounds, and other stimuli and then bringing them together with other elements in his experience to fashion a concept or a connection uniquely his own. Throughout his life he had “read all sorts of mystery and beauty and other things into landscapes and places, and also into music.” He sensed what most other people could not. “Every city that I went to had not only a different atmosphere but a different sort of music and intonation to it…. I was immensely sensitive and responsive to differences in the atmosphere of places.”

In his seventies, Kennan tried to describe this almost painful acuteness. Visiting Stockholm, “something in the light, the sunlight, the late Northern evening suddenly made me aware of…Latvia and Estonia,” not so far away, “and I suddenly was absolutely filled with a sort of nostalgia for…the inner beauty and meaning of that flat Baltic landscape and the waters around it. It meant an enormous amount to me.” He then added, “You can’t explain these things.”22 Gaddis, perhaps understandably, did not try; such reflections do not appear in the biography.

Nonetheless, Kennan’s disclosure helps elucidate a central element of his political thinking: his intuitive yet often incisive and empathic descriptions of the inner worlds of the Russian people and of the Soviet regime—based both on his encyclopedic knowledge about Russia and his imaginative guesswork. To Kennan’s continuing frustration, the isolation of diplomats mandated by Kremlin policy made it impossible to talk intimately with top Soviet officials or most ordinary Russians. Kennan compensated by a mode of thought analogous to his sensing and feeling “the inner beauty and meaning” of the Baltic. Gaddis cites a revealing observation of Kennan by the China expert John Paton Davies:

It was a delight to watch him probe some sphinxlike announcement in Pravda for what might lie within or behind it, recalling some obscure incident in Bolshevik history or a personality conflict within the Party, quoting a passage from Dostoevsky on Russian character, or citing a parallel in Tsarist foreign policy. His subtle intellect swept the range of possibilities like a radar attuned to the unseen.

Kennan was attuned to the seen and the unseen. He would tell audiences, “I can assure you” about some aspect of Soviet belief for which he could have little evidence.23 Kennan’s elegant expression and unparalleled expertise gave him enormous authority, especially when he was warning about the Soviet menace in 1946 and 1947. He was far less influential as the cold war hardened, but still could not be ignored when he argued that it was not necessary to accept appeasement or war as alternatives.

In the fall of 2002, as the Bush administration was gearing up for war against Iraq, Kennan, then ninety-eight, spoke with reporters for the last time. He was in the Washington home of his old ally, former Senator Eugene McCarthy. Castigating the administration’s policy of preemptive war and its intention to oust Saddam Hussein, he warned that “the history of American diplomacy” demonstrated that “war has a momentum of its own and it carries you away from all thoughtful intentions.”24 He appeared sharp and articulate as he sketched out a strategy for the twenty-first century. Playing down the drama and the wisdom of Kennan’s last public statement, Gaddis mentions this incident in only three terse lines. He would have been fairer to his subject if he had taken more account of the view Kennan expressed in these pages in 1999:
This whole tendency to see ourselves as the center of political enlightenment and as teachers to a great part of the rest of the world strikes me as unthought-through, vainglorious, and undesirable. If you think that our life here at home has meritorious aspects worthy of emulation by peoples elsewhere, the best way to recommend them is, as John Quincy Adams maintained, not by preaching at others but by the force of example. I could not agree more.

1 George F. Kennan to Michael J. Lacey, October 11, 1977, Box 15, George F. Kennan papers, Mudd Library, Princeton University. ↩
2 Kennan to Gaddis, April 3, 1984, Box 15, Kennan papers. ↩
3 C. Vann Woodward, "Wild in the Stacks," The New York Review , August 1, 1968. ↩
4 Gaddis, "Kennan and Containment: A Reply," SHAFR Newsletter (1978), copy in Box 15, Kennan papers. The historians were John W. Coogan and Michael H. Hunt. ↩
5 Kennan to Gaddis, April 6, 1978, Box 15, Kennan papers. ↩
6 Kennan to Gaddis, December 1, 1981, Box 15, Kennan papers. ↩
7 See, for instance, Kennan to Gaddis, September 7, 1980, Box 15, Kennan papers. See also Kennan to Gaddis, September 28, 1986, ibid. ↩
8 Kennan diary, May 2, 2000, Box 239, Kennan papers. ↩
9 Hearing before the Committee on Foreign Relations United States Senate, 89th Congress, 2nd session, on S. 2793, February 10, 1966 [hereafter 1966 Senate Hearings], p. 371; Hearing before the Committee on Foreign Relations United States Senate, 90th Congress, 1st session, January 30, 1967 [hereafter 1967 Senate Hearings], p. 46. ↩
10 1967 Senate Hearings, p. 10. ↩
11 1966 Senate Hearings, pp. 338, 384, 334–335. ↩
12 1966 Senate Hearings, pp. 414, 381, 418, 336. ↩
13 Kennan, "Introducing Eugene McCarthy," The New York Review , April 11, 1968. ↩
14 Kennan to Gaddis, December 1, 1981; Gaddis to Kennan, December 14, 1981, Box 15, Kennan papers. ↩
15 Dilworth, interview with Gaddis, December 6, 1987, Box 15, Kennan papers. ↩
16 Kennan, interview with Gaddis, August 25, 1982. ↩
17 Kennan diary, October 21, 1955, Box 233, Kennan papers. ↩
18 Kennan, interview with Gaddis, December 13, 1987, Box 16, Kennan papers. ↩
19 Dilworth, interview with Gaddis, December 6, 1987, Box 15, Kennan papers. ↩
20 Annelise Sorensen Kennan, interview with Gaddis, August 26, 1982, Box 16, Kennan papers. ↩
21 Dilworth, interview with Gaddis, December 6, 1987, Box 15, Kennan papers. ↩
22 Kennan, interview with Gaddis, August 24, 1982, Box 16, Kennan papers. ↩
23 See, for instance, Kennan, "The Background of Current Russian Diplomatic Moves," December 10, 1946, in Measures Short of War , edited by Giles D. Harlow and George C. Maetz (National Defense University Press, 1991), p. 86. ↩
24 Albert Eisele, "George Kennan Speaks Out About Iraq," The Hill , September 26, 2002. ↩

George F. Kennan to Michael J. Lacey, October 11, 1977, Box 15, George F. Kennan papers, Mudd Library, Princeton University. ↩

Kennan to Gaddis, April 3, 1984, Box 15, Kennan papers. ↩

C. Vann Woodward, "Wild in the Stacks," The New York Review , August 1, 1968. ↩

Gaddis, "Kennan and Containment: A Reply," SHAFR Newsletter (1978), copy in Box 15, Kennan papers. The historians were John W. Coogan and Michael H. Hunt. ↩

Kennan to Gaddis, April 6, 1978, Box 15, Kennan papers. ↩

Kennan to Gaddis, December 1, 1981, Box 15, Kennan papers. ↩

See, for instance, Kennan to Gaddis, September 7, 1980, Box 15, Kennan papers. See also Kennan to Gaddis, September 28, 1986, ibid. ↩

Kennan diary, May 2, 2000, Box 239, Kennan papers. ↩

Hearing before the Committee on Foreign Relations United States Senate, 89th Congress, 2nd session, on S. 2793, February 10, 1966 [hereafter 1966 Senate Hearings], p. 371; Hearing before the Committee on Foreign Relations United States Senate, 90th Congress, 1st session, January 30, 1967 [hereafter 1967 Senate Hearings], p. 46. ↩

1967 Senate Hearings, p. 10. ↩

1966 Senate Hearings, pp. 338, 384, 334–335. ↩

1966 Senate Hearings, pp. 414, 381, 418, 336. ↩

Kennan, "Introducing Eugene McCarthy," The New York Review , April 11, 1968. ↩

Kennan to Gaddis, December 1, 1981; Gaddis to Kennan, December 14, 1981, Box 15, Kennan papers. ↩

Dilworth, interview with Gaddis, December 6, 1987, Box 15, Kennan papers. ↩

Kennan, interview with Gaddis, August 25, 1982. ↩

Kennan diary, October 21, 1955, Box 233, Kennan papers. ↩

Kennan, interview with Gaddis, December 13, 1987, Box 16, Kennan papers. ↩

Dilworth, interview with Gaddis, December 6, 1987, Box 15, Kennan papers. ↩

Annelise Sorensen Kennan, interview with Gaddis, August 26, 1982, Box 16, Kennan papers. ↩

Dilworth, interview with Gaddis, December 6, 1987, Box 15, Kennan papers. ↩

Kennan, interview with Gaddis, August 24, 1982, Box 16, Kennan papers. ↩

See, for instance, Kennan, "The Background of Current Russian Diplomatic Moves," December 10, 1946, in Measures Short of War , edited by Giles D. Harlow and George C. Maetz (National Defense University Press, 1991), p. 86. ↩

Albert Eisele, "George Kennan Speaks Out About Iraq," The Hill , September 26, 2002. ↩

Saturday, November 26, 2011

An Excellent Article on "Leveraging Hip Hop in US Foreign Policy"/Public Diplomacy

Leveraging Hip Hop in US Foreign Policy - Garrison, Anthro | Religion | Media: Musings on the intersection of religion, media, culture, and politics...with an emphasis on Islam/Muslims post-9/11.

