Sunday, November 13, 2011

Henry Kissinger on George Kennan

Yesterday I posted an entry about Henry Kissinger, and in doing so I noted that he, along with George Kennan, are probably the two most important figures in American foreign policy outside of some presidents (and more important than some presidents). In the New York Times today, Kissinger reviews the new biography of George Kennan by John Lewis Gaddis. Kissinger's review is lengthy and thorough. Kennan is a complex figure, and Kissinger argues that Kennan would offer both realist and idealist visions that often contradicted each other. This trait limited Kennan's work as a policymaker, but it contributed to the deep insights that he could provide to those in power. As John Lukacs also notes, Kissinger remarks that Kennan is a superb prose stylist.

This new book is going to near the top of my reading list. As readers of this blog may recall, Lukacs has written about his friend can in a short biography and Lukacs published a selection of the letters that they exchanged over the course of around 40 years. It will be interesting to compare perspectives of the authorized biographer Gaddis with those of the friend Lukacs.

Kennan is an intriguing figure, who, like many number of great persons, he is at once contradictory, vexing, and inspiring. Full of very human foibles, but full of striking insights and accomplishments as well, I'm sure that this book will prove worthwhile. I look forward reporting on further in the future blog post.

Kissinger: National Geographic Documentary

Along with George Kennan, probably no other other American in the 20th century--excluding some presidents--has had such a profound (and controversial) influence on American foreign policy than Henry Kissinger. Love him or hate him (and he's been the subject of strong emotional reactions for a long time), this recent interview, which runs about an hour and a half, takes us into his world. Still quite sharp into his 80's, he reflects on his time as national security adviser and has Secretary of State. His interviewer, Niall Ferguson, who's undertaking an authorized biography of Kissinger, is barely heard in this interview, as the words come almost exclusively from Kissinger. Because of his incredible role in relations with the Soviet Union, China, the Middle East, and Viet Nam, his reflections on these events and situations is bound to hold interest.

On the other hand, the interview doesn't hold the pathos, sense of revelation, and soul-baring that Robert McNamara's interview in Errol Morris's film, The Fog of War, displayed. Perhaps it's the Irish-American McNamara's personality vs. that of the German-Jewish immigrant Kissinger's that accounts for the differences. In any event, if you're interested in recent history and American foreign policy, it's well worth the time to view this.

I found this to take a moment say again what I fine collection our public library (ICPL) holds. Another gem!