"Best IO-blog ever" -- You gets no bread with one meatball (pNSFW)
Nov 11, 2011
Mr. X By HENRY A. KISSINGER
The NYT gets Henry Kissinger to review John Lewis Gaddis's book about George Kennan for the Sunday Book Review. Kissinger delivers a compliment or three about Gaddis, and then reviews Kennan's career, not the book. And as you might imagine, the Kissinger imperative works its way into the story: 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. Kissinger refers to Dean Acheson as"the greatest secretary of state of the postwar period." False modesty or a ghostwriter? Gotta be one or the other, but we are leaning towards the former because no Kissinger Associates staffer would risk the repercussions from making a call like that. Kissinger - the great Balance of Power practitioner - admired that Kennan (at least at times) shared his Metternich-influenced approach:
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.
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. Kennan's dissenting view on Vietnam is portrayed as follows: 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. Kissinger's final judgement: 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.
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. Well. Not exactly accurate. After he left the State Dept., Kennan was a consultant to the Cold War arm of the U.S. Government from the 1950's until at least the 1990's.