Headed for the Draft

George F. Kennan’s “Containment” Policy Was Ignored

Barton Gellman’s brilliant “appreciation” of George F. Kennan (who died Mach 17th) appeared in Washington Post’s Style Section on Saturday, March 19th. It should be mandatory reading for all members of the Bush Administration.
Gellman recalled that “Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said Kennan came "as close to authoring the diplomatic doctrine of his era as any diplomat in our history." While Kennan’s “containment” policy toward the Soviet Union has been long and widely heralded by countless policy mavens including Henry Kissenger, Kennan’s “containment” policy was not in fact pursued in the way he defined it. In fact, his concept in its execution by others was largely ignored.

As Gellman notes, “Kennan's containment was not a military endeavor. In lectures at the National War College, he spoke not of "counterforce" but "counterpressure." Containment's primary instruments, as Kennan saw them, were political and economic. As early as 1948, he took vehement exception to the creation of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, predicting that it would cement the division of Europe into opposing military blocs. He bitterly opposed development of the hydrogen bomb, which multiplied the destructive power of atomic weaponry. And he despised the Truman Doctrine, which called for military support to governments threatened by communist insurrection, liberally defined, anywhere in the world. Later he became an early critic of the Vietnam War, called for abolition of nuclear weapons and disparaged President Bush's war in Iraq.”

Now we are finding the key point of his ignored wisdom, that of using our economic power and more political and moral suasion to win friends and neuter enemies has been squandered and disabled by years of mismanagement at the top, particularly since 9/11.

We find that our military forces are under a huge strain. The Washington Post’s front page March 18th story reports,
“Two years after the United States launched a war in Iraq with a crushing display of power, a guerrilla conflict is grinding away at the resources of the U.S. military and casting uncertainty over the fitness of the all-volunteer force, according to senior military leaders, lawmakers and defense experts.

The unexpectedly heavy demands of sustained ground combat are depleting military manpower and gear faster than they can be fully replenished. Shortfalls in recruiting and backlogs in needed equipment are taking a toll, and growing numbers of units have been broken apart or taxed by repeated deployments, particularly in the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve.”

That sort of talk means we are likely talking about instituting a new draft, Folks. Remember Selective Service? And wait til Rumsfeld’s new pre emptive strike plans are codified in the Defense Department’s reorganization. As I stated in a recent OP ED, “let’s understand the clear new thrust of US “defense” policy since 9/11. Or should we call it an “offense” policy. It certainly sounds like Rumsfeld is readying to undertake further military actions in other countries.” So America will need many more young bodies to send out to get killed and maimed, while our military’s killing of innocent civilians engenders more hate for the US.

Had we been spending commensurate sums on the kind of “containment” Kennan envisioned, even for as short a time as since the end of our Vietnam folly, the Soviet Union would have collapsed in any case and the prestige and posture of America in the world would be totally different than now. Even if we had taken a different stance after 9/11, the majority of the world, including most of Islam would have been on our side.

Now with oil prices soaring, the Middle East in turmoil, the budget deficits and trade balances out of control as far as the eye can see, and our overseas credibility completely shot, the core of Kennan’s wisdom reverberates in the heads of anyone who is listening. But that doesn’t include our leaders. They are too busy jamming “democracy” and “freedom” down the throats of people of Islamic faith, who see this Bible thumping cabal as the Christian crusade incarnate.

One of my Pakistani friends tells me that one in three of new boy babies born there is named “Osama”. Another, a long time American of Iranian birth tells me, “Iran is now a wonderful place to live. Only the Mullahs are crazy.” He goes back home to visit his family about 3 times a year.

Iran’s capacity to deliver a nuclear bomb is really tied to its “need” to do so. Need is based on fear. Let’s understand that in not too many years the world will likely be full of nuclear club nations. Seems to me our best course is to try to reach all people of good will, of which 1.2 billion are Muslim, so that leaders everywhere perceive us as trying to bring peace, not war—trust, not fear.

Sane people all over the globe are afraid of nuclear annihilation and would work with people they feel they could trust to provide the kind of intelligence network that would seek to eliminate transfer of such devices to terrorist elements. Our leaders constantly talk about the need to train up more Arab speaking spies, which may be a good idea, but most Arab speaking Middle Easterners certainly would not see the wisdom in a nuclear exchange. Some nuclear weapon transfers to bad guys will likely occur, but better cooperation from the vast majority of Arab peoples comes from trust, not the threat of more pre-emptive invasions by an arrogant U.S.

Gellman’s final quote from Kennan is truly incisive:
“I sometimes wonder whether . . . democracy is not uncomfortably similar to one of those prehistoric monsters with a body as long as this room and a brain the size of a pin...

"He is slow to wrath — in fact, you practically have to whack his tail off to make him aware that his interests are being disturbed; but, once he grasps this, he lays about him with such blind determination that he not only destroys his adversary but largely wrecks his native habitat."
Kennan doubtless understood that “his native habitat” was Planet Earth.


Commentary by Donald A. Collins April 6, 2005
Collins, a DC free lance writer, often writes for the Dispatch on policy issues.

© Copyright 2004 The Washington Dispatch

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