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Friday, May 9, 2008

The Faulty Containment Arguement

In yesterday's Chicago Tribune, Steve Chapman presents the case for containment of many of our current enemies. First, he sets up a historical context of containment.

The centerpiece of the U.S. approach to the Soviet Union was captured in a famous 1947 essay by American diplomat George Kennan, who rejected either war or retreat in favor of "a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies."


Amid all the war hysteria, it was easy to forget containment worked against Stalin and Mao—both unbalanced dictators with nuclear weapons. They were far more formidable tyrants with dreams of world domination. Yet we managed to preserve our security without preemptive war.

For that matter, containment had worked against Saddam Hussein. In the 12 years after the first Gulf War, we kept him in a box, where he was no threat to us or his neighbors. In 2002, he even had to accept the return of United Nations weapons.

After Chapman, presents the historical context of containment, he presents his arguement for the current use of containment.

Reagan took a different approach. In response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, he continued President Jimmy Carter's covert aid to the rebels, but didn't send American troops. Likewise when a pro-Soviet regime gained power in Nicaragua. The key to containment was finding affordable means to constrain and weaken the enemy, without bleeding ourselves down in wars we didn't have to fight.

Our policy in Iraq has been just the opposite. And Iran could be the next mistake. McCain says Tehran cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons—which implies he would go to war to prevent it, no matter what the price in blood or treasure.

The claim is that the Iranians are too crazy to be deterred from using nukes against Israel or giving them to terrorist groups to use against us. One common trait of governments and their leaders is an overriding desire to survive. If Iranian nukes are ever used for aggression, the regime can be sure Iran will be, as Hillary Clinton so vividly put it, "obliterated."

In my opinion, this view is not only naive and faulty, but frankly, it is downright disingenuous. First, it is downright disingenuous to proclaim that containment worked with Saddam Hussein. Hussein violated seventeen UN resolutions. The U.S. and Britain were forced to set up no fly zones and man those zones with a constant patrol of air power. Furthermore, Saddam systematically pilfered and corrupted the oil for food program that went along with our containment policy. After analyzing the intelligence, we have come to believe that Saddam was trying to systematically decimate the sanctions and someday return to producing WMD's.

Furthermore, Chapman disingenuously proclaims that

In 2002, he even had to accept the return of United Nations weapons inspectors

The only reason that agreed to this is because there were over 100,000 U.S. forces suddenly stationed on his border from the U.S. His sudden 180% turnaround on weapons inspectors had nothing to do with containment but rather the threat of war. Chapman dismisses the fact that containment lead to four years of no inspections even though those very inspections were a crucial part of the first Gulf War Treaty that ended the war in 1991.

Chapman totally dismisses the fact that the Gulf War Treaty itself was systematically violated by Saddam for thirteen years after its inception. This was a treaty that ended a war and it was made clear that any violation would start the war up again. Saddam systematically violated this treaty over and over with impugnity. This was the result of containment. In fact, Saddam Hussein is exhibit A in the failure of containment policy not its success.

Furthermore, Chapman simply does not understand the main distinction between our Soviet enemies of the past and our current enemies. The Soviets believed in one visceral human condition that our current enemies do not: the condition of self preservation. We had something known as mutually assured destruction with the Soviets. The Soviets knew that each side had enough nukes to destroy both sides if either side became aggressive.

The Iranians, and other enemies, don't much care about mutually assured destruction. Most of the mullahs and other religious extremists within that nation and others, see their own death in the aggressive pursuit of our destruction as something to be cherished. To them, this is jihad, and jihad is the holiest achievement in their culture.

Furthermore, the Iranians could pass off these nukes to any number of terrorists who would do their dirty work for them. Thus, for Chapman to consider the Iranians to see a nuclear attack in the same way as the Soviets would have is the height of disingenuous naivety. The Iranians are loose cannons and if they were able to acquire nukes, there is no way to predict what they would do.

There is a strain of foreign policy thought that seems unable to understand the unique and deadly nature of our enemy. They constantly try and draw false parallels to enemies of the past. While there is always something to be had from historical comparisons, they must always be kept in mind along with important differences. These are differences that Chapman clearly ignores, and thus comes up with a faulty hypothesis that containment would be effective with Iran.

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