"If there is any great lesson we Americans need to learn with regard to the methodology of foreign policy, it is that we must be gardeners and not mechanics in our approach to world affairs,' Kennan said. To extend Kennan's metaphor, a gardener can't make good things happen, but he can help things happen. Or as Kennan himself put it, the secret is 'not trying to force growth by mechanical means, not tearing the plants up by their roots when they fail to behave as we wish them to.'"
Kennan's approach was thus two-pronged: First, military power would be essential in pinning down the Soviet Union and protecting the American people and our allies from attack; second, final victory would come not through military power, but by nurturing alliances and by showing the world that a system based on freedom and capitalism was far more attractive than the brutality and repression offered by our Soviet challengers.
Today, a similar two-pronged approach is required to win the war on terror, as even influential members of the Bush administration claim to acknowledge. This too will be a long war, they say, possibly a war of generations. And "like the Cold War, the global war on terrorism is a war of ideas," observes Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
Unfortunately, though, Wolfowitz and others in the Bush administration have proved themselves mechanics, not gardeners, and incompetent mechanics at that. Infatuated with the unrivaled military power at their command, they fooled themselves into thinking that there was a shortcut to victory, that the war of ideas could be won more easily if our ideas were forced down the throats of others at gunpoint. They believed that democracy could be installed, not nurtured, in the Middle East.
All but the most ardent in the administration now understand that they were wrong, that by invading Iraq under false pretenses they have undercut the image of American decency that ought to be our most powerful weapon against terror. But because they have created a myth among their supporters that this president, like the pope, is incapable of error, they cannot bring themselves to change their course.