Politics & Policy

Iran and the Costs of Containment

Before we say containment is "the only viable option" in dealing with Iran, we need to calculate its costs.

‘Even as momentum for Iran sanctions grows, containment seems only viable option,” reads a Washington Post headline from April 22. Leaving aside for the moment the dubious character of the first half of that assertion, is it really true that containment is now the “only” option?

It is certainly true that nearly everyone in Washington — from administration officials to the permanent civil service to the foreign-policy establishment — believes that, and has believed it for at least a year, if not longer. The intellectual groundwork was laid long before President Obama came into office, in part as a way of sketching an alternative to an American or Israeli military strike, which seemed a much more likely possibility when the president was named Bush.

In recent days — as one senior administration official after another has either downplayed the significance of an Iranian nuclear weapon or spoken in nigh-apocalyptic terms about the use of military force to prevent one from emerging — it would seem that the triumph of containment as America’s chosen Iran strategy is complete.

The working assumption of containment’s adherents is that it is the low- or lower-cost alternative to tough sanctions or military action. The former are believed to be either impossible to impose (because Russia, China, and other nations won’t go along), undesirable (because sanctions would harm the Iranian people more than the regime and turn popular anger against us), or ineffective (because Tehran is determined to ride out even the most crippling sanctions in pursuit of the bomb). The latter is just dismissed out of hand as the precursor to Armageddon.

But is it really true that containment carries relatively low costs? To answer that, we must first grasp what those costs are likely to be.

It is instructive to begin with a comparison to the lodestar example cited by containment advocates: the decades-long American and allied effort to restrain the expansionist impulses of the Soviet Union. The very term “containment” originated in arguably the most famous foreign-policy essay of all time, George Kennan’s “Sources of Soviet Conduct” [registration required]. Published in Foreign Affairs in 1947, the article outlined a policy that would — short of war — allow America to confront and oppose Soviet aggression.

In order to make containment work, the character of our country had to change in many respects. In 1945, America began its traditional rapid post-conflict demobilization. Defense spending fell from nearly 40 percent of GDP during the war years to 3.5 percent by 1948. The number of men in uniform declined from a high of 11 million to around 1.5 million on the eve of the Korean War. But as the realities of containment sank in, policymakers realized that a repeat of the post-1918 drawdowns and a return to anything like “splendid isolation” would be impossible.

Liberal critics have long fingered the immediate postwar years as the dawn of a sinister “national-security state” in which civil liberties, national resources, and previously cherished priorities were subordinated to the costs of maintaining a permanent domestic and global garrison. This critique is in part facile — isn’t the fundamental question whether what was done was necessary or not? — and in part overblown. But it is not entirely manufactured. America did have to maintain a far larger and more expensive peacetime military than we had ever had before — and with it an unprecedented peacetime draft. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of our troops had to be stationed far from home, in overseas bases partly, or in some cases entirely, financed by American taxpayers. Billions were poured into research and development of cutting-edge weapons systems, with layers of security and secrecy surrounding the labs and manufacturing facilities. We designed and built an enormous, potentially civilization-ending thermonuclear arsenal. For the first time in our history, America established a permanent civilian spy agency.

What did all this cost over the lifetime of the Cold War? The left-wing Center for Defense Information simply added up U.S. defense budgets for those years and arrived at a figure of $17.7 trillion in 2009 dollars. Much of that would have been spent anyway. Then again, other agencies also spent billions of other dollars on Cold War projects. And that is to say nothing of lives lost, effort expended, and other less tangible costs — costs we would not have borne had we not deemed them absolutely necessary.

Nor would we have maintained our nuclear arsenal on hair-trigger alert for more than 40 years. In hindsight it is tempting to look back and see the settled rut that came to be called Mutual Assured Destruction as a policy success. And it was, in that the assurance of destruction never exploded into the reality. But let’s not forget how close we sometimes came — whether from a real crisis such as Berlin or Cuba, or from a fluke like the 1983 glitch in the Soviet early-warning system that registered five (phantom) incoming ICBMs. No one who didn’t have to would choose for his country such a terrifying, razor’s-edge day-to-day existence.

