Monday, November 14, 2011

Kissinger Remembers Kennan . . .


As part of her English lesson yesterday evening, my soon-to-be-fifteen-year-old daughter and I read a fascinating article by Henry Kissinger in which he analyzes the man George F. Kennan as a foreign policy thinker. Titled "The Age of Kennan" and written for The New York Times (November 10, 2011), it displays Kissinger's own brilliance as much as Kennan's. For instance, at one point in our lesson, Sa-Rah read the following paragraph to me:
[N]o 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.

When she had finished reading this aloud, I stopped her and pointed out that Kissenger was speaking about himself and his own views as much as he was talking about Kennan and Kennan's views. I added, "When one great man analyzes the work of a great predecessor, you should be alert to signs that he's also defending his own legacy, as is especially the case in this passage." I urged her to keep this in mind, to read with an ear attuned to different levels. Kissinger, I explained, worked with one eye to the distant evolutionary goal and the other eye to the imperfect step to be taken now. He is defending his own method against charges of cynicism and opportunism, I told her.

After we'd finished, I asked her what she'd learned about Kennan, and she replied that he'd formulated the concept of containment in response to what he considered Soviet Communism's intrinsic aggressiveness, a concept that was elaborated in practical U.S. foreign policy as America's strategy during the Cold War.

Not that she used those exact words . . .

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At 5:06 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

Two of my Georgetown buddies work at the Kennan Institute in DC as Russian foreign policy watchers and consultants.

At 5:15 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I wonder what they think of Kissinger's article.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:18 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

I'll see if I can find out.

At 5:58 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks. They might also be interested in the article by Menand.

Jeffery Hodges

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