FROM THE ANTHOLOGY: Essays for the Presidency

A New Realism

A Realistic and Principled Foreign Policy

Democratic Presidential candidates and U.S. Senator Barack Obama; Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico; and U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton stand for the National Anthem during the 30th annual Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa, September 16, 2007. Joshua Lott /Reuters

Sixty years ago, in the pages of this magazine, George Kennan presented a compelling case for U.S. global engagement and leadership to contain Soviet power. His strategic vision laid the foundation for a realistic and principled foreign policy that, despite mistakes and setbacks, united the United States and its allies for the duration of the Cold War.

In the wake of the Bush administration's failed experiment with unilateralism, the United States needs once again to construct a foreign policy that is based on reality and loyal to American values. Such a policy must address the challenges of our time with effective actions rather than naive hopes. And it must unite us because it is inspired by the ideals of our nation rather than by the ideology of a president.

In his July 1947 "X" article, Kennan argued that the United States must meet Soviet power with American power and communist ideology with credible democratic leadership. He understood that containing Soviet communism would require strong American international leadership and that such leadership would depend on the power of our military, the dynamism of our economy, and the courage of our convictions. This strategic vision—because it was based on fundamental realities and fundamental American values—informed the policies not only of Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower but also of every president, Democratic or Republican, for two generations.

America is a great nation that knows how to defend itself. But its greatness is built on foundations more solid than self-absorption. We defend ourselves best when we lead others, and the key to our history of effective leadership has been our willingness to seek and find common ground, to blend our interests with the interests of others. Truman and Eisenhower understood that defending Europe and America from the Soviets required a strong military, but they also understood that we could not lead our allies if they did not wish to follow.

These and subsequent American presidents knew the importance of moral leadership. While our

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