Making matters worse, American officials felt obliged to offer nuclear-security guarantees to foreign countries, in part to keep them in the anti-Soviet alliance, in part to discourage them from developing nuclear arsenals of their own. What this meant in practice was that America had pledged to risk — and potentially lose — dozens of American cities and millions of American lives in order to protect Bonn or Ankara. Such a pledge would have been unthinkable before the Cold War, and, to the limited extent that the American people really understood it, it was deeply unpopular.

And while it is true that the Cold War never erupted into a global conflagration, that’s not to say that it never, ever went hot. Korea and Vietnam are only the most famous Cold War soils onto which American servicemen and civilian personnel shed their blood; their brothers and sisters died in similar or related causes all over the world. And that is to say nothing of the various brush-fire wars in which both sides strained to keep their own people off the front lines but in which U.S. officials nonetheless determined that opposing Soviet proxies through proxies of our own was a necessary pillar of containment. One unforeseen and unintended consequence: deep divisions in American society over the wisdom of such interventions, which rent the fabric of our domestic politics.

Then there were the myriad other ways in which, despite our policy of containment, the Soviets declined to be contained. It suffices to mention two: constant espionage — up to and including political violence — and relentless ideological warfare. The former almost got Pope John Paul II killed in St. Peter’s Square. The latter inspired wholesale slaughter in nations across the globe and undermined the West’s confidence in its beliefs and institutions in ways that reverberate to this day.

More prosaically, the very logistics of containment often got complicated. The aforementioned forward deployed military posture required basing arrangements in more than a dozen countries, each with its own unique interests and a willingness to use its leverage over America because of our desire for basing rights to further those interests. This problem was primarily technical, but it points to a larger diplomatic problem. Maintaining the alliances that sustained containment — not just NATO but also the various bilateral relationships and multilateral arrangements in Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America — required a constant, cat-herding vigilance that dominated Washington’s time and drew its attention away from other issues. Our entire foreign policy had to be subsumed to the requirements of containment, with opportunity costs that are impossible to calculate. Many critics of the Bush administration have levied exactly this charge at its conduct of the War on Terror without realizing (or at least admitting) that it applied in spades to the Cold War and would to any other example of containment in action.

Diplomatically, containment also swept away the last remnants of George Washington’s advice in the Farewell Address to avoid permanent alliances. Containment presumes a boundary. On the other side of that boundary from the contained were the countries that we were pledged to protect, or whose help we needed, or both. As liberal critics of containment were and remain eager to point out, a not inconsiderable number of those countries were ruled by unsavory (or worse) regimes, with which the United States would otherwise have maintained standoffish relations or not have treated at all. The moral and political costs of propping up anti-Communist dictators were also ones that would not have been borne but for the necessity.

Nor did the moral and political costs end there. Containment — remember, its rejected alternative was rollback — conceded to the Soviets not merely the non-Russian possessions of the czarist empire, and not just Stalin’s pre– and post–World War II conquests, but also a large “sphere of influence” in which Washington implicitly allowed Moscow a free hand. Probably there was not much that we materially could have done for the millions suffering under Communist tyranny. But at least we recognized the stakes and regretted the limitations imposed by necessity.

Applying the above factors to Iran, then, the first difference that comes to mind is that in the Soviet case, containment was — and was seen as — a necessary evil, not a policy chosen for its own sake. The alternative evils — a Soviet invasion of Western Europe or another war to end Soviet tyranny — were so awful as to be unthinkable. Politically, economically, and spiritually exhausted by war, America and, even more, her allies could not contemplate further military action to liberate the captive nations of Eastern Europe or the Russian people — though the rank injustice of the status quo was understood in the West by all but the most blinkered (and of course outright Soviet partisans). Moreover, we really had no viable course of action to follow other than containment or war. Sanctions had no hope of fundamentally altering Soviet behavior — the Russian empire’s economy was simply too large, the regime’s tolerance for its people’s pain too high, and the people’s ability to bring the regime to its knees too limited — though sanctions were imposed anyway, partly on moral grounds. Containment, therefore, was the best that could be done under the circumstances. But even its most vigorous proponents conceded its moral, political, and strategic drawbacks.

