With Wolfowitz's rise and Kennan's death,
the days of cautious US diplomacy are over
by Leon Hadar
American historian and diplomat George F. Kennan died last week
at the age of 101, a day after US President George W. Bush announced
that he was nominating Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz
to head the World Bank.
it was not surprising that I ended up going over the obituaries
for the leading strategist of the Cold War on the same day that
I was reading the bios on the main architect of the invasion of
that got me thinking not only about the differences between these
two foreign policy thinkers and practitioners; it also raised an
intriguing question: Is the US-led war on terrorism that the neoconservative
Mr. Wolfowitz helped to design looking more and more like a never-ending
American engagement in global military confrontation the
kind of dangerous situation that the paleoconservative Mr. Kennan
had tried so much to prevent?
you recall the scholar and statesman Mr. Kennan his superior
intellect and magisterial works on history (including two Pulitzer
Prize-winning books) as well as a moving memoir you cannot
but feel nostalgic for the days when giants roamed the earth; compare
that era to our age when every midget can and does become a media
would assume the 61-year-old Mr. Wolfowitz, who has been described
by his admirers as the "brain" behind Mr. Bush's foreign policy
and as a great Kissinger-like "strategic thinker," would have authored
by now several important books on global affairs.
search Amazon.com or Google the Internet and you discover nothing
more than few mediocre "policy analyses" penned by the former dean
of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins
Mr. Kennan, spending the last fifty years as an intellectual recluse
at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, did his best
in avoiding the public and media limelight, Mr. Wolfowitz, the consummate
Washington operator, has never encountered a television camera to
which he wouldn't grant an interview. The scene in the documentary
Fahrenheit 9/11, when he was caught on tape spitting on his comb
and then fixing his hair, was in preparation for a TV appearance.
Kennan, while serving in a US embassy in 1947, had written the famous
"Long Telegram," which stated the principles of the "containment
strategy" (and which were restated later in a Foreign Affairs magazine
article that was signed "X") calling for a patient diplomatic
effort, backed by military power that would set obstacles on the
global expansion of the Soviet Union and waiting until it would
gradually mellow or break up.
"containment strategy" was adopted as the official US policy under
several American administrations and proved to be a winner when
the Soviet empire collapsed in 1989.
Wolfowitz, serving in the Pentagon in 1992, authored a policy paper
which called for the establishment of global Pax Americana, which
was rejected by the First President Bush and President Bill Clinton.
unipolarist approach to global affairs was eventually adopted by
the Second President Bush in the aftermath of 9/11, with the war
in Iraq, and has been seen as the first stage in the implementation
of a unilateral strategy aimed at remaking the Middle East under
was one of the sponsors of the infamous Ahmed Chalabi and predicted
(among other things) that the United States would discover in Iraq
weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and evidence linking Saddam Hussein
to Osama bin Laden; that Iraq would be pacified by a few American
troops; that Iraqi oil revenues would help pay for the occupation
and reconstruction of the country.
New America Foundation scholar Michael Lind has written recently,
Mr. Wolfowitz has been "the Mozart of ineptitude, the Einstein of
incapacity," proving to be "consistently, astonishingly, unswervingly
wrong" about foreign policy.
a way, Mr. Kennan represented the coherent and cautious realist
tradition in American foreign policy, stressing again and again
that the US couldn't and shouldn't reshape other countries in its
own image, and that its efforts to police the world on a permanent
basis are neither in its interests nor within the scope of its resources.
whole tendency to see ourselves as the center of political enlightenment
and as teachers to a great part of the rest of the world strikes
me as unthought-through, vainglorious and undesirable," he
said in an interview in 1999. "I would like to see our government
gradually withdraw from its public advocacy of democracy and human
rights," he proposed.
trying to reshape other countries in the American image and promoting
democracy and human rights through the use of military power
is what Mr. Wolfowitz and the rest of the neoconservative
ideologues believe that the US could and should do in the world,
particularly in the Middle East.
represents the strain of Wilsonian idealism in American thinking
about world affairs that tends to frame US responses to international
crises in grand messianic terms of "us" against "them" and whose
proponents lack the skills to deal with the nuances of diplomacy.
Mr. Kennan was concerned during the Cold War that foreign policy
ideologues would fail to manage the confrontation with the Soviet
Union. He had opposed the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO), which he predicted would divide Europe into
two armed camps, and proposed ways to reduce tensions with the Soviets.
after the establishment of NATO and especially as a result of the
Korean War, much of the debate in the US shifted from a focus on
how to end the Cold War to how to manage it.
is possible that the occupation of Iran and the US military involvement
in the Middle East would ensure that the kind of war on terrorism
envisioned by Mr. Wolfowitz would continue and escalate for many
years to come, demonstrating that not only Mr. Kennan but
also his kind of wise and cautious diplomacy is dead and
missing in Washington.
Hadar [send him mail] is
Washington correspondent for the Business
Times of Singapore and the author of the forthcoming Sandstorm:
Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan).
© 2005 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved. Reprinted
with permission of the author.