In April 2010, the US State Department sent a rap group named Chen Lo and The Liberation Family to perform in Damascus, Syria.

Following Chen Lo's performance, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton was asked by CBS News about US diplomacy's recent embrace of hip hop. "Hip hop is America," she said, noting that rap and other musical forms could help "rebuild the image" of the United States. "You know it may be a little bit hopeful, because I can't point to a change in Syrian policy because Chen Lo and the Liberation Family showed up. But I think we have to use every tool at our disposal."

The State Department began using hiphop as a tool in the mid-2000s, when, in the wake of Abu Ghraib and the resurgence of the Taliban, Karen Hughes, then undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, launched an initiative called Rhythm Road. The programme was modelled on the jazz diplomacy initiative of the Cold War era, except that in the "War on Terror", hip hop would play the central role of countering "poor perceptions" of the US.

In 2005, the State Department began sending "hip hop envoys" - rappers, dancers, DJs - to perform and speak in different parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The tours have since covered the broad arc of the Muslim world, with performances taking place in Senegal and Ivory Coast, across North Africa, the Levant and Middle East, and extending to Mongolia, Pakistan and Indonesia.

The artists stage performances and hold workshops; those hip hop ambassadors who are Muslims talk to local media about being Muslim in the US. The tours aim not only to exhibit the integration of American Muslims, but also, according to planners, to promote democracy and foster dissent.

"You have to bet at the end of the day, people will choose freedom over tyranny if they're given a choice," Clinton observed of the State Department's hip hop programme in Syria - stating that cultural diplomacy is a complex game of "multidimensional chess".

"Hip hop can be a chess piece?" asked the interviewer. "Absolutely!" responded the secretary of state.

Much has been said about the role of hip hop in the Arab revolts. French media described [fr] the Arab Spring as le printemps des rappeurs ["The spring of the rappers"]. Time Magazine named Tunisian rapper Hamada Ben Amor (aka El General) - a rapper who was arrested by Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali - as one of the "100 Most Influential People of 2011", ranking him higher than President Barack Obama.

Hip hop revolution

It is true that since protests began in Tunisia in December 2010, rap has provided a soundtrack to the North African revolts. As security forces rampaged in the streets, artists in Tunis, Cairo and Benghazi were writing lyrics and cobbling together protest footage, beats and rhymes, which they then uploaded to proxy servers. These impromptu songs - such as El General's Rais Lebled - were then picked up and broadcast by Al Jazeera, and played at gatherings and solidarity marches in London, New York and Washington.

But the role of music should not be exaggerated: Hip hop did not cause the Arab revolts any more than Twitter or Facebook did. The cross-border spread of popular movements is not a new phenomenon in the Arab world - the uprisings of 1919, which engulfed Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, occurred long before the advent of the internet, social media or rap music.

And the countries in the region with the most vibrant hip hop scenes, Morocco and Algeria, have not seen revolts. Western journalists' focus on hip hop - like their fixation on Facebook and Twitter - seems partly because, in their eyes, a taste for hip hop among young Muslims is a sign of moderation, modernity, even "an embrace of the US".

What is absent from these discussions about rap and the breakdown of Arab authoritarianism is the role that states - in the region and beyond - have played in shaping and directing local hip hop cultures. From deposed Tunisian dictator Ben Ali's mobilisation of hip hop culture against Islamism to the embattled Syrian regime's current support of "pro-stability rappers", to the US government's growing use of hip hop in public diplomacy, counter-terrorism and democracy promotion, regimes are intervening to promote some sub-styles of hip hop, in an attempt to harness the genre towards various political objectives.

The jazz tours of the Cold War saw the US government sent integrated bands led by Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman to various parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East to counter Soviet propaganda about American racial practices, and to get people in other countries to identify with "the American way of life".

The choice of jazz was not simply due to its international appeal. As historian Penny Von Eschen writes in her pioneering book Satchmo Blows Up the World, in the 1950s, the State Department believed that African-American culture could convey "a sense of shared suffering, as well as the conviction that equality could be gained under the American political system" to people who had suffered European colonialism.

Similar thinking underpins the current "hip hop diplomacy" initiatives. The State Department planners who are calling for "the leveraging of hip hop" in US foreign policy emphasise "the importance of Islam to the roots of hip hop in America", and the "pain" and "struggle" that the music expresses.

A Brookings report authored by the programme's architects - titled "Mightier than the Sword: Arts and Culture in the US-Muslim World Relationship" (2008) - notes that hip hop began as "outsiders' protest" against the US system, and now resonates among marginalised Muslim youth worldwide. From the Parisian banlieues to Palestine to Kyrgyzstan, "hip hop reflects struggle against authority" and expresses a "pain" that transcends language barriers.

An ironic choice

Moreover, note the authors, hip hop's pioneers were inner-city Muslims who "carry on an African-American Muslim tradition of protest against authority, most powerfully represented by Malcolm X". The report concludes by calling for a "greater exploitation of this natural connector to the Muslim world".

The choice of hip hop is ironic: The very music blamed for a range of social ills at home - violence, misogyny, consumerism, academic underperformance - is being deployed abroad in the hopes of making the US safer and better-liked. European states have also been disptaching their Muslim hip hop artists to perform in Muslim-majority countries. Long before the fall of the Gaddafi regime, the British Council was organising hip hop workshops in Tripoli, and sponsoring Electric Steps, "Libya's only hip hop band", as a way to promote political reform in that country.

Rap is also being used in de-radicalisation and counter-terrorism initiatives. American and European terrorism experts have expressed concerns over "anti-American hip hop", accenting the radicalising influence of this genre. Others have advocated mobilising certain sub-genres of hip hop against what they call "jihadi cool".

Warning that Osama bin Laden's associate Abu Yahya al-Libi has made al-Qaeda look "cool", one terrorism expert recommends that the US respond "with one of America's coolest exports: hip hop", specifically with a "subgroup" thereof.

"Muslim hip hop is Muslim poetry set to drum beats," explains Jeffrey Halverson in an article titled Rap Is Da Bomb for Defeating Abu Yahya. "Add in the emotional parallels between the plight of African-Americans and, for example, impoverished Algerians living in ghettos outside of Paris or Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and the analogy becomes even clearer."

But it's unclear how "Muslim hip hop" will exert a moderating or democratising influence: Will a performance by an African-American Muslim group trigger a particular calming "effect", pushing young Muslim men away from extremist ideas? Nor is it clear what constitutes "Muslim hip hop": Does the fact that Busta Rhymes is a Sunni Muslim make his music "Islamic"?

Moreover, while references to Islam in hip hop are - as these public diplomacy experts note - legion, they are not necessarily political or flattering. In December 2002, Lil Kim appeared on the cover of OneWorld magazine wearing a burqa and a bikini, saying "F*** Afghanistan".

50 Cent's track "Ghetto Quran" is about dealing drugs and "snitchin'". Foxy Brown charmed some and infuriated others with her song "Hot Spot", saying, "MCs wanna eat me but it's Ramadan."

More disturbing was the video "Hard" released in late 2009 by the diva, Rihanna, in which she appears decked out in military garb, heavily armed and straddling a tank's gun turret in a Middle Eastern war setting. An Arabic tattoo beneath her bronze bra reads, "Freedom Through Christ"; on a wall is the Quranic verse: "We belong to God, and to Him we shall return" - recited to honour the dead, and not an uncommon wall inscription in war-torn Muslim societies.

The point is that not all Islam-alluding hip hop resonates with Muslim youth. Those hip hop stars - Lupe Fiasco, Mos Def, Rakim - who are beloved among Muslim youth are appreciated because they work their Muslim identity into their art and because they forthrightly criticise US foreign policy.

At the recent BET hip hop Awards, Lupe Fiasco performed his hit "Words I Never Said", with a Palestinian flag draped over his mic. ("Gaza Strip was getting burned; Obama didn't say sh**," he rapped.) But neither Lupe nor Mos are likely to be invited on a State Department tour.