Can the same be said for Iran? Sanctions — real sanctions, which would make the regime feel genuine economic and political pain — have yet to be tried. Iran’s economy is far smaller and far more fragile than was Cold War–era Russia’s. There is no shortage of pressure points. That a country with the world’s third-largest proven oil reserves cannot refine enough gasoline to run its transportation fleet or kerosene to heat its homes suggests an opportunity. Yet so far the motley coalition of countries claiming to oppose a nuclear Iran won’t consider trying to curtail Iranian imports of refined fuel (though, to his credit, French president Nicolas Sarkozy suggested as much in a recent interview). True, Russia and China will never go along — the latter because it desperately needs Iranian crude oil, the former because it sees propping up Tehran as a way to increase its leverage in the Middle East and irritate Washington. But this means only that such sanctions would have to be imposed outside the structure of the United Nations. Is it already time to resign ourselves to containment before even giving this a shot?

Moreover, in Iran, the West is blessed with two assets that, in the USSR, presented themselves only toward the very end, when the outcome was already inevitable. First, the Iranian people are eager for change and have proven themselves willing to risk their lives for it. Second, apart from hardline elements such as the Revolutionary Guards, the regime seems brittle, exhausted, and potentially unable to maintain control for much longer. So why not give it a push? Or several? The U.S. government’s utter failure to support last summer’s Green Revolution was not only morally obtuse; it was strategically inept. Using various levers to aid the Iranian people’s desire for change (as to which levers, see Michael Rubin’s excellent essay in the April Commentary) might or might not hasten the end of the Islamic Republic. Similarly, a new regime in Tehran might or might not end or slow Iran’s nuclear program. But if we’re serious about changing Iranian behavior, shouldn’t that at least be tried?

Supposing we do, and supposing we fail, then we might find ourselves with no alternative but containment. What exactly would containment against Iran look like? Proponents of the idea are quick to play up the similarities with the Soviet case as a way of arguing that containment can succeed once again. But they are equally quick to play up the differences when discussing costs. There is little chance of Iran’s mounting a massive invasion, so an expensive military buildup won’t be necessary, we are assured. And besides, America already has some 200,000 troops in neighboring countries, which should be ample for the purposes of containment.

Well, yes — but. First of all, most of those troops have their hands full fighting two wars. Second, they are not scheduled to be there for long. Obama-administration timetables call for substantial drawdowns in Iraq this fall and in Afghanistan next summer. A permanent containment posture with respect to Iran would require those timetables to be revisited, to say the least. Do the liberals who have been clamoring to bring the troops home — now! — and who also advocate containment not see the difficulty? In any case, the American people would probably tolerate a long-term U.S. force presence in the region — with all its monetary and other costs — if it truly were a matter of necessity. But they want the troops home, too, and would prefer us to at least try alternatives that might avoid indeterminate deployments before we resign ourselves to them.

If the troops were to remain, their purpose would presumably be to discourage Iranian adventurism. That might entail Cold War–style brush-fire skirmishes, which might lead to direct engagements with Iranian forces. Are our political leaders prepared for that risk? On the other hand, if troop levels decreased to the point at which Iran could realize its aspiration to install a Shia puppet in Baghdad, would containment have to extend to cover not just Iran but Iraq as well? How readily will Americans accept the awful contingency that so much of our blood and treasure was spent liberating Iraq only to turn the country into an Iranian satellite? Whatever the outcome, containment against Iran, no less than against the USSR, would implicitly concede an enemy “sphere of influence.” The only question is how large.

The nuclear issue is — counterintuitively — far more central to the current Iranian circumstance than it was to the Soviet one early in the Cold War. Nukes or not, the Red Army maintained an iron grip on Eastern Europe and a threatening posture toward the West that NATO was both unable and unwilling to dislodge. Containment had to be the order of the day with or without the Soviet bomb. Indeed, the policy was first sketched three years, and the term coined two years, before the first Soviet nuclear test. The Iranian bomb, however, has the potential to be a strategic game-changer. It could solidify a weak regime’s hold on power and extend that power indefinitely. And it would almost certainly embolden the anti-Semitic, America-hating religious fanatics who run the regime to become even more brazen in their support for terror, their hostility to Israel, and their aspirations for regional domination.

This much the proponents of containment understand. But they confidently argue that all of these likely effects are manageable. (See, above all, James M. Lindsay and Ray Takeyh’s much-discussed piece in the March/April Foreign Affairs, After Iran Gets the Bomb.”)

