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Kennan objected to the Truman doctrine’s “implied obligation to act wherever Soviet aggression or intimidation occurred, without regard to whether American interests were at state or the means existed with which to defend them.” He was also concerned that the Truman doctrine was “a blank check to give economic and military aid to any area in the world.”
Likewise, today’s “Truman” caucus wants boots on the ground and weapons in the hands of freedom fighters everywhere, including Syrian rebels. Perhaps we might want to ask the opinion of the 1 million Syrian Christians, many of whom fled Iraq when our Shiite allies were installed. Perhaps, we might want to ask: Will the Syrian rebels respect the rights of Christians, women, and other ethnic minorities?
In the 1980s, the war caucus in Congress armed bin Laden and the mujaheddin in their fight with the Soviet Union. In fact, it was the official position of the State Department to support radical jihad against the Soviets. We all know how well that worked out.
Out of the Arab Spring new nations have emerged. While discussion of Iran dominates foreign affairs, I think more time should be allotted to whether we should continue to send aid and weapons to countries that are hostile to Israel and to the United States. I, for one, believe it is unwise to be sending more M1 tanks and F-16 fighters to Egypt.
Kennan argued that “integrating force with foreign policy did not mean 'blustering, threatening, waving clubs at people and telling them if they don’t do this or that we are going to drop a bomb on them.'” But it did mean maintaining "a preponderance of strength.”
Kennan wrote, “The strength of the Kremlin lies in the fact that it knows how to wait. But the strength of the Russian people lies in the fact that they know how to wait longer.” Radical Islam’s only real strength is just such an endless patience. They know we eventually will leave. They simply wait for us to leave and leave we eventually must. We cannot afford endless occupation but this does not mean that by leaving we cannot and will not still contain radical Islam.
Everybody now loves Ronald Reagan. Even President Obama tries to toady up and vainly try to resemble some Reaganism. Reagan’s foreign policy was robust but also restrained. He pulled no punches in telling Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down that wall.” He did not shy from labeling the Soviet Union an evil empire. But he also sat down with Gorbachev and negotiated meaningful reductions in nuclear weapons.
Many of today’s neoconservatives want to wrap themselves up in Reagan’s mantle but the truth is that Reagan used clear messages of communism’s evil and clear exposition of America’s strength to contain and ultimately transcend the Soviet Union.
The Cold War ended because the engine of capitalism defeated the engine of socialism. Reagan aided and abetted this end not by “liberation” of captive people but by a combination of don’t mess with us language and diplomacy, not inconsistent with Kennan’s approach.
Jack Matlock, one of Reagan’s national security advisors, wrote, “Reagan’s Soviet policy had more in common with Kennan’s thinking than the policy of any of Reagan’s predecessors.”
Reagan himself wrote, “I have a foreign policy. I just don’t happen to think it’s wise to tell the world what your foreign policy is.” Reagan’s liberal critics would decry a lack of sophistication but others would understand a policy in having no stated policy, a policy of strategic ambiguity If you enumerate your policy, if you telegraph to the Soviets that the Strategic Defense Initiative is a ploy to get the Soviets to the bargaining table, the ploy is then made impotent.
Strategic ambiguity is still of value. The world knows we possess an enormous ability of nuclear retaliation. Over 60 years of not using our nuclear weapons shows wise restraint. But for our enemies to be uncertain what provocation may awaken an overwhelming response, nuclear or conventional, is an uncertainty that still helps to keep the peace.
I recognize that foreign policy is complicated. It is inherently less black and white to most people than domestic policy. I think there is room for a foreign policy that strikes a balance.
If for example, we imagine a foreign policy that is everything to everyone, that is everywhere all the time that would be one polar extreme.
Likewise if we imagine a foreign policy that is nowhere any of the time and is completely disengaged from the challenges and dangers to our security that really do exist in the world – well, that would be the other polar extreme.