But ten months earlier, Kennan wrote a memo that was largely overlooked at the time due to his relatively insignificant role as “nothing more than a highly competent clerk.” It is, in fact, that memo Mr. Obama and team should revisit right now. In language similar to what he would use in 1946, he bluntly acknowledged that Joseph Stalin knew just what buttons to push to get the United States to do his bidding. The Russians were already manipulating reality and events and had been all along. Kennan wrote: “They observe with gratification that in this way a great people can be led, like an ever-hopeful suitor, to perform one act of ingratiation after the other without ever reaching the goal which would satisfy its ardor and allay its generosity.”
Franklin Roosevelt gave the store away to Mr. Stalin and company at Yalta. His inexperienced successor, Mr. Truman, didn’t do much better at Potsdam. But of course, they were dealing with a Soviet dictator and we are dealing with Vladimir Putin. Putin is nothing like Stalin, right?
Actually, Mr. Putin has more in common with the pock-faced “man of steel”—referred to at times by Roosevelt and later Truman as “Uncle Joe”—than most people care to notice. He is driven by power and is one dangerous dude. The decision to portray him in sinister terms in my novel, Camelot’s Cousin, was not just a fictional tool, but rooted in scary reality. There are good guys and bad guys in the world. And then there are dumb guys who can’t tell the difference. They may be the most dangerous of all.
As President Obama looks for solutions in Syria and the Middle East by dancing with Vladimir Putin, he is looking for love in all the wrong places.
Sixty-eight years ago, it took a glorified clerk and a recently-booted-out-of-office politician to remind the world that Russia could not be trusted. Kennan wrote his telegrams. And Winston Churchill gave a speech about “the sinews of peace” and that ominous “Iron Curtain.”
In many ways, the key to the present crisis and future success is a good long look at the past.
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