Really? Let’s examine for a moment what a still-non-nuclear Iran is doing right now. According to a little-noticed report submitted by the Defense Department to Capitol Hill in mid-April, Iran

seeks to increase its stature by countering U.S. influence and expanding ties with regional actors while advocating Islamic solidarity. It also seeks to demonstrate to the world its “resistance” to the West. Iran is attempting to secure political, economic, and security influence in Iraq and Afghanistan while undermining U.S. efforts by supporting various political groups, providing developmental and humanitarian assistance, and furnishing lethal aid to Iraqi Shia militants and Afghan insurgents.

These activities include (but are not limited to) supplying Iran’s proxies in Iraq and Afghanistan — who are killing American soldiers — with “Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs) with radio-controlled, remote arming and passive infrared detonators,” Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), anti-aircraft weapons, mortars, 107- and 122-millimeter rockets, rocket-propelled grenades and launchers, and other weapons. Do those sound like the actions of a country that considers itself “contained”? How much less contained will Tehran feel once it has the bomb?

The unstated (and probably unrealized) assumption underlying the contain-Iran argument is that, once Tehran is nuclear, America will have to get tougher. But how likely is that? If we won’t confront Iran over the killing of American soldiers now, why would our national spine get any stiffer in the face of a threat of nuclear retaliation? If we won’t do anything to stop Iran from getting the bomb, why should anyone believe that we will suddenly grow bolder once Iran actually has the bomb?

The most obvious way for a nuclear Iran to flex its muscles would be to harass shipping in the Strait of Hormuz and otherwise foment regional instability with the goal of raising the price of oil. This is win-win for Tehran: more money in its coffers and less in ours. Since the same calculation applies to Russia, Moscow would be sure to help, or at least look the other way. If this particular cost ended there, that would be bad enough. But what if it didn’t? Containment advocates say that if Iran actually followed through on a nuclear threat, that would spell the end of the Islamic Republic; hence, the mullahs wouldn’t dare. Perhaps. Then again, we know from the Cold War that the potential for disastrous miscalculation can lurk around the most innocuous-looking of corners. For instance, the Soviets interpreted a 1983 NATO military exercise as a ruse de guerre and possible prelude to an American first strike, and they placed their nuclear forces on high alert. Fortunately, when the exercise quickly ended, Moscow realized its mistake and did nothing. But what if the exercise had lasted ten weeks rather than ten days? Also, from the perspective of an American president, once a mushroom cloud is rising over the Fifth Fleet’s base at Bahrain, the fact that you can massively retaliate is small comfort. You’ve already suffered a catastrophic blow. The overwhelming imperative will therefore be not to let things get anywhere close to that point, which means becoming much more accommodating to Iranian aggression.

The resurgent problem of permanent hair-trigger alert might nonetheless at first glance seem smaller than it was during the Cold War. Iran is virtually certain never to wield a nuclear arsenal even a hundredth as large or sophisticated as the USSR’s. Also, while Iran’s current arsenal of missiles could easily strike U.S. forces and allies in the region, it has, for the time being, no delivery system capable of reaching American soil. (Given Iran’s aggressive ballistic-missile program, though, this limitation is not likely to last; hence any containment regimen devised today would carry an expiration date.) But America and Iran would not be the only players in this standoff. Israelis would have more to lose than we do — potentially their whole country. Arms-control treaties — with their tension-lessening talks and verification procedures — would be impossible for reasons too numerous to list. Begin with the facts that to be party to an arms-control treaty, Israel would have to explicitly acknowledge its nuclear program (something Jerusalem will never do), the five recognized nuclear-weapons states under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty would have to carve out exceptions for Iran and Israel (something at least three of those five would never do, lest it shred what’s left of the treaty), and both Tehran and Jerusalem would have to agree to allow weapons inspectors into their respective military programs’ “holiest of holies” (something neither of them will ever do). Mistrust — not to say paranoia — would permeate the region. Worse, the distance a missile would need to travel would be so short as to make alert times tiny fractions of what they were during the Cold War. The incentive to strike first in a crisis rather than wait out events would be dangerously and unprecedentedly high. If and when — God forbid — the post-1945 anti-nuclear taboo is ever broken, who can guess what might happen next and to whom?

