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March 12, 2007


Michael Turner

Well, wait a minute Brad -- I think you're being the pot calling the kettle black. Look at the context of Chomsky's quote of Kennan. The section title is "the liberal extreme" (i.e., the other end of the spectrum in State department policy planning debates.)

From what I know of Kennan, I would rather his thought had provided the guiding principles of U.S. Cold War geopolitical strategy. He was right on so many counts. On the other hand, in a democracy, it's not enough to be right. You also have to be popular -- and crusades are fueled by popularity. As Kennan's Wikipedia entry has it:

"The source of the problem, according to Kennan, is the force of public opinion, a force that is inevitably unstable, unserious, subjective, emotional, and simplistic. As a result, Kennan has insisted that the U.S. public can only be united behind a foreign policy goal on the "primitive level of slogans and jingoistic ideological inspiration."

I can't read Chomsky anymore, mostly because he seems to keep writing the same book, trying to reach a wider audience than he could with some of his more scholarly tomes. In "What Uncle Sam Really Wants", he may have reached a new low. "Hey, kids: what your leaders say in public and what their policy planners say in private are -- get this -- *different*" Well, duh. But ... there are always people who need to get that message.


Pots & kettles indeed Brad. Fair points so far as you go, but you didn't address the real stinger, which was:

"Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security."

I think you've recognised that that disparity's neither healthy nor wise, and for that I respect you more than I do the amoral and apolitical chauvinism that characterised Kennan's superficial Weltmacht punditry.

I'd say it's immoral. In 2007 we're just starting to see how immoral it is. It's time we collectively grew out of this, but we haven't. We may yet discover what the Easter Islander thought as he felled the last tree: was it, "This is MY tree, I'll do what the heck I want"?

btw, dropping the bomb on people because they're Asian seems a strange kind of altruism. ;)


Thanks for pointing this out. Was thinking of reading him for the first time.

Good reason to avoid scholars like Chomsky who spread their talents too widely and who inspire uncritical religious faith in their followers which shuts down the engines of critical reading. Better to read about a Cold War historian or even more focused like the second volume of Bruce Cumings History of the Korean War.


Spot on Brad. Chomsky is not a trustworthy source on politics. And despite pots, kettles, disparity, and chauvinism, your point holds. Chomsky is misquoting Kennan by taking him out of context. To show this does not require defending Kennan.

Kennan can certainly be called cynical, pessimistic, or realistic depending on your bent. But as you so deftly demonstrate, cynical realism in Kennan's case served the cause of cautious restraint, not reckless aggression and imperialism.

One could even make the case (and I think Kennan was making the case) that idealism is more the handmaiden of agression than cynical realism. George H.W.Bush was no dreamy idealist nor left-wing champion, but he new better than to occupy Iraq. His son, unfortunately, listened to his gut and threw his hat in with the neocons, who are idealists in sort of a dark, reductionist sense of the term.

Practical realism, after all, would have dictated not invading Iraq or at the very least that we listen to Shinseki and have 300-500K troops and actually have a plan for the occupation. Instead we had the "ideals" of unilateral use of force, "shock and awe" and "hearts and minds".

Chomsky twists Kennan's argument 90 degrees, changing it from an argument for realism vs idealism into some sort of ghoulish declaration of "We're vampires so lets get busy drinking blood!"


@dave: I guess you must be a supporter of the invasion of Iraq because Bush type morality is exactly the kind of idiotic idea Kennan was trying to fight against with his immorality. Capitalism is the only scientifically proven path to wealth. Unless you are willing to impose capitalism and democracy there is no way to eliminate the disparity between East and West. The idealistic opponents of Kennan thought that they could aggressively spread demo-capitalism using gun, bombs, aid and propaganda. Kennan realized you couldn't and it would therefore be necessary to basically fight defensively to protect the United States and prevent communism from spreading. He was wise, pragmatic and most importantly amoral.

Please explain how you would have handled the situation. Let me guess: make friends with all enemy nations and massively redistribute wealth from rich countries to poor. Making friends certainly works which is why China never invaded India. Oh wait they did http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sino-Indian_War. And massively redistributing wealth definitely worked in Cambodia. Only half the population died.


"btw, dropping the bomb on people because they're Asian seems a strange kind of altruism"

So Pearl harbor never happened, Japan never declared war on the United States. No United States bombed Japan because they were Asian. WTF??

Uncle Bruno

This is leaving Asia to the Asians?:

"We should recognize that our influence in the Far Eastern area in the coming period is going to be primarily military and economic. We should make a careful study to see what parts of the Pacific and Far Eastern world are absolutely vital to our security, and we should concentrate our policy on seeing to it that those areas remain in hands which we can control or rely on."


There are lots of us, like you, rational thrikens, who know that the big Wall Street firms should have been left naked in the storm. Ya make big bets in Vegas and wake up penniless, or with broken knee caps if you exceed the house limit and dont' have cash to back your losses. That's life. But noooo! (remember Belushi) If you have Hank, Alan, Ben, and Tim on your side, then the house let's you ride, because they put up the money to save your sorry ass.That scenario occurs to me everyday, and I cry for those who were Madoff's victims (lots of mostly fairly wealthy people), but more for Wall Street's victims (lots more mostly middle class people). And then I realize, if you harm the wealthy, the Feds will get you, but if you harm the middle class the Fed will back you. Per Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson: Eezent theez a grrate contry!!Furthermore, it has now been predicted by one Russian economist that the ruble (now about 26 to 1 against the dollar) will be the approximate equal of the dollar before too long. You print enough money, this is what happens. Lots of foreign trade, and what they pay you in is now worthless.


Or you could be the paranoid csropinacy type, who sounds the alarm bell every half-minute to the point nobody listens to you anymore. If you see csropinacy everywhere, nobody's going to listen to you on the legitimate conspiracies occurring currently or around the corner. And that doesn't help anyone.I don't think you're a bad person Uncle Billy, far from it. But as I've told you before even Noam Chomsky doesn't believe the 911 csropinacy theories. The song and dance gets old.

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