Monday, May 3, 2010

Containing Iran

Everyone, and I do mean everyone, needs to check out Michael Anton's excellent piece at National Review Online about the real costs of pursuing a policy of Containment with Iran. It's a bit long, but well worth the read anyway.

Anton opens the article with a brief survey of the history that led to the doctrine of Containment during the Cold War, beginning with the famous "Mr.X" article penned by George Kennan for Foreign Affairs magazine in 1947. He makes the very important point that, at least initially, containment was understood by everyone as at best a necessary evil. As it ultimately succeeded in helping topple the Soviet regime, it only looks like the policy of choice in retrospect.

In his survey, Anton mentions briefly that "rollback", actually confronting and defeating militarily the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, was the alternative policy choice at the time. But, given the presence of nuclear weapons, it was judged at the time as too dangerous, potentially mutually destructive, and was abandoned.

But while rollback, as a policy alternative, was dismissed, the idea it represented never was. And during the long struggle with the Soviet Union it was finally voiced again, in a fashion, by none other than Ronald Reagan when he famously said over 30 years later, "Here's my strategy on the Cold War: We win, they lose."

Containment, accepting as it does not only the reality, but also in an important sense, the legitimacy of an otherwise intractable foe was, and is, frankly, un-American. Prior to the Cold War, our long diplomatic and military history had evolved in a single direction: In war, nothing is finally acceptable to Americans but total victory on our part and unconditional surrender on the part of our enemies. Anything less than that outcome sticks in our collective craw. Witness: Vietnam. (The single best place that I know of to go to inform yourself of this development is Russell Weigley's superb The American Way of War.)

Hence, the frustration experienced by many, and I would argue most, Americans during the period of the Cold War. Swallowing the Mexican standoff that was Mutually Assured Destruction under the broader policy of Containment was extremely tough on the average American's psyche. He wanted an end to the conflict with the Evil Empire through victory even as he understood the great danger of too direct a confrontation with it.

A similar price will be paid by the average American if we pursue a similar policy with Iran. No, that's not right. I think the price will actually be even steeper. Why? Presently, we are overwhelmingly their military superior and, to this point anyway, a potential global holocaust is not one of the costs we would have to be willing to bear. But if we wait, trusting that a policy of containment will protect us and the world, the price of victory, the only acceptable outcome, will go up with each passing day.

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