For State Department officials, the hip hop initiatives in Muslim-majority states showcase the diversity and integration of post-civil rights America. The multi-hued hip hop acts sent overseas represent a post-racial or post-racist American dream, and exhibit the achievements of the civil rights movement, a uniquely American moment that others can learn from.

But it's unclear how persuasive this racialised imagery is. Muslims do not resent the US for its lack of diversity. Where perceptions are poor, it is because of foreign policy, as well as, increasingly, domestic policies that target Muslims.

Perhaps the greatest irony of the State Department's efforts to showcase the model integration of US Muslims, and to deploy the moral and symbolic capital of the civil rights movement, is that these tours - as with the jazz tours - are occurring against a backdrop of unfavourable (and racialised) media images of Quran burnings, anti-mosque rallies and anti-sharia campaigns, as one of the most alarming waves of nativism in recent US history surges northward.

US diplomacy's embrace of hip hop as a foreign policy tool has sparked a heated debate, among artists and aficionados worldwide, over the purpose of hip hop: whether hip hop is "protest music" or "party music"; whether it is the "soundtrack to the struggle" or to American unipolarity; and what it means now that states - not just corporations - have entered the hip hop game.

Hip hop activists have long been concerned about how to protect their music from corporate power, but now that the music is being used in diplomacy and counterterrorism, the conversation is shifting.

The immensely popular "underground" British rapper Lowkey (Kareem Denis) recently articulated the question on many minds: "Hip hop at its best has exposed power, challenged power, it hasn't served power. When the US government loves the same rappers you love, whose interests are those rappers serving?"

Thursday, November 24, 2011

More on US Laos Rapper-Astronomer-Ambassador in Action: She's "on a high" Performing US Public Diplomacy

“Jay-Z she is not, but when the U.S. ambassador to Laos [Karen Stewart, a.k.a. MC Karen] took the stage at a music festival in the Laotian capital of Vientiane the other day she decided to try a

medium not usually employed in diplomacy: She rapped. In Lao. ... The festival also included a graffiti art competition on the theme ‘fake drugs.’ ... Stewart described the experience ... [:] 'After my rap, I was kind of on a high.'”

--Kirit Radia, “US Ambassador, a.k.a. MC Karen, Raps in Lao,” ABC News [includes video on the ambassador, who is also an astronomer]. For more on this event, see.

On astronomers, here's, in a somewhat different context, Walt Whitman: "When I sitting heard the astronomer ... how soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself, In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars."  

A Foreign Service officer whom I hold in high regard evaluated MC Karen's performance as follows: "Reverse colonialism/ugly Americanism at its worst."

Image from, with caption: Here I  [MC Karen] am signing a hat for my rap partner-in-crime, MC Loko.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Interview with US Diplomat Peter Van Buren: Wisdom for American Public Diplomacy

EXCLUSIVE! JB e-mail interview with US diplomat Peter Van Buren, author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (2011); a review of the book at;  Van Burens' blog at

Why did you join the Foreign Service?

I started the process of joining the FS in the mid-1980's. Out of grad school I received a scholarship to spend two years in Japan. I learned Japanese and found living abroad more interesting than living in central Ohio, and wanted to stay. Even though that time was the “Japan boom,” when Japan was to be Number One and crush the US, companies wanted people who both spoke Japanese and had some sort of business degree. That closed that door, as my MA was in Education. I looked into the military but decided I was just not the martial type. I read about the Foreign Service, passed the test at the Consulate in Osaka and wandered into work as an Foreign Service officer. To be honest, I was not entirely sure what the job was all about, but I knew it would keep me abroad, and, selected into the Consular cone, it seemed like I'd be helping people.

Why did you elect to go to Iraq?

The first 15 years or so of my career were great, exactly what I had hoped for. I enjoyed Consular work, particularly helping American citizens. As I say in my book, We Meant Well, this was the benign side of the American Empire, the ability and willingness to help our own people anywhere in the world. I was pleased and amazed to know that our government cared enough about its own citizens that we'd extend help to the most broken-down drug dealer arrested in Outer Carjackistan pretty much same as we did when Bill Gates lost his passport in Tokyo once. We were probably more polite to Bill and we did keep the office open an hour late to accommodate him, but you get the idea.

Fast forward to 2009. A series of bad assignment choices had landed me in Washington, bored with my job and bored with life in America. At the same time, my oldest daughter had chosen an expensive private college and a few extra bucks were needed. The confluence of a bunch of State Department inside-baseball stuff-- hitting my five year limit on this domestic assignment, being a hardship post Fair Share candidate and looking unenthusiastically at my chances for entering the Senior Foreign Service-- all pointed in one direction. I joke it was the nexus of terrorism and tuition in the book. So, I volunteered for any PRT in Iraq or Afghanistan (Pakistan was not on the go-to list at that time). I'll admit a smidgen of sense of duty and a dollop of curiosity about the wars as well. I was certainly not a True Believer nor entirely happy about the danger and time away from my family, but had crossed those bridges with the Foreign Service ethic years before. Iraq/Afghan service was, in my mind, a lot like the rest of the Foreign Service life, only more so.

Why do you think the U.S. invaded Iraq? Was it a wise decision?

That said, personally I opposed the war in Iraq and believed it to be a really stupid decision by the US, a pointless waste of lives, money and American prestige. My concerns very much mirrored the list you John created when you resigned [1], albeit far less well-articulated. I never considered resignation; my head was still then very much in the space of “I do Consular work” about as far from “politics” as I could be in a Cabinet agency like the State Department. I always characterized my work as separate from what the POL and ECON sections upstairs at the Embassy did. While they were worried about US military bases in Japan, I was worried about individual passports. I was comfortable with that, seeing it as a positive thing, not a “I'm not as good as the real diplomats thing” that can plague some Consular officers.

This may have been why what I saw in Iraq so shocked me. I was very unused to the, well, disingenuous chatter that seems to me now in retrospect to characterize much of what the non-Consular parts of State do on a daily basis. I had this, perhaps naive, very practical conception of our work. Consular at its best is about real problem solving: mentally ill American Citizen in the lobby, what are you gonna do? Faced with someone shouting incoherently and undressing in your waiting area, there is no room for a carefully conceived statement of concern, cleared by 18 offices over a three week period. You actually have to do something. In this sense, I was really, really the wrong guy to send into Iraq.

If, as your book suggests, you were so disillusioned with (and during) your tour in Iraq, why did you stay on as you did? Did you consider leaving the Foreign Service while serving on a Provincial Reconstruction Team in that country?

Like the stages of grief, I went through each in turn in Iraq. My initial mindset was to just keep on doing at my PRT whatever was already in progress, slide through my generous home leaves and get through my year as easily as possible. That plan, like any in warfare, lasted only until first contact. Almost from day one, as I recount in my book, I encountered fraud, waste and, well, stupidity. It was obvious to anyone that what we were doing made no sense, spending crazy amounts of money on obviously unconnected, feel good projects without much guidance. Disbelief and then denial as my boss, his boss and eventually the DCM in Baghdad told me that that was pretty much what the PRT program was about, albeit in nice words. I then tried living with Denial, the idea that if so little was expected of me, I could deliver that-- striving for mediocrity and often achieving it. No one before me had seen this PRT thing as a practical problem to resolve but instead simply as a time-space to fill until one's tour was over and one could go on to a sunny favored assignment somewhere better.

Most State PRT people I met saw it that way, agreeing (very) privately it made no sense but stating (very) publicly that it was not our problem to solve, just our job to carry out. It was, I came to understand, the ultimate expression of the gray man philosophy that haunts State-- our job is to drone-like carry out orders. Thinking gets you into trouble, speaking about problems dooms your career as a “troublemaker.”

My motives for going to Iraq remained what they were, however impure. I still needed the money, still needed to reset my five year timer in Washington with another kid in high school and all that, so I stayed in Iraq. I briefly tried to influence the projects my PRT did (failed), tried to get on the team and happily sign off on things (failed), tried to convince my boss that what we were doing was not accomplishing anything for Iraq (failed) and by that time, I was two months away from the end of my year. So I never really thought about quitting.

Since all that has happened with the book, people ask why I do not resign. My answer is that I have no reason to do so. I wrote a book documenting what I saw in Iraq. I am certain that had you followed me around for a year you would have seen and heard what I wrote down. I see what I did as documentary, not necessarily dissent per se. In that what I saw and wrote deviates from what State's vision of Iraq is is I guess the issue. I note that no one, not a single person in the USG nor any reviewer, has contested anything in the book. No one has said, hey, that story about the chicken plant is wrong, or incomplete or made up. No one, nothing. All of the attacks, the criticism, has been ad hominem attacks against me as a person. State people say I should not air dirty laundry, or I should use the dissent channel, or I should have been more respectful in my language, less sarcastic in tone like a “diplomat” should be, I should have done this or that. But no one has challenged the content, and that is because they really can't. It is all true.

