Paul Heer comments on George Kennan's Impact on American Policy in East Asia

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October 12, 2018

With his new book, Mr. X and the Pacific: George F. Kennan and American Policy in East Asia, veteran East Asia analyst and Elliott School Adjunct Professor Paul Heer sheds new light on Kennan’s legacy. Before his book launch, Heer took a moment to discuss the book that critics call "meticulously researched," "necessary," and "fascinating”:

"As a Cold War-era student of diplomatic history, I was a longtime disciple of George F. Kennan’s realist perspective on the Soviet Union (and his own work as a historian). My subsequent professional experience as an intelligence analyst on East Asian affairs led me to a greater appreciation for Kennan’s involvement with US policy in the Far East—and a realization that this aspect of his career had largely been overlooked by other scholars. So when I returned to academia for my doctoral studies at GW, I combined my academic and professional interests into a subject that would also fill a gap in the historical record.  

As I researched the dissertation that eventually became the book, I was surprised at how narrowly Kennan applied his famous doctrine of 'containment' within East Asia—and especially by his persistent dismissal of the strategic importance of China. I was also surprised that no other scholar had 'stolen my thunder' by recognizing that the depth and extent of Kennan’s involvement with the Far East merited a book-length examination!

The key takeaway from Kennan’s experience with East Asia is that Washington needs to recognize the limits on American influence, power, and interests in the Far East, and should calibrate and rationalize its engagement and strategic objectives there accordingly."

Paul J. Heer

Adjunct Professor of International Affairs