Dual Containment and the Crackdown on Iran: Wrong Policy, Wrong Reason, Wrong Administration
By Richard H. Curtiss
"Israel is attempting to convince the United States that Iranian-inspired Islamic extremism and Iran's rearmament drive have become a major threat to the stability of the Middle East and the interests of the West."--David Hoffman, Washington Post, Mar. 13, 1993.
What the U.S. did in Iran from 1953 to 1979 was unforgivable. Seeking to preserve for a few more years the international cartel that enabled Western oil companies to buy for pennies from the petroleum-producing countries barrels of oil that sold for one or two dollars each on the world market, the U.S. returned the Shah to the throne from which he had fled, and thereby strangled an incipient Iranian democracy in the cradle. Then, seeking to sell obscene quantities of arms to his country, the U.S. named the Shah its "surrogate in the Gulf," turning him into a megalomaniac who imposed a brutal tyranny on his people while his corrupt family bled his country white.
What Iran has done to the U.S. from 1979 to 1995 also is unforgivable. Exulting in their power, Iran's Islamic revolutionaries held American diplomats hostage in violation of the most basic rules of three millennia of civilized practice, and in Lebanon hired surrogates to assassinate American academics who truly understood and were helping the Middle East, hijack aircraft, hold journalists, teachers and clergymen for political ransom, assassinate political opponents, blow up U.S. and French embassies in Beirut and Kuwait, and help prolong the Lebanese civil war for a decade. Iran thereby earned the accolades of extremists and fanatics all over the globe, and the contempt of civilized nations.
The sensible thing for both sides to do would be to call it even and call off the feud. So far neither side has shown any signs of such good sense--at least not at the same time. Instead, for domestic political reasons, a weak U.S. president is seeking to show he can be tough after all by beating up on a country that has no friends.
And, also for domestic political reasons, a failed Iranian government is exploiting the renewed U.S. hostility to rally its people for one more round of useless sacrifices while it presides over the crumbling of a petroleum-based economy that should be providing its people modern educational and medical facilities and a job-producing industrial and agricultural infrastructure.
Iran's folly is Iran's problem. America's folly is ours!
The policy of dual containment, authored by U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk when he was White House Middle East adviser, makes no sense for American interests. Stability in the Gulf region, which contains more than 65 percent of the world's proven petroleum reserves, once was based upon a roughly balanced triangle consisting of Iran, with a present population of 63 million people; Iraq, with a present population of 20 million; and Saudi Arabia and the other GCC countries, with a combined resident population of 24 million. The idea was that if one party got pushy, the other two would close ranks to defend themselves.
If that wasn't enough, America and its allies would come to the rescue. The British led just such a rescue of Kuwait in 1961, and were joined by Egypt and the rest of the Arab League. The U.S. led a much larger rescue operation in 1990-91, and was joined by all of its allies--Arab, Asian and Western.
By contrast, the present policy seems designed eventually to drive Iran and Iraq to come together, and to drive a wedge between them and America's Arab allies in the Gulf. Dual containment's latest twist is to maintain a strict and humiliating U.N. embargo on Iraq while initiating an equally tough but so-far unilateral U.S. embargo on Iran. It might make some sense if it would work. So far, however, it hasn't worked in Iraq, where the U.S. has the cooperation of the …