Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The X factor

One occurrence of note that Wongdoer and I have not discussed in the wake of the Schiavo mess and the NCAA Tournament is the death of George Kennan.

Kennan is most famous for conceiving and disseminating the "containment" strategy. In 1947, Kennan wrote a famous article in Foreign Affairs magazine under the pseudonym "X" entitled "The Sources of Soviet Conduct." The article was a relatively clear-eyed view of the Soviet imperial threat and the need to confront it. Remember, in 1947 only Churchill among the major political figures of the time had a prescient view of Stalin's goals and desire to expand Soviet totalitarianism. The US still, by and large, viewed Stalin as the jolly old "Uncle Joe" portrayed in the press and supported by FDR's fawning treatment of the Soviet butcher from 1942-45. Truman was starting to awaken to the Soviet menace, and would proclaim the Truman Doctrine in 1947.

Because the X article was so keenly insightful, Kennan's 58 remaining years (he lived from 1904-2005 and was productive into his mid-90s) were lived as the wise old statesman. Essentially, the rightness of his views were presupposed by the prescience of the X article. Unfortunately, Kennan's later pronouncements indicated a distrust of American power, a disdain for democracy, a preference for rule by an oligarchical "educated" elite (see France), and a fundamental dislike for American strength that is nearly indistinguishable from Jimmy Carter and Robert McNamara.

Gabriel Schoenfeld's 1996 review of Kennan's last major book of essays (covering 1982-1995) has more information and insight. Click the link in the title to this post to access the .pdf of Schoenfeld's article.

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