The Foreign Service Journal, March 2023

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2023 67 Lessons from a Scholar-Diplomat George Kennan for Our Time Lee Congdon, Northern Illinois University Press, 2022, $19.95/paperback, e-book available, 232 pages. Reviewed by Joseph L. Novak Lee Congdon’s George Kennan for Our Time surveys the life and works of George F. Kennan, the legendary American diplomat and historian (1904-2005). In this compact book, the author places a spotlight on Kennan’s belief in the power of diplomacy, his realist approach to inter- national relations, and his advocacy of the principle of nonintervention. A specialist on Eastern Europe and professor emeritus at James Madison University, Congdon has written numerous books, including Kennan: A Writing Life (2008) and Solzhenitsyn: The Historical-Spiritual Destinies of Russia and the West (2021). The narrative begins by sketching the contours of Kennan’s life story. Raised in an accomplished family in Milwaukee, he developed an interest in international affairs in part due to the influence of a distant relative who was an expert on Imperial Russia. The Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., is named in honor of this member of the family, who is known as George Kennan “the Elder.” The young Kennan passed the required tests and joined the newly formed U.S. Foreign Service in 1926. Seeing the chance to follow his relative’s path, he subsequently opted for extended Russian- language training. In 1946, while posted at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, Kennan displayed his vast knowledge of the Soviet system in his “Long Telegram.” He followed this up a year later with “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” an article published anony- mously in Foreign Affairs magazine. It soon emerged that Kennan was “X,” the writer of the acclaimed piece. The two essays proved decisive in convincing Washington to adopt contain- ment of the Soviet Union as a strategy at the dawn of the Cold War. They also cemented Kennan’s position as a top geopolitical strategist. As cited in George Kennan for Our Time , Kennan would later observe: “My reputation was made. My voice now carried.” In 1947 Kennan became the first Director of Policy Planning at the State Department, where he played a key role in establishment of the Marshall Plan. Some- what paradoxically in light of his image as the consummate diplomat, Kennan would go on to serve abbreviated and unsuccess- ful stints as U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Kennan’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Memoirs: 1925-1950 (1967) contains an in-depth account of his years in the Foreign Service. Kennan’s second act was as distin- guished as the first. Ensconced for nearly five decades at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, Ken- nan composed numerous well-received books and articles. In the process, he became a preeminent commentator on statecraft and grand strategy. John Lewis Gaddis’ Kennan: An American Life (2011) details his dual roles as a diplomat and scholar, providing a magisterial portrait of Kennan’s long life. Congdon distills several principles from Kennan’s works related to diplo- macy. For instance, Kennan promoted a “trained and experienced” corps of dip- lomats taking the lead on international affairs. He also counseled that diplomatic channels of communication among nations should be kept open and utilized to the fullest extent possible. His views in these areas largely parallel those voiced by Ambassador William J. Burns, the cur- rent CIA director, in The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal (2019). The author highlights that Kennan examined international topics through a lens favorable to balance of power and stability. In its opposition to legalistic- moralistic perspectives, Kennan’s approach aligned with that of Hans Mor- genthau, whose realist treatise Politics Among Nations (1948) was widely read in the postwar era. Kennan also rejected the “crusader impulse” in American foreign policy that could be “traced back to Woodrow Wilson’s dream of a world made safe for democracy.” Concerned about America’s tendency to overreach when its national BOOKS Congdon goes on to quote vintage Kennan, who posited: “We Americans must realize that we cannot be the keepers andmoral guardians of all the peoples in this world.”