So why should I have quit? Why should I resign? I just wrote a book. Instead, I'd like to get back to work. The languages I speak, the skills I have, the experience I developed over 23 years has not changed. It is more like I have failed some ideological test.

Reports are that you lost your security clearance at the State Department. Why? What is your current role at the Department?

Ostensibly my security clearance was suspended because I linked to a Wikileaks document on my blog in August at, but it seems to me it has more to do with the book than that single blog post.

As I write this, my security clearance is still “temporarily suspended” and I am still on “admin leave” for over 40 days. I am prohibited in writing from entering any State Department facility. Human Resources physically took away my badge. I am paid because Foreign Service rules require that for Foreign Service officers (but not if I was a civil servant in similar circumstances) but otherwise the Department has essentially “disappeared” me. I belong to no office, cannot enter any building and might as well have a scarlet A carved into my forehead. I feel no shame over this (maybe some disappointment, some bitterness) and have openly discussed my situation on my blog at. I believe in sunshine as the best cure for bureaucracy, and so have posted most of the documents connected with my situation and keep things updated as to my status.

Does the State Department, in your view, need to be reformed? If so, how?

Yes. The reforms needed are pretty much covered in my next answer.

Would you advise young -- and not so young -- people to join the US Foreign Service?

Before getting dumped into admin leave limbo, my position was at the Board of Examiners, where for over a year since returning from Iraq I administered the Oral Exam and helped choose the next generation of Foreign Service officers. I was competent at the task, got a good performance review and, after a year on the job, it was only after my book came out that State decided I could not work there.

So, I spent a lot of time around people interested in a Foreign Service career. They did not ask for advice and at the Board we did not offer it. However, since my book came out and I have gotten some media attention, ironically more people now approach me with your same question about joining the Foreign Service. Too much irony these days.

What I tell them is this: think very, very carefully about a Foreign Service career. The State Department is looking for a very specific kind of person and if you are that person, you will enjoy your career and be successful. I have come to understand that the Department wants smart people who will do what they are told, believing that intelligence can be divorced from innovation and creativity. Happy, content compliance is a necessary trait. The Department will not give you any real opportunity for input for a very long time, years, if ever. Even Consular work, which used to offer some space, now has fallen victim to standardization as posts must conform web sites to a single model, for example. There is no agreed-upon definition of success or even progress at State, no profits, no battles won, no stock prices to measure. Success will be to simply continue to exist, or whatever your boss says it is, or both, or neither. You may never know what the point is other than a Congressional delegation go away “happy,” whatever that even is.

At the same time, State has created a personnel system that will require you to serve in more and more dangerous places, and more and more unaccompanied places, as a routine. That sounds cool and adventurous at age 25, but try and imagine if you'd still be happy with it at age 45 with a spouse and two kids. What are your core obligations with a child who needs some extreme parenting as you leave your wife at home alone with him for a year?

Understand that promotions and assignments are more and more opaque. Changes in Congress will further limit pay and benefits. Your spouse will be un/under employed most of his/her life. Your kids will change schools for better or worse every one, two or three years. Some schools will be good, some not so good, and you'll have no choice unless you are willing to subvert your career choices to school choices, as in let’s go to Bogota because the schools are good even if the assignment otherwise stinks. You'll serve more places where you won't speak the language and get less training as requirements grow without personnel growth. As you get up there, remember your boss can arbitrarily be a used car salesman who donated big to the President's campaign. Make sure all these conditions make sense to you now, and, if you can, as you imagine yourself 10, 15 and 20 years into the future. It is a very unique person who can say “Yes” truthfully and after real soul-searching.

According to the Washington Post (“State Department readies Iraq operation, its biggest since Marshall Plan), the Department will be in charge of 16,000 civilians dispatched to Iraq “to take over Iraq operations from the U.S. military."  What advice would you give these civilians?

Think carefully about accepting your assignment.

Security post-military withdrawal is a huge unknown. Will civil war restart in Iraq? Will Sadr, et al, target the Embassy? Will State's mercenary army of contractors work out? If you are injured, where in Iraq will you get care past simple first aid? Where will the blood supply come from, the burn unit, the class A trauma care? Quite literally, will you live through your assignment or will you die in place as a symbol of State's “commitment?” Be sure to read my most recent piece on The Huffington Post at.

What will you do there? If you are just going to punch a ticket and/or maybe make money, this may not matter. Otherwise, how will you feel about perhaps never/rarely leaving the compound? Meeting only with select members of the Iraqi government? In fact, what will 16,000 people really do? Is there that much work in Iraq, more than in Beijing, Tokyo, London or wherever? How much busy-work are you comfortable with for a year?

If you work in Management or Diplomatic Security, will you be content as largely a contract manager? Do you conceive your role as primarily making sure contractors do their jobs? Are you comfortable when the Inspector General comes looking a few years from now with the things you'll be required to sign off on?

Are you happy with the rewards versus the costs? With Iraq, Afghan and Pakistan service becoming the norm, there are no more automatic promotions, far fewer magic assignments from Baghdad to Paris, little to no corridor reputation credibility left. Talk with your colleagues if they'll talk about the rampant drinking on compounds, the infidelity, the mental health costs.

Make sure the juice is worth the squeeze before you accept that assignment to Iraq.

And finally, a more general question: What is your vision of the global role of the United States in the 21st century?

The U.S. will face a continued stagnation on the world stage. When we, perhaps semi-consciously, made a decision to accept an Empire role after World War II, we never build the tools of Empire. No colonial service, no securing of critical resources, no carrot and sticks. We sort of settled on a military-only model of soft occupation. We made few friends or allies, accepting reluctant partners. As changes take place in the developing world, the most likely American people there encounter now wears a uniform and carries a weapon. By ideologicizing every challenge from Communism to the entire religion of Islam, we have assured ourselves of never really winning any struggle.

America faced a choice and blew it. As an Empire, we either needed to take control of the world's oil or create a more equitable and less martial global society to ensure our access to it. We did neither. We needed either to create a colonial system for adventures like Iraq or Afghanistan along the Victorian model, or not try to invade and rebuild those places. We did neither.

Simply pouring more and more lives and money into the military is a one way street going in the wrong direction. We can keep spending, but when millions of dollars spent on weapons can be deflected by terror acts that cost nothing, we will lose. When any hearts and minds efforts are derailed by yet another excused collateral damage episode, we will lose.

For most of the next century, America still has a big enough military that our “decline” will be slow, bloody and reluctant. But, inevitable nonetheless.

[1] See (JB footnote)

Response to yet another unbearable "Barack" ad

JB response to the below:

"Another obscene ad. Get your act together or we'll occupy you!"

5:10 PM
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Hide details John BrownTo info@barackobama.com
From: John Brown (johnhbrown30@hotmail.com)
Sent: Tue 11/22/11 5:10 PM
To: info@barackobama.com
Date: Tue, 22 Nov 2011 12:07:07 -0500
To: johnhbrown30@hotmail.com
From: info@barackobama.com
Subject: You and a guest

John --

A few Thursdays ago, I had dinner with four Americans named Ken, Casey, Juanita, and Wendi -- the winners of the campaign's first Dinner with Barack contest.

I loved getting to know each of them.

We're taking names for the next dinner starting now, and this time I want to add a new feature: If you win, you can bring a guest.

Chip in $3 or more today to be automatically entered to win a spot for you and a guest at the next dinner.

The folks who this election is all about tend to fall under the radar of the D.C. pundits and traditional news media.

They're people like Juanita, who helped put her three sons through college on a teacher's salary while saving what she could for retirement.

Like Ken, a single dad who stood by his mother as she fought insurance companies while battling two forms of cancer.

They're like Casey, whose three young kids may not yet appreciate what courage it took for their dad to take a chance and start his own business.

And Wendi, an artist and third-generation teacher who canvassed, marched, and phone banked in Indiana in 2008, the year her home state defied the traditional electoral map.

These people weren't just there for themselves -- they were representing you, this movement, and the folks I go to work for every day as president.

These dinners are important to me because I want to spend time whenever I can with the people who sent me here. They're proving wrong the conventional wisdom that says campaigns should cater to Washington lobbyists and powerful interests. And they're an important reminder that this movement -- and my presidency -- have never just been about me.

I'm proud that we're choosing to run the kind of campaign where a dinner like this isn't just possible, it's a regular thing. And next time, I don't just want to meet you -- I want to meet someone else in your life.

