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Sixty-five years ago this July, Foreign Affairs published an explosive article by diplomat George Kennan, under the pseudonym Mr. X, which isolated and defined “The Sources of Soviet Conduct.” It became the centerpiece of our response to Soviet expansionism and the foundation of our Cold War policy, and made “containment” a household word and a foreign policy strategy for decades afterward.
In the article, Kennan explained that the Soviet Union’s leaders were determined to spread the communist ideology around the world. Due to the “innate antagonism” between socialism and capitalism, the USSR perceived itself to be at perpetual war with the West, with no possibility for peaceful coexistence. And they were extremely patient and practical in the pursuit of that goal:
The Kremlin is under no ideological compulsion to accomplish its purposes in a hurry… The main thing is that there should always be pressure, unceasing constant pressure, toward the desired goal.
Direct conflict was never considered a desirable avenue for the propagation of their cause; instead, the Soviets were always on the move to fill “every nook and cranny available to it in the basin of world power.” Their foreign policy, Kennan wrote, “is a fluid stream which moves constantly, wherever it is permitted to move, toward a given goal.”
Kennan argued that the Soviets were weak compared to the united Western world, and vulnerable to internal fault lines. He noted that Soviet power was “unamenable to argument or reason,” but very sensitive to superior force, in the face of which Russians would simply withdraw to wait for a more propitious time. That did not mean that the West should allow itself to be lulled into complacency by such a retreat, however.
Kennan described our conflict with Soviet Communism as “undoubtedly the greatest task our diplomacy has ever faced and probably the greatest it will ever have to face.” His policy conclusion was that the main element of U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of
a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies… designed to confront the Russians with unalterable counter-force at every point where they show signs of encroaching upon he interests of a peaceful and stable world.
The United States adopted that policy, and the USSR collapsed twenty years ago (which is not to say that the threat of communism collapsed with it).
Now go back and reread this but replace the Soviet threat of the past with the contemporary one of Islamic fundamentalism. Check off the similarities: Islam a totalitarian ideology at perpetual war with Western capitalism? Check. Muslims patient and prepared to fight the long war? Check. Impervious to the logic of reason, but vulnerable to force? Check. Islam always on the move to fill every nook and cranny available to it? Check. Of course there are differences, but the big picture is strikingly similar. To paraphrase Kennan, our conflict with Islamic fundamentalism is probably the greatest task our diplomacy has ever faced or will ever have to face.
So where is our Mr. X in government today who will craft a similar policy document to address the threat of Islamic expansionism? How would that even be possible, considering that our current President is so publicly worshipful of Islam and so supportive of such hardcore Muslim bodies as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Muslim Brotherhood that many suspect he is Muslim himself? How would it be possible, considering that the Obama administration has scrubbed its official language clean of any unflattering reference whatsoever to Islam and will brook no criticism of it? Indeed, our own Secretary of State is working with the 57-member OIC to adopt restrictions on free speech that will criminalize the defamation of Islam.
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