Containment: The strategy that dare not speak its name

Katie Howland Contributor
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At least one leading liberal hawk is again touting the Cold War strategy of “containment” — this time with Iran.

Former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack spoke at a Brookings panel yesterday on Iran and the country’s nuclear future. Pollack stated that the country is hopeful after the election in June, but it will be hard to find an answer that completely satisfies both the U.S. and Iran. He suggests containment as a viable Plan B.

“The strategy that dare not speak its name,” said Pollack, who said preventing Iran from expanding beyond its borders and “making mischief” would be less costly than other solutions.

Pollack, whose book “The Threatening Storm” was highly influential among liberal supporters of Iraq invasion, added that there will be challenges, particularly if Iran obtains nuclear weapons. In that case, he said, Iran will become emboldened, and may experience an internal power struggle over who really runs the country. Indeed, despite his alleged openness to discussion, newly-elected Iranian President Rowhani may not control the future of Iran’s nuclear program.

“Regarding the Iranian nuclear issue, we want the swiftest solution to it within international norms,” Rowhani said at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday. He also said Iran would not give up its right to enrich uranium, and that Iran believes the U.S. will just have to deal with a nuclear-capable Iran.

Pollack barely touched on Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei and his role in Iran’s policy. He said Khamenei was a “deeply fearful” man who saw “enemies behind every tree.”

In the event that Iran does acquire nukes, Pollack said the world would not end, citing countries like Pakistan and North Korea having nuclear capability and not having done anything “crazy.”

“North Korea makes Iran look like Canada.” Pollack said. He failed to mention that the U.S. ability to assert policy over North Korea has been deeply undermined by North Korea’s nuclear capability. If Iran reaches nuclear capability, the regional dynamic will be similarly transformed.

Broadly speaking, things are going well for Iran in the Middle East. It has successfully propped up the Assad regimein Syria and are funding Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon. U.S. credibility on the other hand, is at an all-time low.

“If the military balance changes, if Iran possesses a nuclear weapon, our ability to deter Iran from doing things we don’t want it to do would diminish a lot,” Thomas Donnelly, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told The Daily Caller. “Almost certainly to the point where the containment policy would be eviscerated.”

Donnelly suggests a U.S. military strategy to degrade, delay, incapacitate and prevent Iran from building a nuclear capacity. Plus, he said, containment is an expensive venture. In a time of budget shortfalls, the administration will be unlikely to commit to the high price.

Donnelly added that Iran’s policy aims have been largely satisfied by its current standing in the region, and it may keep its nuclear program in its “hip pocket” for now — to use as later leverage.

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Katie Howland