Donate $3 or more, and start thinking about who you'll invite to dinner:


Thanks for being part of this,


American Public Diplomacy at Its Most Vulgar

Vientiane: US Ambassador Stewart Raps at StreetWave05 (VIDEO)

See also (1) and (2). For a more positive coverage of the Stewart Rap, see.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Saturday, November 19, 2011

American Nations by Colin Woodard

‘American Nations’ by Colin Woodard, a study of our ‘rival regional cultures’
By Alec MacGillis, Published: Washington Post, November 18

The day after the 2008 election, a remarkable map began making the rounds online. It showed the counties where John McCain had won more of the vote than George W. Bush had in his victory four years earlier. It was a nearly contiguous swath of the country, stretching from southwestern Pennsylvania through Appalachia, west across the upland South and into Oklahoma and north-central Texas.

Presumably, something other than a singular affection for the latest Republican presidential candidate had allowed McCain to outperform Bush in this neck of the woods. But still, why this exact outline of the anti-Obama vote? What was behind it?

These sorts of questions may be easier to answer after reading Colin Woodard’s “American Nations,” a compelling and informative attempt to make sense of the regional divides in North America in general and this country in particular. This may seem like well-marked territory — Joel Garreau’s “The Nine Nations of North America” (1981) is only one of many studies of what came to be simplified as the country’s red-blue split. But Woodard sets his political geography apart by delving deep into history, building on the insights of David Hackett Fischer’s “Albion’s Seed,” a 1989 analysis of the four “British folkways” in America, to demonstrate that trends in contemporary political behavior can be traced back to well before the country’s founding. Woodard provides a bracing corrective to an accepted national narrative that too often overlooks regional variations to tell a simpler and more reassuring story.

As Woodard sees it, the continent has long been divided into 11 rival regional “nations” determined by centuries-old settlement patterns. Yankeedom stretches from the Puritans’ New England to the land settled by their descendants in Upstate New York and the upper Midwest. New Netherland is Greater New York City, more interested in making money than in Yankee moralizing.

The Midlands stretch from once-Quaker Philadelphia across the heart of the Midwest — German-dominated, open-minded and less inclined toward activist government than Yankeedom. Cavalier-founded Tidewater once ruled supreme but was hemmed in and saw its clout fade.

The Deep South stretches to East Texas, long in tension but less so now with the Borderlanders, the feisty, individualistic Scots-Irish who scorned both the community-minded Yankees and the aristocrats of the Tidewater and the Deep South. The Borderlanders’ domain spans Appalachia, the southern Midwest and the upland South — the McCain stronghold described above.

Predating all these are First Nation, Canada’s indigenous north; New France, based in what is now Quebec, whose liberalism traces to the first fur traders; and El Norte, the territory straddling the Mexican border that was once a region unto itself (of colonial Mexico). Settled last were the interior Far West and the Left Coast, the latter a mix of the idealism of the Yankees who tried to settle it and the individualism of gold-seeking Borderlanders.

These nations looked different from the start: Where Yankeedom had countless towns, Tidewater had barely any — planters simply delivered supplies to their estates up the Chesapeake’s tributaries. The nations mistrusted each other deeply. And they often resorted to arms — the book reminds us of long-forgotten conflicts such as the Paxton Boys’ Borderlander assault on Midlander Philadelphia in 1764 and the Yankee-Pennamite wars in northern Pennsylvania in the late 18th century.

In Woodard’s retelling, the country was unified in spite of itself. The Revolutionary War was a true insurgency only in Yankeedom; meanwhile, New Netherland became a Loyalist refuge, the pacifist-minded Midlanders lay low, the Deep Southern planters calculated how best to preserve (and expand) their slave economy, the Tidewater split into two camps, and the Borderlanders wrestled over whom they hated more — the British or the coastal elites oppressing them.

The new Constitution hardly sealed things tight. The Borderlanders waged the Whiskey Rebellion and made an aborted attempt to create their own state of Franklin, while Yankeedom grew so alarmed over the shift in power to the Tidewater that it nearly demanded a renegotiation of the Constitution in 1814.

The Civil War also started in Yankeedom, with its moralizing abolitionists. It was only thanks to a late shift by Midlander voters that Abraham Lincoln was elected. It was only after the secessionists fired on Fort Sumter that New Netherland, the Midlands and Borderlanders rallied to Yankeedom’s side. And the war that saved the union only exacerbated some divides — for one thing, Reconstruction broadened the Yankee-Borderlander split.

“Since 1877, the driving force in American politics hasn’t primarily been a class struggle or tension between agrarian and commercial interests, or even between competing partisan ideologies, although each has played a role,” Woodard writes. “Ultimately, the determinative political struggle has been a clash between shifting coalitions of ethnoregional nations, one invariably headed by the Deep South, the other by Yankeedom.”

Throughout, Woodard sprinkles nuggets that make the country’s current divides seem more explicable. Blue-staters unsettled by Rick Perry’s “day of prayer” should know that, in 1801, some 20,000 Borderlanders gathered in Cane Ridge, Ky., for a Christian revival where “hundreds fell prostrate under the mighty power of God, as men slain in battle.” Red-staters who suspect coastal Yankees of viewing the interior as a foreign country will be amused to know that one group of New Englanders sailing down the Ohio River to settle (and civilize) the Midwest called their ship “Mayflower of the West.” Anyone who thinks culture-war rhetoric is unique to our times should know that George Fitzhugh, a strongly pro-slavery Virginian, cast the Civil War as a clash between “Christians and infidels . . . the chaste and the libidinous; between marriage and free love.”

In any synthesis as sweeping as this, there are bound to be holes. Woodard skirts some inconvenient facts (for instance, New York became the commercial capital not only because of its Dutch roots, but because of the Erie Canal). He addresses the most obvious counterargument to his thesis, that regional cultures could hardly have held static in a land of immigrants and high mobility — arguing fairly persuasively that new arrivals adapted more to the cultures they found than vice versa — but he does not reckon with some major population shifts, such as the Great Migration of blacks to the North.

When his timeline reaches the late 20th century, the distinctions among his many nations blur into a more general blue-red divide. And while he is appealingly acerbic in characterizing the nations’ flaws, including Yankee priggishness, Woodard, a proud Mainer, comes down far hardest on the Deep South. Readers will differ on whether that’s merited.

Woodard concludes on a pessimistic note, wondering whether the bonds among his nations can hold. (He provocatively suggests that Canada has found the answer by accepting its binational, bilingual status.) I would have liked to see him wrestle with this question a bit more than he does. It’s easy to conclude from his tale that the country must resort to a more loosely federalist structure, devolving more power to the states, but is that really what Woodard wants?

Does the poor, uninsured family in East Texas have to accept its fate, just because it lives in “Deep South Nation”? Or is it part of what defines America to have Yankeedom meddling from beyond, despite the resentment of local elites? It is an age-old clash of values that “American Nations” captures well.

Alec MacGillis is a senior editor at the New Republic.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Putin/Medvedev - Hoover/Tolson: Viva Male Bonding?

As a Russophile -- not to speak of being an Americanophile as well -- I cannot help but wonder about parallels between the Putin/Medvedev political ménage à deux

and the Hoover/Tolson relationship, both intimate rapports that evidently (if one trusts the press) go beyond the public sphere. The boss for decades of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI"), Edgar J. Hoover (deceased) studied law at George Washington University. He was the A+ G-man, just as Putin (still living) was KGB "at its best" in the good old days of a Soviet "empire."

Law-educated Clyde Tolson was Hoover's no. 2 man for innumerable years. Medvedev, also trained in law, is Putin's numero duo; Putin studied law in then-Leningrad. It should also be noted that

Putin, like

Hoover, has acquired the sympathy of the popolo minuto for being a macho man who's "tough on crime."

Of course, nothing wrong with male bonding, in Russia or the United States, so long as it does not interfere with our civil rights, both in the USA and the Russian Federation.

Top image from; middle images from and from; below image from

P.S. Please note "WikiLeaks cables: Dmitry Medvedev 'plays Robin to Putin's Batman'

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Poète et non honnête homme


"Apart from writing the classics of modern literature that made him the toast of Paris, Rimbaud had found time to seduce Paul Verlaine away from wife and child and torture him to the point of attempted murder, had brawled, idled, smoked hashish, drunk absinthe, been arrested, wandered across Europe, wallowed in the violent excesses of the Commune, enlisted in and deserted from the Carlist army, and renounced literature.

He also learnt to play the piano."

