We must sustain the American-led international order and retain its benefits for America and the world. But doing so will require the containment and sometime-restraint of China. After all, there's little doubt we are now in the opening stages of a new Cold War.

How can we succeed in this endeavor while avoiding conflict and mitigating economic harm?

I favor a realist approach which facilitates China's economic rise in the U.S.-led rules-based system, but resists China's aggression in attempting to replace that system with its own. Fortunately, history offers us a guide here.

Enter George Kennan's "long telegram."

Written at the start of the U.S.-Soviet Cold War in February 1946 by the then-U.S. Chief of Mission in Moscow, George Kennan, the telegram boldly and accurately assessed the Soviet Union's nature and its strategy. Re-reading the telegram on Wednesday, I was struck by how many of its observations apply closely to our challenge with China.

For a start, Kennan's warning on the nature of Stalin's Soviet state bears close comparison to today's China under Xi Jinping. Kennan's recognition, for example, that the Soviet Union's internal policy would be "devoted to increasing" Moscow's "strength and prestige" bears closely to Xi's efforts to garnish a nationalistic Chinese nation devoid of independent thought. Also striking is Kennan's warning that "Moscow sees in [the United Nations] not the mechanism for a permanent and stable world society founded on mutual interest and aims of all nations, but an arena in which aims just mentioned can be favorably pursued." This perfectly encapsulates China's own effort to use international institutions to facilitate its feudal-patronage foreign policy. Ever noticed how Xi likes to ignore the rules China has signed up to?

Kennan also gives us a historic foundation for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's effort to identify the motivation of Chinese investments in Africa. Namely, that those investments are not about moral shared interests, but rather China's entrenchment of its economic hegemony and influence. "With respect to cultural collaboration," Kennan noted, "lip service will likewise be rendered to [the] desirability of deepening cultural contacts between peoples, but this will not in practice be interpreted in any way which could weaken security position of Soviet peoples."

What about U.S. responses to a Cold War adversary?

Kennan makes clear that unifying the population to the necessity of the challenge is crucial: "We must see that our public is educated to realities of Russian situation." The diplomat continued, "I cannot over-emphasize importance of this. Press cannot do this alone. It must be done mainly by government, which is necessarily more experienced and better informed on practical problems involved."

President Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, should pay heed here. Redoubling their existing warnings about China, the U.S. must make clear that China's challenge is generational, multifaceted across economic, military, political, and social spheres. And most of all, that America's overcoming of this challenge is crucial to the future well-being of the American way of life.

Equally important to Kennan was the need to offer a positive contrast. Kennan was right when he argued that "[w]e must formulate and put forward for other nations a much more positive and constructive picture of sort of world we would like to see than we have put forward in past." The same is true today when it comes to countering Chinese influence. While Pompeo is offering more meaningful trade and political support to Indo-Pacific nations, Trump must do more here. It is not enough to lecture other nations about China's ills. The U.S. must explain why our rules-based order is more beneficial than the cronyism on offer from Beijing. As a first step, the U.S. should redouble its efforts to woo India into a deep strategic alliance.

Kennan's most important lesson, however, is to be clear-eyed about the adversary's strategic conception of America. In this case, we must recognize China's binary understanding of global leadership: that it is either Beijing's way or Washington's way. That intent matches the Soviet Union that Kennan warned of 72 years ago:

"In summary, we have [in the Soviet Union] a political force committed fanatically to the belief that with US there can be no permanent modus vivendi - that it is desirable and necessary that the internal harmony of our society be disrupted, our traditional way of life be destroyed, the international authority of our state be broken, if Soviet power is to be secure."

All of this speaks to a basic, broader truth: Knowledge of history, not international relations theory, remains the most valuable tool of modern statecraft.