One unpleasant certainty of containment is that the United States would once again be called upon to make pledges of “extended deterrence” — that is, promises to defend non-nuclear allies with our nuclear weapons. Among other reasons, this would be the only way to stop or at least slow a nuclear arms race in the world’s most volatile region. (It’s worth pausing to note that such an arms race, while troubling, is hardly the greatest reason to fear an Iranian bomb; far more troubling than the possibility that Iran’s rivals might get the bomb is what Tehran might do with its bomb.) Yet Americans were never that comfortable with the concept of extended deterrence the first time around. How comfortable are they going to be when the beneficiary of the guarantee is not pacifist Bonn but duplicitous Riyadh? Meanwhile, our allies understandably were never quite sure they could trust our guarantee, leading them in some cases to build their own arsenals or seek what amounted to separate peaces. Why should this time around be any different or any better?

Containment would also necessitate basing-rights arrangements that would carry complications of their own. Right now we maintain substantial ground forces in two of Iran’s neighboring countries. Assuming we mustered the will to continue those deployments long term — which cannot be taken for granted — how certain could we be that the host governments would wish to grant us extended basing rights? If they did, what prices might they exact? Certainly both have reasons to fear an expansionist, belligerent Iran. But they could just as easily conclude that U.S. forces on their soil appear to Tehran not as a reliable deterrent but as an intolerable provocation. Recall how difficult it was to negotiate our Status of Forces agreement in Iraq when that country was at risk of blowing apart absent an American presence. How hard might it be when Baghdad fears war with Iran more than civil strife?

Where else might we go? Turkey already limits American usage of its NATO bases; it also is becoming less friendly to American and Western interests by the week and more publicly sympathetic to Iran and Islamism. Pakistan is both highly unstable and increasingly standoffish (and, not incidentally, it provided indispensable aid to the Iranian nuclear program). Russia has proven itself adept at bullying and manipulating the nations of Central Asia to our detriment, and it is certain to interpret (whether genuinely or cynically) any intent to establish lasting presences there as attempts to contain not Iran but Russia.

That leaves the Sunni Arab states. Unquestionably, containing Iran would draw us closer to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and other oil-rich monarchies that fear Tehran’s influence and need the U.S. security umbrella. Returning American troops to Saudi soil won’t be acceptable to Riyadh, however, and even if it were, it would play into the hands of jihadist propaganda. The other Gulf states routinely impose mission-crippling restrictions on how we can use “our” bases.

Worse, these states also continue to play a double game: assuring Washington of their friendship and fealty in daylight, supporting and financing radical Islam and terror organizations behind the veil. Our dependence on Gulf oil already constrains the extent to which we can pressure these states to stop aiding America’s enemies. Do we want to make that problem worse? Even to the extent that these regimes are actually trustworthy, they are hardly examples of the kind of liberal-democratic polity on whose behalf the American people have shown themselves willing to pay any price and bear any burden. We may already be in bed with some of them, but climbing deeper under the covers won’t be welcomed here at home.

A containment alliance would also necessitate stepped-up sales of advanced U.S. weapons systems to the Gulf states. To some extent this is already happening. Sales of missile-defense systems are intended to lessen the usefulness of Iranian ballistic missiles as tools of intimidation. Full-blown containment would require the sales of other systems, to bring allied militaries more up to snuff and therefore make them more credible as hedges against Iran. The problem with this, of course, is that the geopolitical wheel can turn in unexpected ways. The Iranian military that we would be called upon to contain, for instance, includes some 200 American warplanes, 500 U.S.-built tanks and armored personnel carriers, and nearly 750 American artillery pieces. The lesson of Pakistan is also instructive. It was a vital ally against the Soviets, and so, in the 1980s, Islamabad’s sprouting nuclear program and support for jihad were largely ignored by Washington, lest inconvenient facts jeopardize the alliance. Today, while hardly an enemy, neither can Pakistan unqualifiedly be deemed an ally. For more than a decade now, Pakistani intelligence has actively supported the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other threats to America. Ominously, given the country’s instability and saturation with committed jihadists, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal leads (for now) the list of nuclear dangers against American cities.

Nor would whatever ramshackle alliance we might be able to cobble together look anything like NATO. Our allies will be comparatively weak, scared, and untrustworthy. They will also be more difficult to coordinate and less able to make a meaningful contribution to collective security — leaving the bulk of the costs to be borne by the American serviceman and the American taxpayer.

