Kennan, Character and Country

John Lukacs offers an intimate portrait of one of America's great strategists in George Kennan.

Issue: Mar-Apr 2007

John Lukacs, George Kennan: A Study of Character (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), 207 pp., $26.00.

En route to Moscow to serve as Ambassador Averell Harriman's minister-counselor in June 1944, George F. Kennan spent two miserable days in Baghdad. Musing on America potentially supplanting Britain as the dominant Western power in the region, he wrote in his diary:

"Are we willing to bear this responsibility? I know-and every realistic American knows-that we are not. Our government is technically incapable of conceiving and promulgating a long-term consistent policy toward areas remote from its own territory."[1]

Over sixty years later, Kennan is enjoying a renaissance, as academics (Ian Shapiro), think tankers (John Hulsman and Anatol Lieven) and pundits (Peter Beinart) reflect on his legacy and see important lessons for our present trials and tribulations in Iraq and beyond. Almost six years after 9/11, the Bush Administration's approach to the War on Terror has generated popular frustration, and thus a look back at the origins of another ideological conflict-the Cold War-and the ideas of a man who history proved clairvoyant despite his earlier marginalization, makes sense.

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