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Indybay Feature
How to learn from history: George F. Kennan
by Christian Mueller
Sunday Nov 21st, 2021 3:54 PM
Reality shock today: Russia's fleet en route to US to help battle fuel crisis. 2 million barrels of Russian diesel to cool down the retail price that hit its highest level since 2014...NATO expansion to the east can only be understood as a provocation from Russia's point of view.
How to learn from history
A US diplomat who understood Russia: George F. Kennan
by Christian Müller
The story of George F. Kennan, the famous U.S. political scientist, shows that learning from history might be possible.
[This article published on 11/16/2021 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.infosperber.ch.]


"George F. Kennan has a contradictory claim to historical fame. Hailed in the 1940s as the architect of policies to contain Soviet expansionism through the deliberate use of countervailing power, he became the principal advocate of détente with Russia in the 1950s. Then, after the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Kennan became a persistent critic of NATO expansion to Russia's borders, calling it 'the greatest mistake of the entire post-Cold War era.'" (Geoffrey Roberts)

George F. Kennan, 1904-2005, was a historian and a perfectly German- and Russian-speaking U.S. diplomat who was among the most prominent commentators on U.S. foreign policy in the United States after World War II. Now the British historian Geoffrey Roberts, who also specializes in the history of the Soviet Union, has dedicated a biographical article to him on the platform "Responsible Statecraft," the first section of which - in German translation - can be read above. In his rather long contribution, Geoffrey Roberts describes in detail how Kennan, as a historian and intimate connoisseur of Russia and Russian culture - the "Russian soul" - increasingly advised against military action and pleaded for amicable solutions with Russia. Above all, Kennan observed NATO's development with increasing concern, and in 1997 he publicly warned in the "New York Times" against NATO's eastward expansion to Russia's borders. But what did that matter to then US President Bill Clinton, who, like most Americans, understood nothing about Russia and even spent a lot of money to help Boris Yeltsin, who was disastrous for Russia's development, to a second term in office?

If only the USA had listened to its best expert on Russia at that time!

The USA stubbornly refuses to learn from history

It is always sad to see how mankind is incapable of learning from history and avoiding the worst thing that can happen to people, namely war. Whoever observes the history of the USA, NATO and now again the politics of Germany a little closer, can only shake his head - or, in order to avoid sleepless nights, simply has to look away. The peace movement in Germany, still noticeable and visible in the 1980s, has disappeared. Demonstrations against the storage of nuclear bombs in U.S. military bases in Germany no longer exist. Even the Green Party rejects a fundamental renunciation of armed drones by the German armed forces. And NATO wants to give itself new statutes so that it can strike pre-emptively against another power if necessary.

Infosperber repeatedly takes the liberty of drawing attention to the devastating policies of the USA and NATO - and perhaps for this very reason has more and more readers in Germany. Because in Germany, too, there are rightly - even if hardly present in the media - many people who are worried - also because of the German military policy. Not least for them, an Infosperber article from 2017 about the US historian and diplomat George F. Kennan - see above - is repeated here.

1997 - 2007 - 2017: 20 years of misguided US policy.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was not given a hand up, but increasingly threatened. The beginning of disaster.
1997:
George F. Kennan, one of those highly educated, well-read and in the best sense of the word world-experienced diplomats, as they are today - unfortunately - hardly to be found, was then already 93 years old. Kennan was born in the USA in 1904, grew up partly in Germany, later learned Russian in Europe and even earned a diploma as an interpreter in Berlin. Later, as a U.S. diplomat in Moscow, he got to know Russia better than almost anyone else: He spent his free time there not indoors, in the embassy building, but outdoors, among the people. In addition, his passion was history; as a historian, he was a professor at Princeton University and held visiting professorships at Oxford, Harvard and Yale. George F. Kennan was an exceptionally good and precise observer, a clever mind - but also a wise man!

On February 5, 1997, an article appeared by him in the New York Times that is unforgotten and must remain unforgotten. The then President Bill Clinton seemed to intend to extend NATO to the borders of Russia. Clinton had been elected to a second term as President in early November 1996 and sworn in as President of the United States for the second time on January 20, 1997. His NATO plans were still somewhat obscure, probably for the sake of re-election, but political insiders seemed to know about them.

Then the aged but still intellectually extremely active historian and intimate Russia connoisseur George F. Kennan reached for the keys. The decisive sentence of his article is quoted here first, translated into German: "The opinion is, frankly stated, that NATO enlargement would be the most disastrous mistake in American policy in the whole period since the Cold War."

George F. Kennan knew what made the Russians tick, knew that they wanted to become part of the free world after the collapse of the Soviet Union, without any bellicose aggressiveness - but aware that their fatherland, Russia, had a long and rich history behind it and was not a "quantité négligeable" historically or economically. To declare Russia enemy No. 1 with NATO's eastward expansion would amount to a stigmatization that was unacceptable to Russia's self-confidence.

