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Correction to This Article
The March 18 obituary of George F. Kennan incorrectly said that the diplomat and historian was educated at a military school in Delaware. Kennan graduated from a military academy in Delafield, Wis.
George F. Kennan, 1904-2005

Outsider Forged Cold War Strategy

By J.Y. Smith
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, March 18, 2005; Page A01

George F. Kennan, a diplomat and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who formulated the basic foreign policy followed by the United States in the Cold War, died last night at his home in Princeton, N.J. He was 101.

A Foreign Service officer from 1926 to 1953, Mr. Kennan also was a student of Russian history, a keen and intuitive observer of people and events and a gifted writer. In his years in the State Department, he was recognized as the government's leading authority on the Soviet Union, and his views resonated in the corridors of authority with rare power and clarity.


George F. Kennan, right foreground, is shown in 1952 with Soviet President Nikolai Shvernik, center, and A.F. Gorkin. Kennan loved Russian culture. (AP)

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His great moment as a policymaker came in 1946. While serving in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, he wrote a cable outlining positions that guided Washington's dealings with the Kremlin until the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly a half-century later.

Known as the Long Telegram, it said that Soviet expansion must be halted and spelled out how that could be done. Moscow is "impervious to the logic of reason," Mr. Kennan said, but "it is highly sensitive to the logic of force." He did not state, however, that war was inevitable. The policy should have a military element, Mr. Kennan maintained, but it should consist primarily of economic and political pressure.

"My reputation was made," he rejoiced in his memoirs. "My voice now carried."

In 1947, he restated the principles in an article in Foreign Affairs that was signed "X" -- the identity of the author soon was disclosed -- and gave the policy the name by which it has been known ever since: containment.

By confronting "the Russians with unalterable counterforce at every point where they show signs of encroaching upon the interest of a peaceful and stable world," he wrote, the United States would "promote tendencies which must eventually find their outlet in either the break-up or the gradual mellowing of Soviet power."

The Long Telegram and "X" article provided the rationale for Cold War initiatives ranging from the founding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949 to the decision to commit U.S. forces to the war in Southeast Asia in 1965. Containment had numerous permutations over time but never lost its vitality. It guided U.S. policy in Iran, the Philippines and the Far East. In the 1980s, it was transformed by the Reagan administration into an effort to roll back Soviet power through an arms buildup.

Former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger said Mr. Kennan came "as close to authoring the diplomatic doctrine of his era as any diplomat in our history."

In 1989, President George H.W. Bush awarded him the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

In 1950, Mr. Kennan took a leave of absence from the State Department to move to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Except for a brief period in 1952, when he was ambassador to Moscow, and from 1961 to 1963, when he was ambassador to Yugoslavia, he spent the rest of his life in Princeton.

Despite his influence, Mr. Kennan was never really comfortable in government or with the give-and-take by which policy is made. He always regarded himself as an outsider. It grated on him when his advice was not heeded, more so because it often turned out that he had been more right than wrong. He had little patience with critics.

His confidence in his own intellect was such that he sometimes declined to explain himself to politicians. For example, he refused to lobby for the Marshall Plan, the aid program that revived the economy of Western Europe after World War II. He was a diplomat, he said, not a salesman.

W. Averell Harriman, the U.S. ambassador in Moscow when Mr. Kennan was minister-counselor of the U.S. Embassy, remarked that Mr. Kennan was "a man who understood Russia but not the United States."


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