From The National Interest: ‘Inside The Mind Of George F. Kennan’

Full piece here.

More on Kennan (wikipedia).

Now that Putin is playing the Russian strongman in Ukraine (video of Russian tactics):

‘Yet one wonders how many U.S. government officials during the 1940s would have been able to behold the fruits of the policy with the sort of critical distance that Kennan demonstrates. His black, razor-sharp diagnosis of Stalinism—at a time when pro-Soviet wartime propaganda in the United States presented a diametrically opposed picture of the regime—is of a piece with this innate skepticism and independence of thought.’

Many diplomats and first-class thinkers can be frustrated by the constraints of a democratic system. Some are like Grandmasters, playing a global game of chess. They can spend their entire lives envisioning strategic outcomes, advising and calculating many moves ahead as they run through a rolodex of hundreds of names and players.  

It can be dispiriting for them to have to try to explain the logic of it all to a President and his team who might give them 10 minutes to get a point across, and then have them write a follow-up position paper. 

Or, in the case of Kennan, it might be even harder when their ideas are actually adopted into policy.

‘SOME OF HIS crankiest observations deal with the shortcomings of democracy. During his time as a government official Kennan had often witnessed how the principles of good policy were undermined by the short-term thinking of elected politicians, and he had concluded from the experience that democracies were inherently incapable of devising and pursuing rational strategy.’

Perhaps it’s an inherent good to have the logic and experience of even the very wise frustrated by the democratic process.

A realism you can get behind?

Henry Kissinger:

“The purpose of bureaucracy is to devise a standard operating procedure which can cope effectively with most problems.  A bureaucracy is efficient if the matters which it handles routinely are, in fact, the most frequent and if its procedures are relevant to their solution.  If those criteria are met, the energies of the top leadership are freed to deal creatively with the unexpected occurrence or with the need for innovation.  Bureaucracy becomes an obstacle when what it defines as routine does not address the most significant range of issues or when its prescribed mode of action proves irrelevant to the problem.”

and:

“Moreover, the reputation, indeed the political survival, of most leaders depends on their ability to realize their goals, however these may have been arrived at.  Whether these goals are desireable is relatively less crucial.”

Kissinger, Henry. American Foreign Policy:  Three Essays.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc.  1969.

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