"Since roughly the time of the increased troop movements into Czechoslovakia in 1968, Soviet political hegemony over the other Warsaw Pact countries has been slackening." -- George Kennan, April 4, 1989 What is wrong with this sentence? Its main point is unexceptionable. If its author were not George Kennan -- ambassador, statesman, historian, feted now (see the cover of The Atlantic) as America's "Last Wise Man" -- it would not warrant three readings to make sure that our eyes do not deceive us. But there it is, in his testimony last week to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "increased troop movements into Czechoslovakia in 1968." Increased troop movements? He means the invasion of Czechoslovakia. The overthrow of "socialism with a human face." The crushing of the Prague Spring. The declaration of the Brezhnev Doctrine. The transformation of Alexander Dubcek from social reformer into forest ranger. The beginning of two decades of unrelieved repression and misery for Czechoslovakia. "Increased troop movements?" This grotesque euphemism is not a slip of the tongue. It is not an oversight. It is a window onto George Kennan's political philosophy. The window is important because, in this the season of Kennan's canonization, his philosophy is being conveniently distorted. True, Kennan first enunciated the notion of "containment," the overarching theory of postwar American foreign policy. True, Kennan says that the Soviet Union "should now be regarded essentially as another great power, like other great powers." True, as The New York Times summarized his testimony, "The father of 'containment' says Russia is no longer a threat." But it is not true that Kennan is an old Cold Warrior who has now renounced the creed because of Gorbachev's benignity. As Kennan would be the first to say, he has never been a Cold Warrior. He was the author of containment, yes, but a very cool, detached and abstract form of containment it was. The essence of Kennan's political philosophy has always been that we should treat the Soviet Union as a great power, looking only to our national interest, not to anticommunist ideology, to guide us. Kennan was acute in identifying the ideological origins of Soviet foreign policy. But he never lapsed into advocacy of a counter-ideological response by the United States. Liberals, wanting to claim Kennan, may like to say that he was once a conservative. Neither word really applies. Kennan was then, and remains now, the foremost American "realist," meaning a believer in Realpolitik, in foreign policy as power politics, in dealing dispassionately and without moralism with the other side. As he put it bluntly in a 1985 antimoralist tract in Foreign Affairs, the primary obligation of foreign policy is to "the interests of the national society" and not its "moral impulses." For Kennan, national interest is all. Once you understand Kennan's uncompromising, antisentimental realism, you then understand why his moral vocabulary is so impoverished. Why the most he can say about apartheid is that "certain of the procedures of the South African police have been no less odious to me than to many others." Why the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a mere "action" and a "mistake." Why the 1968 Czech invasion is now "increased troop movements." Kennan has been a consistent "realist" for 40 years. He believes that the United States ought not involve itself in any great anti-Soviet crusade. He believes that under Gorbachev. He believed it under Brezhnev. He believed it under Stalin. In 1947, a few weeks before publication of Kennan's famous Foreign Affairs article outlining containment, Truman declared American support for Greece and Turkey, then under severe communist pressure. How did Kennan react to containment in practice? A few days before Truman's dramatic address to Congress, Kennan was shown a draft text. "To say that he found objections to it is to put it mildly," writes Joseph Jones, who drafted the Truman Doctrine speech. "He was in favor of economic aid to Greece, but he had hoped that military aid to Greece would be kept small, and he was opposed to aid of any kind to Turkey. It was nevertheless to the tone and ideological content of the message, the portraying of two opposing ways of life, and the open-end commitment to aid free peoples that he objected most." There is a question now as to whether the Cold War is over, whether it is time to call off our ideological crusade against the Soviet Union. The question is a fair one. But Kennan's answer, now so celebrated, is hardly news. Kennan was for calling it off in March 1947. Before you conscript Kennan to one side or the other of today's ideological debates, be clear who he is and who he was. He has long thought that hard-liners, from Truman on, distorted his notion of containment out of all recognition. He does indeed call for an end to containment, as generally (mis)understood. But that is not Kennan responding to Gorbachev. That is Kennan responding to Kennan. He has been saying that for a very long time. As far back as that August 1968 day when the Soviets beefed up their troops in Prague and before.