Bill Clinton is responsible for the "most fatal mistake"

U.S. President Bill Clinton, along with the Europeans, then did exactly what perhaps the best and most intimate Russia expert in the U.S. at the time had warned against in the most prestigious newspaper in the United States. Clinton gave the green light for NATO's eastward expansion. It was the starting signal for an ominous development!

2007:
Ten years later, at the traditional security conference in Munich, Vladimir Putin gave a long, fact-filled, polished and impressive speech. It can be read on Infosperber. In effect, Putin offered the West good cooperation on almost all issues. There was only one point on which he said a crystal-clear "no": Russia would never accept that the world be controlled and directed solely and monopolistically by the great power, the USA. And he made it clear that NATO expansion to the east can only be understood as a provocation from Russia's point of view.

The Western representatives at this high-profile event heard only the "No to the monopolar world" and threw everything else to the wind. Unfortunately.

Putin's 2007 speech in Munich is always extremely worth reading, down to the last detail!

2017:
Again ten years later. The West has learned nothing. On the contrary. The U.S. has been provoking Russia for several years, especially in Ukraine, a country that was part of the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War, that borders Russia with about 70 percent of its borders, that has 30 percent of its population with Russian native language and that, with over 40 million inhabitants, is anything but a geopolitical trifle (Russia itself has 140 million inhabitants). Just again in recent weeks and months, the U.S. has poured oil on the fire with the construction of a new military base in Ukraine, joint maneuvers in the Black Sea and new arms deliveries (Infosperber reported).

Stephen F. Cohen, a now 79-year-old professor emeritus of Russian studies at Princeton and New York universities and one of the editors of The Nation magazine, argues that Putin does not even belong among the top five biggest threats to the United States. In 1990, when the Soviet Union collapsed under Gorbachev, Russia was by far the strongest nuclear power in the world militarily after the United States. Therefore, it would have been the supreme task and duty of the USA not to distance Russia as an enemy and to demonize it, as it happened and even happens today in an extreme form, but to integrate Russia, this second strongest nuclear power, to make it a good neighbor. However, this is exactly what the USA - i.e. its power politicians - did not want; they attached importance to making Russia feel that it is the loser. (See the research of the US-American historian Mary Elise Sarotte: 1989; The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe, Princeton Press). And this sense of being the loser, in turn, has to do primarily with communism. The U.S. shied away from and shunned nothing as much as communism. Even today, U.S. politicians repeatedly indicate - often unintentionally - that they see, condemn and fight Russia as the power - and thus the danger - of communism.

What comes to mind? "Against stupidity, gods themselves fight in vain," said already Friedrich Schiller (in 1801, in his drama "The Maid of Orleans").

So much for the Infosperber article of December 25, 2017.

Soon the article "25 years of misguided US policy" can be written - with the current addition that now Europe is not only toeing the US line, but more than ever is even seeking the confrontation with Russia itself. Those familiar with the scene who call for talking to Russia instead of elevating this country to the status of a public enemy for the sake of the U.S. and the arms industry and thus pushing it even closer to China, for example, hardly have a chance of being printed in Germany.

"We're staying tuned," was the advertising slogan of the Zurich Tages-Anzeiger in better times (until 2014). "Infosperber sees what others overlook," is - in marketing parlance - Infosperber's "claim." But while the "Tagi" has not kept its promise at the time and today takes over its foreign reporting from the "Süddeutsche Zeitung," Infosperber does not seek to align itself with the big players in the media landscape.

We will stay tuned.

PS: An attentive Infosperber reader from Germany has just informed us that the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade was awarded to George F. Kennan in 1982. You can read the speech in justification of this award, the laudation by Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, and the acceptance speech by George F. Kennan here, just click here. - Infosperber thanks all readers in Switzerland and even more so abroad, who read, think and not only agree or disagree, but help to lead this world towards more peaceful times.

On the relations between the USA and Russia

The Russian studies professor Stephen F. Cohen mentioned in the text was one of the best-known Russia experts in the USA. He, too, was a committed advocate of a different Russia policy. Unfortunately, he succumbed to cancer on September 18, 2020 - the same day as (tendentiously left-liberal) federal judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose death totally absorbed the interest of the U.S. public because it gave Donald Trump the opportunity to appoint an arch-conservative jurist - Amy Coney Barrett - while still in office. The death of Stephen F. Cohen, the fighter for a better relationship between the USA and Russia - he was also a personal friend of Mikhail Gorbachev - went almost unnoticed. But at least the "Washington Post" devoted a rather detailed obituary to the deceased.

Stephen F. Cohen's wife Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor of the U.S. weekly magazine "The Nation," and some friends then founded the "American Committee for US-Russia Accord." This association monitors the US media very closely and draws attention to articles in various media on the subject of the USA/Russia in a newsletter published daily at 11 AM CET - a real service for those interested in politics.

Archive articles and videos by and with Stephen F. Cohen are also published on the same platform.
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