We, as a nation -- and as a world -- are dwelling in a twilight zone of sorts at the moment, spooked by a "war on terror" that has been clearly unsuccessful in removing terror from our lives. From Bali to Bethesda, no one seems safe. And yet the Bush administration seems to think more war is the answer as it almost obsessively prepares to make Saddam Hussein its scapegoat for all that's "evil" in the world.
Congress has done its part (or not, depending on your perspective) and given President Bush wide-ranging war-making powers, making a conflict with Iraq appear all but inevitable in the months ahead. Will that war be the seamless operation that rids the world of Saddam Hussein's proverbial "weapons of mass destruction" (and, one would hope, by some miracle, eliminates al Qaeda and lone snipers as well) or merely Act One of a global mess that will unleash the dogs of war in a manner unseen since the first half of the 20th century? Time will tell. As Napoleon once said, events are in the saddle.
But perhaps we should heed the warnings of a still-surviving foreign-policy veteran of that last era of global conflict. George F. Kennan was one of Harry Truman's major advisers and as such, the architect of that president's Cold War policy of containment. Anything but a dove, Kennan reasoned that the United States needed to draw a line in the sand with the Soviets. His were the geopolitical ideas that shaped the post-World War II world as much as those of any other single individual.
So perhaps we should pay attention to his views of the current crisis. At 98, Kennan is remarkably, still as sharp as a tack (We should all be so lucky!) In a short profile in this week's New Yorker, he offers his perspective on the current crisis. "The apparently imminent use of American armed forces," Kennan observes, "to drive Saddam Hussein from power, from what I know of our government's state of preparedness for such involvement, seems to me well out of proportion to the dangers involved. ... I, of course, am not well informed. But I fear that any attempt on our part to confront that latent situation by military means alone could easily serve to aggravate it rather than alleviate it."
Kennan's policy of containment was always tempered by, he says, "the recognition that wherever in this modern age one has to choose between war and no war, such is the fearfulness of modern armaments that one should give every conceivable preference to the possibilities and arguments for peace before resorting to the sword."
Sound advice then, we think, and sound advice now. Particularly when so many of our real "enemies" -- and equally real threats to global security -- are, clearly, not going to be eliminated by bombing palaces in Baghdad.
This week it starts in earnest — the questioning. You can't escape it. It comes from your spouse, your kids, your parents — at the breakfast table, in the car, on the phone, via email: "What do you want for Christmas?" ...