America and the world are focused on whether the Bush administration will adopt the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations for an exit strategy from Iraq. That is the most pressing immediate question, but America’s leaders should also be thinking ahead. America needs a post-occupation strategy for Iraq and the Middle East, one grounded in a viable national security strategy for the twenty-first century. That strategy is containment.
In the run-up to the Iraq invasion, the Bush administration rejected containment as an obsolete Cold War hangover. The weapons inspectors were pulled out, and America opted for preemptive war. Bush was portrayed as facing down a new Hitler with Churchillian resolve, and advocates of containment were accused of appeasement. But now we know that the containment regime worked. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was in no position to threaten anyone, let alone the United States.
This was not the first time that containment – a strategy devised by George Kennan, the director of the US State Department’s Policy Planning Staff under President Harry Truman, in response to the Soviet threat after World War II – has been rejected as appeasement. In the 1952 presidential election campaign, Dwight Eisenhower and his future secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, heaped scorn on containment, calling instead for a “rollback” of the Soviets in Eastern Europe.
Fortunately, once in office, the Eisenhower administration had the sense to stick with containment in Europe, continuing a policy that is widely credited for winning the Cold War. President John F. Kennedy’s insistence, against much advice, on containment during the Cuban missile crisis saved the world from nuclear war. This was calculated resolve, not appeasement.