- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2004

George Kennan’s 100th birthday on Feb. 16 was deservedly celebrated last week in Princeton, N.J., by an assembly of our most distinguished diplomats and historians. It was graced by the attendance of Secretary of State Colin Powell, perhaps an unstated rebuke to former Secretary John Foster Dulles who during the Eisenhower years persecuted Mr. Kennan out of the Foreign Service.

Mr. Kennan was the architect of the Truman “containment” policy from 1946 with his famous 8,000-word “Long Telegram,” written as minister-counselor at the U.S. Embassy, warning that Soviet communism was “a political force committed fanatically to the belief that U.S. democracy must be destroyed for communism to survive.”

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, like Mr. Kennan a diplomat-intellectual, has written that “Kennan came as close to authoring the diplomatic doctrine of his era as any diplomat in our history.”

The Republican campaign slogan in 1948 and 1952 was that the containment program of the Truman administration, inspired by Mr. Kennan, was treason and that rollback, i.e., forcing the Soviet Union back to its prewar boundaries, was true Americanism.

Yet when the Eisenhower administration had its chance to roll back the post-Stalin Soviet Union in June 1953 during workers’ uprisings in East Berlin, in October 1956 during the Hungarian revolution or earlier that year when Polish workers in Poznan openly protested Soviet occupation, the administration was silent, passive.

In other words, for eight years the Dulles State Department arrogantly followed the Kennan containment policy and ignored its campaign promise of rollback.

Actually, Mr. Kennan in his early years was an anti-Soviet hard-liner. For example, he had written in 1953 that the U.S. “should never have established de jure relations with the Soviet government.”

Later he wrote contemptuously in 1960 about President Roosevelt’s “well-known conviction that although Stalin was a rather difficult character, he was at bottom a man like everyone else; that the only reason why it had been difficult to get on with him in the past was because there was no one with the right personality, with enough imagination and trust to deal with him properly; that the arrogant conservatives in the Western capitals had always bluntly rejected him, and that his ideological prejudices would melt away and Russian cooperation with the West could easily be obtained, if only Stalin was exposed to the charm of a personality of FDR’s caliber. There were no grounds at all for this assumption; it was so childish that it as really unworthy of a statesman of FDR’s standing.”

Even more striking, in his memoirs published in 1972, Mr. Kennan had asserted that “[t]he penetration of the American governmental services by members or agents (conscious or otherwise) of the American Communist Party in the late 1930s was not a figment of the imagination of the hysterical right-wingers of a later decade. Stimulated and facilitated by the effects of the Depression, particularly on the younger intelligentsia, it really existed, and it assumed proportions which, while never overwhelming, were also not trivial. … By the end of the war, so far as I can judge from the evidence I have seen, the penetration was quite extensive. … ” And then this astonishing yet fully credible statement by Mr. Kennan:

“We were inclined to suspect, for example, that the sudden abolition of the old Russian division of the Department of State in 1937, was the result if not of direct communist penetration, then at least an unhealthy degree of communist influence in higher counsels of the Roosevelt administration.”

Something changed in Mr. Kennan’s outlook about world affairs with the fall in 1991 of the Soviet Union. To the inevitable question of who had triumphed in the Cold War, Mr. Kennan’s response, was simple: “Nobody won the Cold War.”

Yet in 1969, he had written: “The retraction of Soviet power from its present bloated and unhealthy limits is essential to the stability of world relationships.” So now, 27 years later: There is no Soviet Union, there is no Soviet power, its “bloated and unhealthy limits” had been retracted. Was it not correct to say the democracies won the Cold War? Didn’t the once Soviet-satellited countries of Central Europe and the Baltic “win” the Cold War? When the Berlin Wall came down Nov. 9, 1989, without bloodshed, wasn’t that a victory?

In another essay along the same lines, he attacked the idea that Ronald Reagan, a Republican president, won the Cold War. Such an idea Mr. Kennan wrote, “is intrinsically silly and childish.” Vladimir Lukin, a Yeltsin foreign policy adviser, didn’t think so when he said in 1991 that such policies as the Reagan Doctrine and SDI “accelerated our economic convulsions by perhaps five years.”

Alexander Bessmertnykh, former Russian foreign minister, said at a Princeton meeting on the Cold War, that President Reagan’s leadership won the Cold War — and the Russian didn’t put inverted commas around the verb, won. Sergei Khrushchev, son of Nikita S. Khrushchev, said on TV: “Sure, you win [sic] the Cold War.” The distinguished Yale historian, Michael Howard, in a Times Literary Supplement essay put it just as succinctly as Mr. Khrushchev: “The Soviet Union lost.”

It was sad to see this great historian-diplomat retreating from the moral positions he had once turned into persuasive politics and diplomacy, moral positions that helped save the world from the Great Catastrophe that never happened, World War III. Perhaps the only explanation is to apply to Mr. Kennan the words he once wrote about mankind:

“The greatest law of human history is its unpredictability.”

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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