George F. Kennan
and the Strategy of Containment
Kennan's abrupt transition from career diplomat to Cold War strategist grew out of more than just an "outrageous encumberment of the telegraphic process." 1 By the time the "long telegram" had won him the reputation of being the foremost Soviet expert within the government, there was already present in his writing and thinking a depth of strategic vision—that knack for seeing relationships between objectives and capabilities, aspirations and interests, long-term and short-term priorities— rarely found in harried bureaucracies. One suspects it was this quality that commended him to Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal, a man of similar concerns, as the ideal "deputy for foreign affairs" at the newly established National War College in Washington, the nation's first institution devoted to the study of political-military affairs at the highest level. Kennan's success there in turn attracted the attention of George C. Marshall, who, upon becoming Secretary of State early in 1947, resolved to impart greater coherence to American diplomacy by organizing a "Policy Planning Staff," charged with "formulating and developing ... long‐ term programs for the achievement of U.S. foreign policy objectives." In May of that year, Kennan left the war college to become the staff's first director. 2 His place in Washington was by that time unique: he alone among top officials combined knowledge and experience in Soviet affairs, exposure to what would later be called "national security" studies, and a position of responsibility from which to make recommendations for action.
In the summer of 1947, Kennan inadvertently added fame or notoriety to this list, depending on one's point of view, with the publication in