Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

George Kennan and Foreign Affairs-We haven’t Learned Much Over the Last Hundred Years

Posted by M. C. on January 1, 2014

I have just finished “American Diplomacy” by George Kennan. Kennan joined the foreign service in 1925. After WW II Kennan became an advocate of containment over confrontation of communism. He was supposedly provided inspiration of the Trueman Doctrine. Economic and military aid to those subject to the threat of communist influence. Kennan is described as a realist and believed legalism and moralism were responsible for the foreign policy problems of the 1950s.

That realism is as missing today as it was in Kennan’s time.

Kennan could see in the 30’s that ignorance of “power realities” would lead toward war with Japan and ultimately end up with russia holding the cards in the far east.

Our advocacy of the recent Middle East color revolutions tells us our State Department can’t predict what will happen next week let alone next month.

Kennan says with respect to China:

In general we expect too much from our from our Asian friends in the way of intimacy and mutual liking. There is something patronizing in this attitude of ours. We have never really thought through the full connotations of our domestic practices and habits of thoughts of our relations with the people of Asia.

Just as in the Middle East we have no concept of what the other thinks and feels nor how he will react. It shouldn’t be too difficult to imagine the reaction to drone strikes on wedding parties. We end up recruiting more terrorists than we eliminate. We completely failed to see who will fill in the power void once we upset the balance of power. In Afghanistan we now fight the Taliban who never attacked US , Al Qaeda no longer exists there, . Iraq now has a sizable Al Qaeda population where there were none before our “victory”.

Regarding WW I and II

These wars we fought at the price of some tens of millions of lives, of untold physical destruction, of the destruction of the balance of forces on the continent….Both wars were fought, really, with the view to changing Germany: to correcting her behavior, to making the Germans something different \from what they were. Yet today, if one were offered the chance of having back again the Germany of 1913-a Germany run by conservative but relatively moderate people, no Nazis and no Communists, a vigorous Germany, united and unoccupied, full of energy and confidence…it wouldn’t make everybody happy : but in many ways it wouldn’t sound so bad.


Iran before the CIA overthrew the government and installed the Shah.

Saudi Arabia before we violated their holy ground with our military bases and spawned Bin Laden’s wrath.

Iraq before we gave them chemical weapons that ended up in Syria or before Bush I gave Hussein the go ahead to invade Kuwait, then proceeded to decimate the country and make it a terrorist haven.

Again on WW I

There was the same denial we saw in the case of the Far East-of the legitimacy of the real interests and aspirations of other peoples, the same dismissal of the things as unsubstantial and unworthy of our attention, as “jealousies and rivalries” too silly, too “complicated”, to deserve our respect.

But then that would far too sophisticated analysis for our current state department. Foreign policy is determined by the CIA, Pentagon, Raytheon and their ilk. Hilliary Clinton, completely worthless. John Kerry, his latest accomplishments have been having his Syria bluff called by Putin and having his lies about gas in Syria called by Seymour Hirsch. See here if you like.

Kennan had the unusual ability (for Washington) to look back and actually see what went wrong and to advocate something besides doing what failed last week all over again.

American Diplomacy is a good easy read-designed for people like me. The book’s focus is conventional foreign policy and ignores the CIA’s contribution. But then the CIA’s presence may not have been as apparent in the 50s or Kennan really knew what the CIA was all about and liked living.

Be seeing you

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