Powell: Kennan's legacy offers hope in war on terrorism
By Eric Quiñones
Princeton NJ -- Evoking lessons from the career of George Kennan, the architect of American foreign policy during the Cold War, U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell pledged to a Princeton audience that the United States will win the war on terrorism by remaining focused on its democratic ideals.
Powell delivered the keynote speech Feb. 20 at the University's George F. Kennan Centennial Conference, honoring the diplomat who crafted the strategy of "containment," which became the foundation of American policy toward the Soviet Union. Powell noted that Kennan, even while warning against the dangers of communism, remained steadfast in his belief that democracy would triumph.
"Even in a difficult time I am optimistic, as George Kennan was optimistic, because the ideals that guide our political life remain our greatest strength," he said.
"It's not enough to fight against a negative like terrorism," Powell added. "We must focus on what inspires us, on what brings the good people of the world together. We've got to fight for the positive -- for liberty, for freedom, for democracy. That's what George Kennan has always tried to teach us."
Kennan, a member of Princeton's class of 1925 who turned 100 on Feb. 16, was unable to be at the conference, which was attended by leading scholars and diplomats as well as members of Kennan's family. Following his remarks in Richardson Auditorium, Powell visited Kennan at his home in Princeton.
Kennan, who entered the foreign service a year after graduating from Princeton, enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a diplomat and historian, including assignments to the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s. He is most renowned as the author of the "Long Telegram," which he sent from Moscow in 1946 in an effort to awaken American officials to the futility of trying to collaborate with the government of Josef Stalin.
"Some men achieve fame as witnesses to great events. Some are renowned because they have participated in seminal events. And some men are venerated for their talent to interpret such events. But George Kennan has been all three -- witness to history, shaper of history and interpreter of history," Powell said.
"George Kennan always had a remarkable gift for seeing the very weave of history as it was being made before him. That's what all of us are trying to do now," he added.
Drawing a parallel to the Cold War while defending the Bush administration's policies, Powell said that the war in Iraq has been fought to ensure that weapons of mass destruction do not fall into the hands of terrorists who would threaten world peace.
But even following the al Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, America must not allow the early 21st century to be remembered as an "age of terrorism," Powell said.
"It is a matter of sad necessity that both proliferation and terrorism hold a share of the definition of our age. But we must not let these dangers dominate that definition, and here our best tutor -- our inspiration -- is once again George Kennan," he said.
"The young George Kennan witnessed the birth of a monster at close range.... He foresaw the great darkness totalitarian regimes would spread. And he saw just as clearly, too, that many well-intentioned people in the West did not understand the real character of that enemy," Powell said. "Having undergone such an experience, a young person could have been forgiven for entertaining a certain pessimism about the future. But George Kennan was no pessimist."
Seeking to uphold Kennan's legacy, Powell said, "We struggle today with a different kind of adversary than those of the 20th century, but one no less contemptuous of liberty and freedom. As we triumphed before, so will we again -- if our ideas are serious ones and if we are serious about our ideals."
Sophomore Ran Tao, who watched a simulcast of the lecture with other students at the Frist Campus Center, said she was impressed with Powell's ability to express the "personal side of politics," although she remains skeptical of the Bush administration's policies.
Professor Wolfgang Danspeck-gruber, who teaches international diplomacy in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, said, "I found his lecture extremely eloquent, very thoughtful and really in a Kennanian spirit."
Prior to the lecture, Powell visited with students, President Tilghman, members of the University's faculty and Board of Trustees and members of the Institute of Advanced Study, where Kennan is an emeritus faculty member. Senior Taufiq Rahim had the unique opportunity to engage in several minutes of one-on-one debate with Powell over the war in Iraq.
"I thought if I'm going to get to meet him I should take the opportunity to have a substantive conversation and really engage him. The answers you get here are not always the answers you get at a press briefing," Rahim said.
After his lecture, Powell was presented with the inaugural Crystal Tiger Award, given by Princeton undergraduates to an individual who has had a transformative impact on the world. The students chose Powell in honor of his work as secretary of state, his military record and service as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as his efforts to combat the global spread of AIDS.
"Above all, it has been the strength of your character and depth of your integrity that has captured our imagination," senior Rishi Jaitly, coordinator of the award selection committee, told Powell.
Powell said the award would immediately go on his desk and that he would make sure to remind his many Princeton alumni mentors and colleagues -- including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci -- that he is the first holder of the Crystal Tiger Award.
Speech available on television and online
U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's Feb. 20 address at Princeton and portions of the daylong George F. Kennan Centennial Conference at which he spoke are available on television and online.
The events will be rebroadcast on Princeton Channel 2 in the dormitories and Channel 7 in University offices as well as on Channel 27 on Patriot Media in Princeton; viewing times will be available on the University Channel calendar at <Web page>.