Examples of Excellence

From among the legions of outstanding diplomats who have served the United States since the middle of the 20th century, the following 25 individuals were chosen to exemplify the highest standards of the profession. The list is by no means intended to be exhaustive, or to suggest that others are not equally, if not more, deserving of such attention.


George F. Kennan (1904-2005)

George Kennan joined the Foreign Service in 1926 and served in early assignments in Switzerland, Germany, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. He then joined the staff of the newly opened U.S. Embassy in Moscow, where he served with and became close to Charles “Chip” Bohlen. Away from the country during World War II, he returned to Moscow in 1946 as the second-ranking person in the embassy. There he penned his influential “Long Telegram,” the most famous cable in U.S. diplomatic history. In it he established the conceptual basis for America’s Cold War containment policy, one which sought resolutely and at every opportunity to restrain inherently expansionist, Soviet-led communism. The substance of the telegram was published as “Sources of Soviet Conduct,” under the anonymous authorship of “X,” in Foreign Affairs (July 1947). In 1947 Kennan returned to Washington, where as the first FSO Deputy Commandant of the National War College, he inaugurated the continuing State relationship by which senior advisors, faculty and midlevel FSOs teach and are trained alongside their military colleagues. Later that year he was asked to establish and lead a new Policy Planning Staff within the State Department, where he became an intellectual architect of the Marshall Plan. However, unhappy with new clearance procedures that impeded his direct access to the Secretary of State and discouraged that his containment concept was being misused to justify assertive military policies, Kennan retired in 1950. Although he was later called back to serve as ambassador to the Soviet Union and to Yugoslavia, these assignments brought him few satisfactions. Most of the last 54 years of his life were devoted to scholarship, prolific authorship of historical works and trenchant commentary from the peaceful confines of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University. The Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at the Smithsonian Institution is named in his honor.

  • Hixon, Walter. George Kennan: Cold War Iconoclast. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.  
  • Kennan, George F. Lectures at the National War College 1946-1947,  Giles D. Harlow and George C. Maerz, eds. Washington, DC: National Defense University, 1991. 
  • Kennan, George F. Memoirs, 1925-1950. Boston: Little Brown, 1967.
  • Kennan, George F. Memoirs, 1950-1963. New York: Pantheon Books, 1972.
  • Kennan, George F. Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin. Boston: Little Brown, 1961.