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You're reading: Isaac Webb: Containment starts at home

Since first speaking to EuroMaidan protesters on Kyiv’s Independence Square in December, McCain has tirelessly beaten the Cold War drum, rallying Senate Republicans to support increasingly harsh sanctions on Russian officials and corporations.

McCain and other foreign policy hawks have settled on a 21st century iteration of George Kennan’s post-World War II policy of containment. To them, and to most hawkish pundits rehashing the virtues of Kennan’s policy, containment was a policy of confronting “Soviet pressure against the free institutions of the Western world” with the “adroit and vigilant application of counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points, corresponding to the shifts and maneuvers of Soviet policy,” as Kennan argued in his historic 1947 “X-Article” in Foreign Affairs.

But Kennan knew that preserving the free institutions of the Western world couldn’t be accomplished simply by fighting proxy wars or subverting borderlands. To Kennan, containment was both a domestic and a foreign policy. The U.S. had to build democracy and freedom at home to defeat communism abroad. In the penultimate paragraph of the “X-Article,” Kennan concluded that “The issue of Soviet-American relations is in essence a test of the overall worth of the United States as a nation among nations. To avoid destruction the United States need only measure up to its own best traditions and prove itself worthy of preservation as a great nation.”

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