Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Arms and influence: RIP, George Kennan

This is, by far, the best eulogy of George Keenan that I have read since he died last week, both for its short but precise description of Keenan's acheivmants and for its discussion of how we seem to have lost teh ability or desire to put forth an official doctrine to deal with the threats we face.
Today, we live in what might be called a "post-doctrine" era. Our new global conflict does not have a framing document like the X article, a direct response to fears about Soviet aggression that arose during the 9/11 of the Cold War, the Greek and Turkish crises of 1947. If there are important analyses of anti-American Islamism, terrorist methods, and the long-term strategy for defeating Al Qaeda and its allies, they are far less discernible in the haze of daily news than the works of Kennan, Koestler, Schelling, Brodie, and others were.

The post also discusses one of the more frightening aspects of our current administration- it's almost unlimited disdain for any expert that doesn't march in lockstep with the administration
Most startlingly, there is nothing like the comfort between the White House and the national security intelligentsia that once existed. Where Truman let Kennan speak for his administration, or Eisenhower let Brodie and Schelling guide decisions about nuclear strategy, Bush lashes out at any modern-day Kennans within Defense Department, State Department, CIA, and other permanent members of the national security bureaucracy. His in-house sources of doctrine behave like careerists, not strategists. It's hard to imagine Kennan behaving like Bush's advisers, who so loyal to Bush that they are willing to turn on a dime to disavow their earlier opinions. Where JCS Chairman Colin Powell once helped frame the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine, Secretary of State Powell helps dismantle it to make the Iraq invasion possible. And the list goes on. State sponsors of terrorists are the real center of gravity? Wrong. The real threat is WMDs in Iraq that might be given to terrorists? Wrong. The Iraq invasion will pay for itself? Wrong. Being the world's only superpower means that you'll drag your allies along, like it or not? Wrong. Legal changes like the PATRIOT Act, and bureaucratic reforms like the creation of the Homeland Security Department, are going to bag a lot of terrorist who would otherwise have inflicted more 9/11-like horrors? Wrong. George Kennan could be wrong, but he was more right than wrong. Paul Wolfowitz can be right, but he certainly has been more wrong than right.
Well at least he'll only be fucking up other relief efforts to starving children and faltering nations.
The post ends with a prayer that I wholeheartedly share:
If we're lucky, we may see someone like him again, and we can pray that we'll see a return of disciplined thinking about national security as well.
At this point praying is seeming like the only hope that we will once again have a sane and rational foreign policy. Maybe if we could elect great military minds like Zinni to some sort of national office than we would have a good chance, but I do wonder how long the damage that the Bush Administration is wreaking on our defense, state, and intelligence agencies will take to undo, and what it would take to reverse this trend.