From the moment the use of the term “reset” as a synonym for do-over, start-over, or make-over, entered the political vocabulary – inserted by none other than that wonderful wordsmith, Vice President Joe Biden – it has been applied foremost to our relationship with Russia. But as a recent, probable reluctantly chosen, headline in the Washington Post indicated, a reset button can often create an error message.
“Russia Not Budging on Iran Sanctions: Clinton Unable to Sway Counterpart,” was how the largely pro-administration paper put it.
This past week, while my wife and I were enjoying a few days in Maine, she went shopping for things for the grandkids, and I, as is my very predictable pattern, gravitated toward the local bookstore, this one a newly constructed establishment in Kennebunkport. Among my catch for the day was an interesting and well-written work by Nicholas Thompson, who has, in fact, written for the Washington Post, about two men who greatly influenced U.S. policy during The Cold War - George Kennan and Paul Nitze. The author is actually the grandson of the latter. The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War, is a great read describing two giants who maintained an uneasy friendship, while usually working on opposite sides of the foreign affairs street.
Early in the book, there is a passage about a memo written by George Kennan in May of 1945. The diplomat was living and working in Moscow when the war in Europe ended. Most Cold War buffs, such as myself, know very well of Kennan’s memo writing skills. His February 1946 “long telegram” is considered to be one of the seminal documents of the period, in which he described the Soviet Union’s “neurotic view of world affairs” and the “instinctive Russian sense of insecurity,” not to mention their, “secretiveness and conspiracy.”
But the memo written roughly 10 months earlier, though largely overlooked at the time due to his relatively insignificant role as “nothing more than a highly competent clerk,” is one that all the reset button aficionados in the State Department and elsewhere should revisit right about now.