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George Kennan, 101, Cold War Strategist And Diplomat, Dies

Matthew Hersh

George F. Kennan, former American ambassador, Professor Emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study, and expert on the history of Russia, the Soviet Union, and U.S.-Soviet relations, died Thursday at his home in Princeton Township. He was 101.

An innovator and leader in international affairs up to his death, he was honored in 2004 by then Secretary of State Colin Powell in a celebration that recalled the diplomat's role as a leading architect in U.S.-Soviet relations throughout the Cold War.

"Many people said that perhaps Ambassador Kennan was the beneficiary of a lucky guess. Not so," Mr. Powell said in his presentation last February at Princeton University. "His prediction was the manifestation of genuine wisdom."

Mr. Kennan, 1925 graduate of Princeton University, joined the faculty at the Institute in 1956, where he had been a member since 1953. He was the author of 17 books, two of them Pulitzer Prize-winning, and wrote a myriad of articles on international relations. He was probably best known as the author of the so-called "Long Telegram," an 8,000-word telegram dispatched from Moscow to Secretary of State James Byrnes in February 1946 outlining a strategy on how to handle diplomatic relations with the Stalin-ruled Soviet Union. That telegram essentially became the groundwork of the Cold War, and, according to Mr. Powell, Mr. Kennan forecast the outcome with pinpoint accuracy: "When the Soviet Union came to an end in 1991, it did so exactly as Ambassador Kennan [said] it would in predictions he made 45 years earlier."

In the commentary that accompanied an exhibit at Firestone Library, the telegram's eighteen pages that made up the foundation of international relations policy for decades to come merited the same recognition as "Washington's farewell address, the Monroe Doctrine, the Open Door Notes, and Wilson's Fourteen Points," and stated that while the Soviet Union may not be receptive to diplomacy, it was by no means impervious to force. In the telegram's follow-up work, The Sources of Soviet Conduct, Mr. Kennan, writing under the pseudonym of "X," forwarded the idea that an effective counter to Soviet -aggression toward Western powers was diplomacy, but not war. His writings would eventually set the foundation for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949.

The telegram also gave rise to the U.S. policy of containment toward the U.S.S.R. that thrust Kennan into a life-long role as a Cold War authority. Mr. Kennan, however, was never pleased that the policy he created was associated with the arms build-up of the Cold War, as he later wrote in the Truman Doctrine.

And while Mr. Kennan believed in the fundamental truth behind his policy of containment, he would be confounded by misinterpretations of his writings, as he later expressed in a 1996 CNN interview: "My thoughts about containment were of course distorted by the people who understood it and pursued it exclusively as a military concept; and I think that that, as much as any other cause, led to [the] 40 years of unnecessary, fearfully expensive and disoriented process of the Cold War."

It was while he was a member of the Institute faculty that Mr. Kennan twice received the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for Russia Leaves the War, Vol. 1 (1956), and Memoirs, 1925-1960 (1967).

"George Kennan's long and distinguished professional life has been one of uncommon achievement in both statecraft and scholarship," said Peter Goddard, director of the Institute. "His record of accomplishment is remarkable in its breadth and depth."

While with the Institute, Mr. Kennan served as Ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1952, and then as Ambassador to Yugoslavia from 1960 to 1963.

Mr. Kennan became a professor emeritus of the Institute's School of Historical Studies in 1974. At the time, he offered his success since joining the faculty largely to the Institute itself: "I can find no adequate words in which to acknowledge the debt I owe this institution."

Mr. Kennan was born on February 16, 1904 in Milwaukee. In addition to his two-time Pulitzer Prize recognition, his awards throughout his century-spanning life include the 1976 Princeton University Woodrow Wilson Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Nation's Service; the 1981 Albert Einstein Peace Prize; the 1982 German Peace Prize; the 1989 Presidential Medal of Freedom; and the 1994 honor of the Distinguished Service Award from the Department of State. He also received 29 honorary degrees.

Mr. Kennan's family has informed the Institute that a memorial service will be held on Wednesday, April 6, at 11 a.m. at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

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