The Strange Case of George F. Kennan
GEORGE F. KENNAN has sufficient claim to be taken seriously when American foreign policy is discussed: indeed, many consider him the most eminent commentator on the subject. To his expressed discomfort, Mr. Kennan’s widest public repute still derives from the 1947 “X” article in Foreign Affairs, which did duty as the great corrective to the willful delusion of Stalin’s benevolence that the wartime alliance had engendered. By explaining that Soviet governance and Russian traditions would unfailingly conspire to force a brutal transition from alliance to outright hostility, regardless of any American concessions that might decently be offered, Mr. Kennan made himself the educator of the Truman administration, and the leading publicist of its Soviet policy.
Another man might have built enduring power on the sudden authority of his words, but Mr. Kennan’s dominant emotion was already then a profound diffidence toward the enthusiasms of others; the same quality that had preserved his clear view of Russian realities while others were blinded by self-deception-and by the sincere solidarity of the struggle against Hitler-also prevented him from joining wholeheartedly in the great upsurge of energies of the Marshall Plan and the Atlantic Alliance. His time in the mainstream of policy was accordingly brief; in Dean Acheson, the State Department soon acquired a master who admired Mr. Kennan’s intellect but who also distrusted his judgment. Mr. Kennan’s further service as a diplomat was not undistinguished, but he had little role in the formulation of policy. Instead of making foreign policy, he was to write of its making, in more than a dozen books, several historical and of significant scholarship, and all elegantly written. These works perpetuate his influence.
About the Author
Edward N. Luttwak is senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.