'Containment' will not protect the world from the dangers of a nuclear Iran
'Containing' Iran cannot work. In fact, for the sake of accuracy, it is tempting to strike the word ‘containment,’ and call this the Armageddon option. How will the West contain that?
With Iran ever closer to acquiring nuclear weapons, and Western democracies seeking to prevent a fait accompli, a side-debate has opened on whether “prevention” should even be tried. Serious thinkers – including former President Jimmy Carter and Atlantic Monthly correspondent Robert Kaplan – urge that the West need not prevent a nuclear Iran, but instead can safely “contain” it.
Given the costs and risks of prevention, the appeal of containment is understandable. After all, containment of a nuclear armed Soviet Union – the West’s grand strategy for several decades – was, in the end, a major success, despite its enormous costs.
More immediately, opting for containment would allow the West to stand down from its tortuous efforts to impose and enforce effective sanctions. And the burdens of contemplating a military attack on Iran’s nuclear production facilities would, at last, be lifted.
However, a closer look at the requirements, costs, and limits of a successful containment strategy suggests that, in fact, the West should be extremely reluctant to accept a nuclear-armed Iran.
Any such assessment should first define the practices of the Iranian regime that need to be contained. Simply stated, the Iranian regime has consistently declared, in both words and deeds, that it is an implacable enemy of Western, Judeo-Christian civilization.
Pledged to the destruction of both America and Israel, which it labels “the great Satan” and “the little Satan,” the Iranian government routinely opens legislative sessions and public events with mass cheers of “death to America” and “death to Israel.”
Accordingly, in the 1980s, Iranian terrorist proxies perpetrated, among other things: the 1983 suicide bombing of the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut, murdering more than 350; the 1985 hijacking of a TWA flight in Beirut, in which they tortured and killed a U.S. Navy diver on board; and kidnapping, and subsequently torturing, several Americans in Lebanon throughout the 1980s.
In the 1990s, Iran directed the 1992 suicide bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina, murdering 29; the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israel association offices, murdering 85; and the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers complex in Saudi Arabia, murdering 19 U.S. airmen and injuring hundreds more.
In the last decade, Iran has been a principal outside supplier of improvised explosive devices and of terrorist training and support for insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, killing and maiming U.S./coalition soldiers. Its global allies are a gallery of rogue states, including North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela.
It was Iran that created and still supplies Hezbollalh, one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations. Hezbollah’s 40,000 missiles in south Lebanon lend chilling weight to Iran’s insistence that “Israel must be wiped off the map.”
Iran’s sphere of influence now runs from the Mediterranean to the Hindu Kush. It has turned Lebanon and Syria into virtual client states, is fighting for control of Iraq through Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army, and lately has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, the central artery of global oil transport.
The foregoing history shows that even a non-nuclear Iran has not been successfully contained by the West. The task will only be immeasurably harder after Iran’s leaders have their hands on a nuclear trigger.
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