These concerns hardly exhaust the costs of containing Iran. The Obama administration has not shown itself enthusiastic for its predecessor’s promotion of democracy in the Muslim and Arab worlds. The exigencies of building an anti-Iran alliance in the Middle East and Central Asia would force the United States to jettison what little remains of that agenda in order to gain the cooperation of Iran’s neighbors, which always opposed President Bush’s democracy talk and will seize on any opportunity to kill it off for good. Containing Iran would also lead to deteriorating relations with Iran’s powerful friends — chiefly Russia and China, with which we are forced to parley on an ongoing basis across a range of important issues. Expect those conversations to become more strained and less productive. The most fair — and therefore most damaging — criticism that can be leveled against the Bush administration is that the assertion of, and failure to find, WMDs in Iraq undermined American credibility. The same could be said of the Bush administration’s flat assertion that North Korea would not be allowed to go nuclear on its watch. Our credibility will be further degraded if yet another administration allows yet another country to achieve nuclear status after swearing to stop it. This points to perhaps the most unseemly difference between containment past and containment future: At least the last time we were in the ring with another genuine superpower. Next time will pit the mighty United States against a Third World upstart. Imagine the dismal signal that sends to friend and foe alike. And last time there were no other big kids on the block to help the other side. Iran will be able to count on Russian and Chinese help and mischief-making. To whom could we turn?

Containment advocates tend to cite Iran’s relative weakness as a feature, not a bug: Unlike the Soviet Union, they say, Iran is merely a regional power with no global reach or aspirations. Certainly Iran’s ability to project power pales in comparison to the USSR’s. But that does not stop Tehran from doing what it can. Iran has a history of sponsoring far-flung, ideologically motivated violence, carried out by the same proxy forces that currently are waging war against Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. The most famous instance is the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires synagogue.

More recently, Iran has formed a tight and troubling alliance with Venezuela’s elected dictator Hugo Chávez. Caracas and Tehran work jointly to jack up the price of oil, undermine the U.S. dollar, and circumvent American-led banking and travel restrictions. There are also signs that the two countries cooperate on military — and perhaps even nuclear — matters. More troubling still: Chávez allows the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist organization to operate openly on Venezuelan soil. American intelligence officials have long tracked Hezbollah’s presence within the United States. Indeed, that presence is sometimes cited by dovish commentators as a reason not to “overreact” to Iranian provocations. All this is happening now. What more might happen once Iran is nuclear?

Of course, Iran’s chief means of projecting global power is its aggressive creation, promotion, and dissemination of radical Islamist propaganda. One might argue that this problem could hardly get any worse than it is now. But choosing containment implicitly accepts that as a fact of life, potentially for decades to come. As the history of Islamist ideology hitherto amply demonstrates, decades provide more than enough time for viruses to spread, populations to radicalize, and plots to germinate.

Finally, consider the imponderables. Despite our best efforts over nearly half a century, American analysts in government, academia, and the private sector never obtained a particularly clear grasp of the Kremlin’s inner workings. Surely we know even less about Tehran today. And what we do know should give us pause. The U.S. State Department officially designates Iran as the world’s “most active state sponsor of terrorism.” The 9/11 Commission listed many of Iran’s links not just to its known and widely acknowledged subsidiaries Hezbollah and Hamas, but also to al-Qaeda. Tom Joscelyn’s excellent monograph Iran’s Proxy War against America goes into more detail still. No one familiar with the case denies that Iran was the primary malefactor behind the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing. Less well known, but no less real, is the strong Iranian hand in the 1998 embassy bombings and Iranian aid to al-Qaeda before and after 9/11.

It is simply taken for granted in the foreign-policy establishment that Iran would never, ever pass along nuclear weapons or materials to a terrorist group. This may or may not be true. All we can say with confidence right now is that Tehran doesn’t yet have the option. If the West resigns itself to containment and accepts an Iranian bomb, it soon will. And whether Iran will choose to be contained or will seek a way around containment will be entirely up to the mullahs.

This time, just as during the Cold War, containment may well turn out to be a necessary evil — the least bad option on a menu of awful choices. We are not yet at that point. Before we get there, let’s at least understand containment’s costs. Only then will we be able to judge whether they are indeed more bearable than the alternatives that, for the time being, still lie before us.

– Michael Anton is policy director of Keep America Safe and served on the National Security Council staff during the George W. Bush administration.

 

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