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.
Look what happened the last time a government official attempted such a policy document. Stephen Coughlin, the Pentagon specialist on Islamic law and Islamic extremism, and one of our government’s most important figures in analyzing its nature and waging ideological war against it, was fired in very early 2008 from his position on the military’s Joint Staff after becoming too hot or controversial within the Pentagon.
The reason? He had written a memorandum months before, based on documents exposing a covert plan by the Muslim Brotherhood to subvert the United States using front groups. This made him the target of those very same influential front groups and of their allies in the U.S. government itself, who subsequently canned Coughlin. That was during the Bush administration; imagine how much less acceptable such a policy memo would be now, after nearly four years of Obama’s subversive complicity.
Today’s closest approximation to Mr. X’s policy paper is the work of Frank Gaffney and the Washington D.C.-based Center for Security Policy, who in 2010 published Shariah: The Threat to America, a highly acclaimed report on the dangerous reality of political Islam. More recently he and his team unveiled a free, ten-part, online “video briefing” entitled “The Muslim Brotherhood in America: A Video Course,” designed to educate American citizens about “a threat most Americans are unaware even exists within our country, let alone the peril it represents.”
But Gaffney doesn’t exactly have the ear of the current administration, which has openly embraced the Brotherhood at home and abroad. If Mitt Romney ascends to the White House this coming January, will his administration be open to Gaffney’s advocacy, much less adopt it as policy? In the past Romney has expressed strong opposition to jihadists, but then claimed that “jihad is an entirely different entity” from Islam, and is “in no way” a part of Islam. It’s difficult to tell just how seriously he comprehends the danger and how forcefully he intends to confront it. Insiders have said that he “gets” the threat but is laying low about discussing it publicly until after the election.
Kennan closed his policy paper with this challenge:
The issue of Soviet-American relations is in essence a test of the overall worth of the United States as a nation among nations. To avoid destruction the United States need only measure up to its own best traditions and prove itself worthy of preservation as a great nation.
America did just that, and the Soviet Union fell. Now update Kennan’s words to refer to a new sort of Cold War between America and Islam; his challenge still lies before us, as relevant as it was 65 years ago.
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