The Seafaring Fringes

George F. Kennan, in his short, definitive work American Diplomacy 1900-1950, asks a telling question: Why were the United States, in 1900, with no navy and no army to speak of, secure against all foreign enemies, while in 1950, with the second largest army in the world and the world’s largest navy, much more insecure?

What invisible hand, protecting the US from foreign foes, disappeared during that fifty-year period? The Monroe Doctrine, you say? That’s a good guess, but how much help was that doctrine when the French took over Mexico during the Civil War, or when the Germans offered Mexico California, Arizona and New Mexico during World War I?

The Monroe Doctrine was as substantial as air. The answer is: the British Empire. It disappeared during World War II. In the Battle of El Alamaein in Egypt, British forces defeated the offensive of Erwin Rommel, but they were never again to dominate the world as they had before, and that’s what made the United States more vulnerable.

“We can see,” Kennan writes in 1950, “that our security has been dependent throughout much of our history on the position of Britain; that Canada had been a useful and indispensable hostage to good relations between our country and the British Empire; and that Britain’s position, in turn, has depended upon a balance of power on the European Continent.

“Thus it was essential to us, as it was to Britain, that no single Continental land power should come to dominate the entire European land mass.

“Our interest has lain rather in some sort of stable balance among the powers of the interior, in order that none of them should effect the subjugation of the others, conquer the seafaring fringes of the land mass, become a great sea power as well as a land power, shatter the position of England, and enter — as in these cirucmstances it certainly would — an overseas expansion hostile to ourselves and suported by the immense resources of the interior of Europe and Asia.”

Boy does that ever sum it up — the Thirty Years War, The Crimean War, The War of Jenkin’s Ear — the whole works.

You have to hand to it George F. Kennan, the guy who said the invasion of Iraq was inadvisable because it would upset the balance of sectarian forces in the region.

But why listen to learned statesmen like Kennan when you can take the advice of slimeball chicken hawks like Karl Rove and Dick Cheney?