The Corner

A Question for Norman Podhoretz

In his magnificent new book, World War IV, Norman Podhoretz compares the beginning of the Cold War with our present-day struggle against Islamo-fascism, George W. Bush with Harry Truman. That got me to thinking.

At the beginning of the Cold War, State Department diplomat George Kennan laid out nearly all the essential elements of what became our fundamental strategy throughout the conflict—namely, containment—in the famous “Long Telegram” (so-called because it ran to some 5,000 words) on February 22, 1946.

Now just think about that date.

By the beginning of 1947—the date by which it had become clear to the West that Stalin was supporting a communist insurgency in Greece, and hence the date usually given as the beginning of the Cold War—Kennan had already framed the way we would think about the struggle for decades to come. And—a critical point—his thinking had very quickly found widespread acceptance throughout the senior levels of the government.

Yet here we are today, more than six years after 9/11. Does anyone believe a new “Long Telegram” has yet been written? And accepted throughout the senior levels of the government? Norman Podhoretz’s own book represents a darned close approach to the “Long Telegram,” providing an intellectual framework for the current struggle that’s rigorous, compelling, and accessible. But something tells me it’s not being passed approvingly around the State Department.

What gives? Why were able to respond to the Soviets so quickly? (The “Long Telegram,” incidentally, is only one of several documents that could be cited here. Churchill gave his “iron curtain” speech on March 5, 1946, and Truman announced what we now call the “Truman Doctrine” on March 12, 1947—both within months of the beginning of the Cold War, both demonstrating that the West already understood what it was up against.) And why are we still fumbling for a strategy—for a basic intellectual framework—now?

I happen to know that Mr. Podhoretz checks in on this happy Corner from time to time; as also that he is never, ever at a loss for an answer. The moment I receive it, I’ll post his reply.

Peter Robinson — Peter M. Robinson is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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