Monday, August 17, 2015

More Thoughts of Kennan: Russia and/or Iran

George Kennan in his lecture on American Diplomacy articulated a path to dealing with the USSR, in fact Russia. The following summarizes his view: 

But we have seen that the Kremlin is under no ideological compulsion to accomplish its purposes in a hurry. Like the Church, it is dealing in ideological concepts which are of long­ term validity, and it can afford to be patient. It has no right to risk the existing achievements of the ·revolution for the sake of vain baubles of the future. The very teachings of Lenin himself require great caution and flexibility in the pursuit of Communist purposes. Again, these precepts are fortified by the ·lessons of Russian history: of centuries of obscure battles between nomadic forces over the stretches of a vast unfortified plan. Here caution, circumspection, flexibility and deception are the valuable qualms; and their value finds natural appreciation in the Russian or the oriental mind. Thus the Kremlin has no compunction about retreating in the face of superior force. And being under the compulsion of no timetable, it-does not get panicky under the necessity for such retreat. Its political action is a fluid stream which moves constantly, wherever it is permitted to move, toward a given goal. Its main concern is to make sure that it has filled every nook and cranny available to it in the basin of world power. But if it finds unassailable barriers in its path, it accepts these philosophically and accommodates itself to them. The main thing is that there_ should always be pressure, increasing constant pressure, toward the desired goal. There is no trace of any feeling in Soviet psychology that that goal must be reached at any given time. 

These considerations make Soviet diplomacy at once easier and more difficult to deal with than the diplomacy of individual aggressive leaders like Napoleon and Hitler. On the one hand it is more sensitive to contrary force, more ready to yield on individual sectors of the diplomatic front when that force is felt to be too strong, and thus more rational in the logic and rhetoric of power. On the other hand it cannot be easily defeated or discouraged by a single victory on the part of its opponents. And the patient persistence by which it is animated means that it can be effectively countered not by sporadic acts which represent the momentary whims of democratic opinion but only by intelligent long-range policies on the part of Russia’s adversaries policies no less steady in their purpose, and no less variegated and resourceful in their application, than those of the Soviet Union itself. 

In these circumstances it is clear that the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and 'vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies. It is important to note, however, that such a policy has nothing to do with' outward histrionics: with threats or blustering or superfluous gestures of outward "toughness." While the Kremlin is basically flexible in its reaction to political realities, it is by no means unamenable to considerations of prestige. Like almost any other government, it can be placed by tactless and threatening gestures in a position where it cannot afford to yield even though this might be dictated by its sense of realism. The Russian leaders are keen judges of human psychology, and as such they are highly conscious that loss of temper and of self-control is never a source of strength in political affairs. They are quick to exploit such evidences of weakness. For these reasons, it is a sine qua non of successful dealing with Russia that the foreign government in question should remain at all times cool and collected and that its demands on Russian policy should be put forward in such a manner as to leave the way open for compliance not too detrimental to Russian prestige.

 The key elements are that the Russians have a different view of time and we must let them preserve their prestige. Nothing has changed. Yet does this in any way apply to Iran, Persia in a historical context. The true issue is; does the United States today have a diplomatic core capable of having this discussion or have we politicized the extreme political tendencies of the State Department even further.

The US State Department has not always been the bastion of clever strategic thinking. Hay and the Open Door policy may have very well set the stage for Pearl Harbor. The State Department closed the doors to the Jews in the 30s. The list goes on. The problem now is that Executive Agreements can be cut that are not Treaties yet have significant influence. One wonders if we have any more Kennans.