--Nigel Barley, The Times Literary Supplement (November 11, 2011), p. 7

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review of Peter Van Buren's book "We Meant Well," an illustration of a failure of US public diplomacy

We Meant Well Reviewed by John H. Brown, American Diplomacy (October 19, 2011)

Peter Van Buren, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, New York Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Company, 2011 ISBN-13: 978-0-8050-9436-7 Hardback, 288 pp. $25

State Department twenty-three-year veteran Peter Van Buren served in Iraq for twelve months in 2009 “as part of the civilian Surge deployed to backstop the manlier military one.” (1) He worked in an embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team (ePRT) on a Forward Operating Base (FOB). His first FOB, Hammer, was in the desert, halfway between Baghdad and Iran. His second, FOB Falcon, was located south of the capital. His duties were “to meet with Iraqis, hand them money for the projects we hoped would spring up, and then assess the results of our spending.”

In 2009 and 2010, Van Buren points out, suicide caused more deaths among the U.S. military than combat. While often depressed during his tour and missing his family “terribly,” the very rational Van Buren opted, thank God, for staying alive, keeping sane by scrupulously observing the situation around him. The result is this black-humor book, personal and often very funny, which recounts, from an “on the ground” perspective, the pathetic and tragic American attempt to remake the cradle of civilization.

In snappy, brief chapters (titles: “Help Wanted, No Experience Necessary,” “Haircuts and Prostitution,” “Chicken Shit”), Van Buren provides numerous examples of waste, lack of coordination among U.S. government agencies, overpaid contractors (some earning $250,000 a year), and unqualified “experts” coming to Iraq knowing little about the country. Among the projects taxpayers paid for was an effort — pure theater of the absurd — to provide Iraqi widows with fifteen beekeeping sets at the cost of just under $25,000. But “widows were not as keen to keep bees as we thought, showing roughly the same enthusiasm as they had for short skirts.” So, Van Buren notes, “we did not have any extra widows to give the stuff to.”

But forget about widows and bees. What really mattered for Americans dumped by the USG in Iraq was how well their pet reconstruction projects (such as $2.58 million for a chicken-processing plant in Iraq that led nowhere) could be hyped to please higher-ups as well attract media attention. Van Buren:

How many PTR staff members does it take to screw in a light bulb? One to hire a contractor who fails to complete the job and two to write the press release in the dark. We measured the impact of our projects on us, not by their effects on the Iraqis.
Of the many boondoggles witnessed by Van Buren is the Vatican-city-sized American Embassy in Baghdad and its staff (“male, pale, and Yale ... their work involved staying in the Embassy and sending important memos”). In one of many passages making one laugh in order not to groan, he describes efforts by the U.S. ambassador to have a grass lawn in front of the main Embassy building in the heavily protected “Green Zone,” a world apart from the dangerous “Red Zone” outside the compound, where the dreaded “bad guys” lurked.

No one dared to admit the cost of this exercise in herbaceous futility, which included sod to be brought from Kuwait delivered to the Embassy by armored convoy. But the project reportedly required expenditures of between two and five million dollars. “The grass,” Van Buren notes, “was the perfect allegory for the whole war.”

Despite all the grass we grew, our “meaning well” in Iraq by no means resulted in universal love toward the US occupiers. “I remember”, writes Van Buren, “when we tried to give away fruit tree seedlings a farmer spat on the ground and said: ‘You killed my son and now you are giving me a tree?’”

Van Buren does cite rare projects that resulted in some local good will, such as organizing a 4-H club in Mahmudiyah, which “set down tender, delicious roots.” But the battle to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people ended mostly in defeat. Indeed, Van Buren learned, Iraqis nostalgically preferred the colonial British to the PRT Americans. Under Mesopotamian eyes (and, evidently, Van Buren’s own as well), the British “conquered the world with good administrators. Their officers were highly educated, committed, conscientious, hardworking, and conversant in the local language — regular Flashman in the Great Game characters.”

Despite all his self-deprecating humor, the above quotation suggests there is something of a Victorian noblesse oblige in the intelligent and sensitive Peter Van Buren. This attitude is, perhaps, an understandable reaction to the crudity and parochialism of many of his American military and civilian colleagues as he depicts them. It also could have stemmed from his evident lack of trust in, and enthusiasm about, the tribal nature of Iraqi society (about which he knew little, he readily admits). Local sheiks, to him, were little more than thugs with whom he had no choice but to do business in order to appear to be getting things done, no matter how absurd they were.

The State Department, The Washington Post reports, “is racing against an end-of-year deadline to take over Iraq operations from the U.S. military.” (2) If the 16,000 civilians taking part in this massive initiative wish to prevent their assignments from being doomed to failure, I suggest they place Peter Van Buren’s unsettling “lessons learned” book very high on their reading list.

(1) Full disclosure: I was one three US diplomats who left our Foreign Service in opposition to the planned war in Iraq. Full text of my unanswered email to Secretary of State Colin Powell regarding my decision at: http://www.commondreams.org/views03/0312-11.htm. See also http://www.afsa.org/fsj/sept03/brown.pdf

(2) Mary Beth Sheridan and Dan Zak, “State Department readies Iraq operation, its biggest since Marshall Plan,” Washington Post (October 7, 2011) http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/state-department-readies-iraq-operation-its-biggest-since-marshall-plan/2011/10/05/gIQAzRruTL_print.html

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Age of Kennan

November 10, 2011
The Age of KennanBy HENRY A. KISSINGER

Review of:
An American Life
by John Lewis Gaddis

Illustrated. 784 pp. The Penguin Press. $39.95.

While writing this essay, I asked several young men and women what George F. Kennan meant to them. As it turned out, nearly all were essentially oblivious of the man or his role in shaping American foreign policy. Yet Kennan had fashioned the concept of containment in the name of which the cold war was conducted and won and almost concurrently had also expressed some of the most trenchant criticism of the way his own theory was being implemented. To the present generation, Kennan has receded into a vague past as has their parents’ struggle to bring forth a new international order amid the awesome, unprecedented power of nuclear weapons.

For the surviving participants in the emotions of that period, this state of affairs inspires melancholy reflections about the relevance of history in the age of the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle. Fortunately, John Lewis Gaddis, a distinguished professor of history and strategy at Yale, has brought again to life the dilemmas and aspirations of those pivotal decades of the mid-20th century. His magisterial work, “George F. Kennan: An American Life,” bids fair to be as close to the final word as possible on one of the most important, complex, moving, challenging and exasperating American public servants. The reader should know that for the past decade, I have occasionally met with the students of the Grand Strategy seminar John Gaddis conducts at Yale and that we encounter each other on social occasions from time to time. But Gaddis’s work is seminal and beyond personal relationships.

George Kennan’s thought suffused American foreign policy on both sides of the intellectual and ideological dividing lines for nearly half a century. Yet the highest position he ever held was ambassador to Moscow for five months in 1952 and to Yugoslavia for two years in the early 1960s. In Washington, he never rose above director of policy planning at the State Department, a position he occupied from 1947 to 1950. Yet his precepts helped shape both the foreign policy of the cold war as well as the arguments of its opponents after he renounced — early on — the application of his maxims.

A brilliant analyst of long-term trends and a singularly gifted prose stylist, Kennan, as a relatively junior Foreign Service officer, served in the entourages of Secretaries of State George C. Marshall and Dean Acheson. His fluency in German and Russian, as well as his knowledge of those countries’ histories and literary traditions, combined with a commanding, if contradictory, personality. Kennan was austere yet could also be convivial, playing his guitar at embassy events; pious but given to love affairs (in the management of which he later instructed his son in writing); endlessly introspective and ultimately remote. He was, a critic once charged, “an impressionist, a poet, not an earthling.”

For all these qualities — and perhaps because of them — Kennan was never vouchsafed the opportunity actually to execute his sensitive and farsighted visions at the highest levels of government. And he blighted his career in government by a tendency to recoil from the implications of his own views. The debate in America between idealism and realism, which continues to this day, played itself out inside Kennan’s soul. Though he often expressed doubt about the ability of his fellow Americans to grasp the complexity of his perceptions, he also reflected in his own person a very American ambivalence about the nature and purpose of foreign policy.

When his analytical brilliance was rewarded with ambassadorial appointments, to the Soviet Union and then to Yugoslavia, Kennan self-destructed while disregarding his own precepts. The author of trenchant analyses of Soviet morbid sensitivity to slights and of the Kremlin’s penchant for parsing every word of American diplomats, he torpedoed his Moscow mission after just a few months. Offended by the constrictions of everyday living in Stalin’s Moscow, Kennan compared his hosts to Nazi Germany in an offhand comment to a journalist at Tempelhof airport in Berlin. As a result, he was declared persona non grata — the only American ambassador to Russia to suffer this fate. Similarly, in Belgrade a decade later, Kennan reacted to Tito’s affirmation of neutrality on the issue of the Soviet threat to Berlin as if it were a personal slight. Yet Tito’s was precisely the kind of neutralist balancing act Kennan had brilliantly analyzed when it had been directed against the Soviet Union. Shortly afterward, Kennan resigned.

