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Sunday, September 14, 2008

What Would George Kennan Say about the GWOT?

After reading George Kennan's American Diplomacy, I wondered what this prolific man, the founder of the Containment Policy that guided the United States through the Cold War, would say about the Bush Administration's Global War on Terrorism. What conclusions would he come to regarding US performance? Would he see the Bush Administration as having a winning strategy? And most importantly, how would George Kennan come to his conclusions?

George Kennan would first ask himself, was the Global War on Terrorism preventable? Undoubtedly, his answer would be "yes," and ironically enough, he would place blame on our democratic system, saying:

I sometimes wonder whether...a democracy is not...similar [to a dinosaur].... [He] lies there in his comfortable primeval mud and pays little attention to his environment.... You practically have to whack his tail off to make him aware that his interests are being disturbed; but, once he grasps this, he lays about him with such blind determination that he not only destroys his adversary but largely wrecks his native habitat (Kennan 1957, 66).
This comparison is meant to show the that democracies tend to live in their own self absorbed, blissful world and not realizing that there is a world happening around them. The democracies did not have the foresight to see Nazi Germany's intentions, nor did they have the foresight to see Al-Qaeda's intention. Driven by public opinion polls and mass-politics, democracies are by nature short-sighted, only looking as far as the next election cycle.

Kennan would also argue that war is not a vehicle for hopes, enthusiasm or world improvement; because in war there will always be a loser, a loser with burnt buildings, and with am offended population who will seek future revenge. The aim of war, argues Kennan, is to gain one's point with the most minimum amount of damage, not the maximum. The United States too often confuses diplomacy with military diplomacy; that is how, as Kennan argues, the policy of Containment, was corrupted into providing an excuse for our adventure in Vietnam.

Lastly, Kennan would argue that you need to use precise language to define your enemy and your foreign policy. If not, other countries will do their own thing. And if the United States is supposed to take the leadership role in the world, as many argue, you cannot give vague guidance and expect the world to understand what you mean. Kennan would also point out that principles are often spoken and rarely followed. How can we push for democracy in the world while our closest ally in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, is the exact opposite of a democracy, much less the exporter of 15 of the 19 September 11th terrorists and funds fundamentalist Madrasas around the world.

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