When [Nikita] Khrushchev marched into an Iowa cornfield, the Soviet leadership was facing its own list of tensions, the “seeds of its own decay,” as George Kennan put it. For America, Kennan concluded, the response should be neither confrontation nor acquiescence, but instead something more complex: the “adroit and vigilant application of counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points.” America, today, faces a different kind of rival but a familiar challenge: to nudge China in all the ways that it can, while allowing the transformative processes underway to continue. It will satisfy neither extreme of the political spectrum, and that is good news.
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