The Statesman, by George Kennan, is a historical review of American diplomacy and World War II. It’s a fascinating look at the evolution of American foreign policy and the evolution of the US Empire. Kennan saw the United States as being built of nations, rather than “light-years of cloth,” and he correctly judged that our success depended on how we were connected. The nations were not evenly matched in strength or reach, but they were connected enough to work together, Kennan believed.
In essence, then, we were playing “frozen pool” with the Soviet Union and it was imperative that we understand this and prevent escalation. Kennan understood well that if we tried to encircle the USSR at the beginning of the Cold War, it would be a quagmire, one in which we would lose more than the Russian bear, and it would be a loss for the US. Thus, he wrote that we had to be careful not to tip off the Russians that we were going to encroach on their turf and we needed the cooperation of the allies to do it.
In other words, we could come to the aid of the democratic governments of eastern Europe and they would provide the strength and the means to resist us, while Russia would watch our backs. And we needed the support of the middle classes in the western world, but not all of them. We needed those in the oil producing regions of the world who did not want the oil reserves to go to waste. They didn’t want the peace dividends or the access to markets that came with free trade.
Thus, the US State Department and the oil producing nations around the world, along with Russia, had to put aside their differences and cooperate, and that meant compromise. The statesman Kennan knew that there were tradeoffs. He understood that without compromising, we might never have kept our sphere of influence. It was better to keep our options open. We might have to sacrifice a few economic points right now, but if we did not, the US will still be powerful, and that is something to celebrate.
We have to remember that the US was the first modern country to realize its greatness at the time, and we did so by standing up to the others, especially the others who had more power than us at the time. It takes great power to stand up to others who have been bullying you for decades. The US showed the rest of the world that it could be a force to be reckoned with, and it did that. Had the US not stepped in to help defeat International Terrorism after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the rest of the European continent could have easily joined the ranks of rogue nations with nuclear weapons. If we fail to act now, the specter of World War III will be closer than we think.
So let us not look at this as a failure of leadership. We should instead view it as an opportunity. The US must show the rest of the world that it is still the top dog, and that it is wise to stand up to the bullies. We can only do that if we do not undermine our own credibility. That is precisely what the author writes off as an attempt to legitimize his views and instead to promote the views of his own organization, the Council on Foreign Relations.
He knows well that the US needs to keep its powder dry when dealing with rogue nation-states such as Iran. He knows well that dealing with the Russians is another problem, although one that has been exacerbated by the fact that the Americans are doing too little too late. And he knows well that Egypt, a former US client, is on the verge of utter chaos. All in all, he has done a valuable job, and we should be very happy to have him on our team.
But what about National Interests, and the rest of us? Mr. Kissinger, and his old college pal Bruto, apparently think that they know everything better than we do. They apparently want us to keep China as “the Others” while they strengthen their own position as the Number One superpower. That would be insane. One must agree, however, that it is nice to have friends, even if they sometimes get in the way.