Nonetheless, no other Foreign Service officer ever shaped American foreign policy so decisively or did so much to define the broader public debate over America’s world role. This process began with two documents remembered as the Long Telegram (in 1946) and the X article (in 1947). At this stage, Kennan served a country that had not yet learned the distinction between the conversion and the evolution of an adversary — if indeed it ever will. Conversion entails inducing an adversary to break with its past in one comprehensive act or gesture. Evolution involves a gradual process, a willingness to pursue one’s ultimate foreign policy goal in imperfect stages.

America had conducted its wartime diplomacy on the premise that Stalin had abandoned Soviet history. The dominant view in policy-making circles was that Moscow had embraced peaceful coexistence with the United States and would adjust differences that might arise by quasi-legal or diplomatic processes. At the apex of that international order would be the newly formed United Nations. The United States, the Soviet Union and Great Britain were to be the joint guardians. (China and France were later additions.)

Kennan had rejected the proposition of an inherent American-Soviet harmony from the moment it was put forward and repeatedly criticized what he considered Washington’s excessively accommodating stance on Soviet territorial advances. In February 1946, the United States Embassy in Moscow received a query from Washington as to whether a doctrinaire speech by Stalin inaugurated a change in the Soviet commitment to a harmonious international order. The ambassador was away, and Kennan, at that time 42 and deputy chief of mission, replied in a five-part telegram of 19 single-spaced pages. The essence of the so-called Long Telegram was that Stalin, far from changing policy, was in fact implementing a particularly robust version of traditional Russian designs. These grew out of Russia’s strategic culture and its centuries-old distrust of the outside world, onto which the Bolsheviks had grafted an implacable revolutionary doctrine of global sweep. Soviet leaders would not be swayed by good-will gestures. They had devoted their lives (and sacrificed millions of their compatriots) to an ideology positing a fundamental conflict between the Communist and capitalist worlds. Marxist dogma rendered even more truculent by the Leninist interpretation was, Kennan wrote, “justification for their instinctive fear of the outside world, for the dictatorship without which they did not know how to rule, for cruelties they did not dare not to inflict, for sacrifice they felt bound to demand. In the name of Marxism they sacrificed every single ethical value. . . . Today they cannot dispense with it.”

The United States, Kennan insisted (sometimes in telegramese), was obliged to deal with this inherent hostility. With many of the world’s traditional power centers devastated and the Soviet leadership controlling vast natural resources and “the energies of one of world’s greatest peoples,” a contest about the nature of world order was inevitable. This would be “undoubtedly greatest task our diplomacy has ever faced and probably greatest it will ever have to face.”

In 1947, Kennan went public in a briefly anonymous article published in Foreign Affairs, signed by “X.” Among the thousands of articles produced on the subject, Kennan’s stands in a class by itself. Lucidly written, passionately argued, it elevated the debate to a philosophy of history.

The X article condensed the Long Telegram and gave it an apocalyptic vision. Soviet foreign policy represented “a cautious, persistent pressure toward the disruption and weakening of all rival influence and rival power.” The only way to deal with Moscow was by “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.”

So far this was a doctrine of equilibrium much like what a British foreign secretary in the 19th century might have counseled in dealing with a rising power — though the British foreign secretary would not have felt the need to define a final outcome. What conferred a dramatic quality on the X article was the way Kennan combined it with the historic American dream of the ultimate conversion of the adversary. Victory would come not on the battlefield nor even by diplomacy but by the implosion of the Soviet system. It was “entirely possible for the United States to influence by its actions” this eventuality. At some point in Moscow’s futile confrontations with the outside world — so long as the West took care they remained futile — some Soviet leader would feel the need to achieve additional support by reaching down to the immature and inexperienced masses. But if “the unity and efficacy of the Party as a political instrument” was ever so disrupted, “Soviet Russia might be changed over night from one of the strongest to one of the weakest and most pitiable of national societies.”

No other document forecast so presciently what would in fact occur under Mikhail Gorbachev. But that was four decades away. It left a number of issues open: How was a situation of strength to be defined? How was it to be built and then conveyed to the adversary? And how would it be sustained in the face of Soviet challenges?

Kennan never dealt with these issues. It took Dean Acheson to translate Kennan’s concept into the design that saw America through the cold war. As under secretary to George Marshall, Acheson worked on the Marshall Plan and, as secretary of state, created NATO, encouraged European unification and brought Germany into the Atlantic structure. In the Eisenhower administration, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles extended the alliance system through the Baghdad Pact for the Middle East and SEATO for Southeast Asia. In effect, containment came to be equated with constructing military alliances around the entire Soviet periphery over two continents.

The practical consequence was to shelve East-West diplomacy while the positions of strength were being built. The diplomatic initiative was left to the Soviet Union, which concentrated on Western weak points, or where it calculated that it had an inherent advantage (as in the exposed position of Berlin). Paradoxically containment, while hardheaded in its absolute opposition to the further expansion of the Soviet sphere, failed to reflect the real balance of forces. For with the American atomic monopoly — and the huge Soviet losses in the world war — that actual balance was never more favorable for the West than at the beginning of the cold war. A situation of strength did not need to be built; it already existed.

The most illustrious advocate of this point of view was Winston Churchill. In a series of speeches between 1946 and 1952, he called for diplomatic initiatives to produce a European settlement while American strength was still preponderant. The American policy based on the X article appealed for endurance so that history could display its inevitable tendencies. Churchill warned of the psychological strain of a seemingly endless strategic stalemate.

At the same time that Churchill was urging an immediate diplomatic confrontation, Kennan was growing impatient with Washington’s tendency to equate containment with a largely military strategy. He disavowed the global application of his principles. As he so often did, he pushed them to their abstract extreme, arguing that there were some regions “where you could perfectly well let people fall prey to totalitarian domination without any tragic consequences for world peace in general.” We could not bomb the Soviets into submission, nor convince them to see things our way; we had, in fact, no direct means to change the Soviet regime. We had instead to wait out an unsettled situation and occasionally mitigate it with diplomacy.

The issue became an aspect of the perennial debate between a realism stressing the importance of assessing power relationships and an idealism conflating moral impulses with historical inevitability. It was complicated by Kennan’s tendency to defend on occasion each side of the issue — leading to incisive and quite unsentimental essays and diary entries analyzing the global balance of power, followed by comparable reflections questioning the morality of practicing traditional power politics in the nuclear age.

Stable orders require elements of both power and morality. In a world without equilibrium, the stronger will encounter no restraint, and the weak will find no means of vindication. At the same time, if there is no commitment to the essential justice of existing arrangements, constant challenges or else a crusading attempt to impose value systems are inevitable.

The challenge of statesmanship is to define the components of both power and morality and strike a balance between them. This is not a one-time effort. It requires constant recalibration; it is as much an artistic and philosophical as a political enterprise. It implies a willingness to manage nuance and to live with ambiguity. The practitioners of the art must learn to put the attainable in the service of the ultimate and accept the element of compromise inherent in the endeavor. Bismarck defined statesmanship as the art of the possible. Kennan, as a public servant, was exalted above most others for a penetrating analysis that treated each element of international order separately, yet his career was stymied by his periodic rebellion against the need for a reconciliation that could incorporate each element only imperfectly.

At the beginning of his career, Kennan’s view of the European order was traditional. America should seek, he argued, an equilibrium based on enlightened self-interest and sustained by the permanent introduction of American power. “Heretofore, in our history, we had to take the world pretty much as we found it,” he wrote during the war. “From now on we will have to take it pretty much as we leave it when the crisis is over.” And that required “the firm, consistent and unceasing application of sheer power in accordance with a long-term policy.”

In pursuit of that European equilibrium, Kennan urged Washington and its democratic allies to oblige the Soviet Union to accept borders as far east as possible. In 1944, he proposed that Poland be placed under international trusteeship to prevent its domination by the Soviet Union. But when this was rejected by Roosevelt, who did not want to risk alienating Moscow in the last phase of the war, Kennan adjusted his view to the new realities as he saw them. If the United States was unwilling to force the Soviet Union into acceptable limits, “we should gather together at once into our hands all the cards we hold and begin to play them for their full value.” That meant dividing Europe into spheres of influence with the line of division running through Germany. The Western half of Germany should be integrated into a European federation. He called this a “bitterly modest” program, but “beggars can’t be choosers.”

Six years later, Acheson was building an Atlantic partnership in essentially the manner Kennan had proposed. But Kennan rejected it for three reasons: his innate perfectionism, his growing concern about the implications of nuclear war and his exclusion from a role in government.

