In a wide-ranging interview at a Georgetown senior citizens home where he spent
the past month, the 98-year-old historian and former top U.S. diplomat repeatedly
warned of the unforeseen consequences of waging war.
Speaking out even as the Bush administration unveiled a new national security strategy calling for preemptive strikes against hostile states and terrorist groups suspected of developing weapons of mass destruction, Kennan said, This decision should really rest with Congress.
He added, Congress is there for the exercise of that responsibility. I think our Constitution and our tradition are quite sufficient here. [Bush] should not do what hes planning to do without a clear congressional mandate. This is against all American tradition.
Anyone who has ever studied the history of American diplomacy, especially
military diplomacy, knows that you might start in a war with certain things
on your mind as a purpose of what you are doing, but in the end, you found yourself
fighting for entirely different things that you had never thought of before,
In other words, war has a momentum of its own and it carries you away from all thoughtful intentions when you get into it. Today, if we went into Iraq, like the president would like us to do, you know where you begin. You never know where you are going to end.
Kennan is the author of the history-making 1947 essay in Foreign Affairs, which he signed as X and enunciated the policy of containment that helped define American foreign policy after World War II. In the interview, he also:
Characterized the new national security document issued by the Bush administration last week as a great mistake in principle;
Voicing the same view that Vice President Albert Gore would take a day later, he warned that launching an attack on Iraq would amount to waging a second war that bears no relation to the first war against terrorism;
Declared that efforts by the White House and Republicans in Congress to link al Qaeda terrorists with Saddam Hussein have been pathetically unsupportive and unreliable;
Said Bush shouldnt speak contemptuously of the inspection teams that previously worked in Iraq, because they succeeded in destroying and removing from Iraq very, very sizeable quantities of dangerous arms;
Called the failure of Democratic congressional leaders and the partys would-be presidential candidates to question Bushs war plans as a shabby and shameful reaction;
Insisted that there is no evidence that Iraq has succeeded in developing nuclear weaponry, and even if they had, it would be targeted on Israel and not the United States;
Said the Israelis almost certainly possess nuclear weapons, and would be quite capable of mounting a devastating retaliatory strike if Iraq ever uses weapons of mass destruction against Israel;
Praised the diplomatic skills of Secretary of State Colin Powell, whom he called a man of strong loyalties in a difficult position [who] has been much more powerful in his statements than Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; and
Cautioned that the United States, even as the worlds sole superpower, cannot confront all the painful and dangerous situations that exist in this world. Thats beyond our capabilities.
Kennan, who was in Washington with his 93-year-old wife this month while the couple that lives with them in Princeton, N.J., was on vacation, appeared vigorous and alert although arthritis has confined him to a wheelchair.
The interview took place in the apartment of former Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-Minn.),
whose anti-Vietnam War candidacy in 1968 was endorsed by Kennan.
Reminded that some people are comparing Bushs request to Congress for broad warmaking powers with the 1964 congressional approval of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which allowed President Lyndon Johnson to escalate in Vietnam, Kennan said such resolutions lead to no good.
He concluded, You have to look at things all over again, every day, every week, every month, and adjust what you are doing, but do it in the light of the experience of the past.
Asked what advice he would give Bush and his national security team in dealing with Iraq, Kennan replied, First, I would say consult with the Israelis, who stand in the line of fire.
He added, But also, there is a very, very basic consideration involved here, and that is that whenever you have a possibility of going in two ways, either for peace or for war, for peaceful methods of for military methods, in the present age there is a strong prejudice for the peaceful ones. War seldom ever leads to good results.
Declaring that Hussein is not the only horrible, evil dictator in the world who might have weapons of mass destruction, Kennan said the United States made a great mistake in backing out of the nuclear test ban agreement.
If we had stopped testing, the greater part of the nuclear weaponry of all the countries who had signed the test ban treaty would have become inoperable in 20 or 30 years.
Shown a New York Times article describing Bushs new national security document as a doctrine and strategy that declares the ideas of containment and deterrence are all but dead, Kennan said, I dont care what you call it. I dont have any use for either word.
A doctrine is something that pins you down to a given mode of conduct and dozens of situations which you cannot foresee, which is a great mistake in principle. When the word containment was used in my X article, it was used with relation to a certain situation then prevailing, and as a response to it.
He said the only relevance between containment and deterrence on the one hand, and the new Bush approach on the other, would be a very general one, because it rests partly on the theory, and I think the correct theory, that if you ever had a chance to do something without the use of military force, by all means choose it rather than put military force into the picture.
Kennan was particularly critical of congressional Democrats for failing to oppose Bushs request for a blank check on Iraq.
I wonder why the Democrats have not asked the president right out, What are you talking about? Are you talking about one war or two wars? And if its two wars, have we really faced up to the competing demands of the two?
He added, This is, to me, as a very old, independent citizen, a shabby and shameful reaction. I deplore this timidity out of concern for the elections on the part of the Democrats.
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