George and Paul


Belatedly, I happened to see (via Arts & Letters Daily) this very interesting comparison between George Kennan and Paul Nitze, probably the two most influential architects of the strategy of containment–though both approached it in completely opposite ways. The piece is by Nicholas Thompson, Nitze's grandson.

Thompson seems to have caught the essence of the two men when he writes: "Perhaps the core difference is that Kennan was most comfortable elegantly stating problems; Nitze was most comfortable trying to solve them–often with a blizzard of calculations."

Indeed, but perhaps Thompson errs in trying to find too much consensus between the two elsewhere in his piece, when what each man stood for were fundamental differences over the philosophy behind U.S. foreign policy during the cold war. Indeed, Kennan came to regard NSC-68, which was largely Nitze's blueprint for how to fight the Soviet Union (itself derived from the 1946 Clifford-Elsey report, itself derived from Kennan's so-called "long telegram") as anathema to the strategy he had earlier proposed. Not surprisingly, Nitze came to influence prominent neocons, while Kennan became a liberal icon. They were living proof that the line about partisanship being abandoned at the water's edge only told half the story. Bureaucratic struggles invariably demand a victor, and it's fair to say that Nitze won against Kennan, regardless of the two men's friendship.