The irony of Kennan’s thought was that his influence in government arose from his advocacy of what today’s debate would define as realism, while his admirers outside government were on the whole motivated by what they took to be his idealistic objections to the prevalent, essentially realistic policy. His vision of peace involved a balance of power of a very special American type, an equilibrium that was not to be measured by military force alone. It arose as well from the culture and historical evolution of a society whose ultimate power would be measured by its vigor and its people’s commitment to a better world. In the X article, he called on his countrymen to meet the “test of the overall worth of the United States as a nation among nations.”

Kennan saw clearly — more so than a vast majority of his contemporaries — the ultimate outcome of the division of Europe, but less clearly the road to get there. He was too intellectually rigorous to countenance the partial steps needed to reach the vistas he envisioned. Yet policy practice — as opposed to pure analysis — almost inevitably involves both compromise and risk.

This is why Kennan often shrank from the application of his own theories. In 1948, with an allied government in China crumbling, Kennan — at some risk to his career — advanced the minority view that a Communist victory would not necessarily be catastrophic. In a National War College lecture, he argued that “our safety depends on our ability to establish a balance among the hostile or undependable forces of the world.” A wise policy would induce these forces to “spend in conflict with each other, if they must spend it at all, the intolerance and violence and fanaticism which might otherwise be directed against us,” so “that they are thus compelled to cancel each other out and exhaust themselves in internecine conflict in order that the constructive forces, working for world stability, may continue to have the possibility of life.” But when, in 1969, the Nixon administration began to implement almost exactly that policy, Kennan called on me at the White House, in the company of a distinguished group of former ambassadors to the Soviet Union, to warn against proceeding with overtures to China lest the Soviet Union respond by war.

So emphatically did Kennan sometimes reject the immediately feasible that he destroyed his usefulness in the conduct of day-to-day diplomacy. This turned his life into a special kind of tragedy. Until his old age, he yearned for the role in public service to which his brilliance and vision should have propelled him, but that was always denied him by his refusal to modify his perfectionism.

A major element in this refusal was Kennan’s growing repugnance at the prospect of nuclear war. From the beginning of the nuclear age, he emphasized that the new weapons progressively destroyed the relationship between military and political objectives. Historically, wars had been fought because the prospect of accommodation seemed more onerous than the consequences of defeat. But when nuclear war implied tens of millions of casualties — and arguably the end of civilization — that equation was turned on its head.

The most haunting problem for modern policy makers became what they would in fact do when the limit of diplomatic options had been reached: Did any leader or group of leaders have the right to assume the moral responsibility for taking risks capable of destroying civilized order? But by the same calculus, could any leader or group of leaders assume the responsibility for abandoning nuclear deterrence and turn the world over to groups with possibly genocidal tendencies? Acheson chose the risk of deterrence, probably convinced that he would never have to implement it. Kennan abandoned deterrence and the nuclear option, at one stage even seeking to organize a no-first-use pledge from American policy makers and musing publicly in an interview whether Soviet dominance over Western Europe might not be preferable to nuclear war.

When Kennan was operating in the realm of philosophy, he tended to push matters to passionate and abstract conclusions. Yet under pressure of concrete events, he would swing back to the role of a hard-nosed advocate of specific operational policies. After the Chinese offensive across the Yalu in 1950, he overcame his distaste for Acheson’s more militant policy to urge him to refuse any attempt at diplomacy with the Communist world and instead adopt a Churchillian posture of defiance. Similarly, in 1968, his decade-long advocacy of military disengagement in Europe did not keep him from urging President Johnson to respond to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia by sending another 100,000 troops to Europe.

It was my good fortune to know both Acheson and Kennan at or near the height of their intellectual powers. Acheson was the greatest secretary of state of the postwar period. He designed the application of the concepts for which Kennan was the earliest and most eloquent spokesman. The growing estrangement between these two giants of American foreign policy was as sad as it was inevitable. Acheson was indispensable for the architecture of the immediate postwar decade; Kennan’s view raised the issues of a more distant future. Acheson considered Kennan more significant for literature than for policy making and wholly impractical. Kennan’s reaction was frustration at his growing irrelevance to policy making and his inability to convey his long-term view.

On the issues of the day, I sided with Acheson and have not changed my views in retrospect. If Europe was to be secured, America did not have the choice between postponing the drawing of dividing lines or implementing a diplomatic process to determine whether dividing lines needed to be drawn at all. The application of Kennan’s evolving theories in the immediate postwar decades (particularly his opposition to NATO, his critique of the Truman doctrine and his call for a negotiated American disengagement from Europe) would have proved as unsettling as Acheson predicted.

At the same time, Kennan deserves recognition for raising the key issues of the long-term future. He warned of a time in which America might strain its domestic resilience by goals beyond the physical and psychological capacity of even the most exceptional society.

Kennan was eloquent in emphasizing the transient nature of a division of the world into military blocs and the ultimate need to transcend it by diplomacy. He came up with remedies that were both too early in the historical process and occasionally too abstract. He at times neglected the importance of timing. Gaddis quotes him as pointing out that he had problems with sequencing: “I have the habit of seeing two opposing sides of a question, both of them wrong, and then overstating myself, so that I appear to be inconsistent.”

In a turbulent era, Kennan’s consistent themes were balance and restraint. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he applied these convictions to his side of the debate as well. He testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee against the Vietnam War but on the limited ground that there was no strategic need for it. He emphasized that the threat posed by Hanoi was exaggerated and that the alleged unity of the Communist world was a myth. But he also warned elsewhere against “violent objection to what exists, unaccompanied by any constructive concept of what, ideally ought to exist in its place.” He questioned the policy makers’ judgment but not their intent; he understood their dilemmas even as he both criticized and sought to join them.

Oscillating between profound perceptions of both the world of ideas and the world of power, Kennan often found himself caught between them. Out of his inward turmoil emerged themes that, like the movements of a great symphony, none of us who followed could ignore, even when they were occasionally discordant.

s time went on, Kennan retreated into writing history. He did so less as a historian than as a teacher to policy makers, hoping to instruct America in the importance of moderation in objectives and restraint in the use of power. He took as an example the collapse of the European order that led to the outbreak of World War I. He produced two works of exemplary scholarship and elegant writing, “Russia Leaves the War” and “The Decision to Intervene.” He published a book of lectures and essays about the making of American foreign policy in the first half of the 20th century, “American Diplomacy: 1900-1950,” which remains the best short summary of the subject.

Yet Kennan did not derive genuine satisfaction from the accolades that so fulsomely came his way from the nonpolicy world. His partly self-created exile from policy making was accompanied by permanent nostalgia for his calling. In his diary he meticulously recorded the tribute that was paid to him by the American chargé d’affaires at an embassy dinner in Moscow in 1981, noting that no secretary of state had ever paid him comparable attention.

Policy makers, even when respectful, shied away from employing him because the sweep of his vision was both uncomfortable (even when right) and beyond the outer limit of their immediate concerns on the tactical level. And the various protest movements, which took up some of his ideas, added to his discomfort because he could never share their single-minded self-­righteousness.

Dean Acheson wrote that separation from high office is like the end of a great love affair — a void left by the disappearance of heightened sensitivities and focused concerns. What is poignant about Kennan’s fate is that his parting came before he reached the pinnacle. He spent the rest of his life as an observer at the threshold of political influence, confined to what he called “the unbroken loneliness of pure research and writing.”

Though he lived until the age of 101 (dying in 2005) and saw many of his prophecies come into being, even the collapse of the Soviet Union did not confer on him the elation of vindication. Rather, it marked in his mind the end of his literary vocation. The need for his influence on policy making had irrevocably disappeared. “Reconcile yourself to the inevitable,” he confided to his diary, “you are never again, in the short remainder of your life, to be permitted to do anything significant.” He put aside the third volume of his majestic history of pre-World War I diplomacy. He had no further lessons to teach his country.

We can be grateful to John Lewis Gaddis for bringing Kennan back to us, thoughtful, human, self-centered, contradictory, inspirational — a permanent spur as consciences are wont to be. Masterfully researched, exhaustively documented, Gaddis’s moving work gives us a figure with whom, however one might differ on details, it was a privilege to be a contemporary.

Early in his career, Kennan wrote that he was resigned to “the lonely pleasure of one who stands at long last on a chilly and inhospitable mountaintop where few have been before, where few can follow and where few will consent to believe he has been.” Gaddis had the acumen to follow Kennan’s tortured quest and to convince us that Kennan had indeed reached his mountaintop.

Henry A. Kissinger’s latest book, “On China,” was published in May.