Containing George W. Bush

bell_jarWill containment isolate Iran or give it some breathing space?

President Bush is right to suspect that Iran is still enriching uranium, and right to ask the world to be vigilant alongside the U.S. But after the faked intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq War, who believes anything he says?

Tom Friedman makes this point in his NYT column of December 12, 2007 where he discusses the value of containing Iran: “… I’d rather see Iran go nuclear, and contain it, than have the Bush team start another Middle East war over this issue.”

God, I hope Friedman’s analysis is right. But what if it’s not? How does containment work when you are dealing with loosely defined transnational groupings that sympathize with Iran’s anti-America and anti-Israel rhetoric?

I think Israel basically has used containment to secure its Green-Line borders, as well as the disputed West Bank territory of Yehuda and Shomron. To some degree, the strategy works. The security fence has kept all but the most determined terrorists at bay.

Containment, however, has created “bulges” on the country’s northern and western periphery where Hamas and Hezbollah plan and execute their incursions into Israel. The policy works if you are willing to live in an environment that is basically war-time at low boil all the time. Inevitably, Hamas and Hezbollah will want to burst through their respective bulges. What happens to the policy of containment then?

Maybe living at this chronic low-boil is the only solution for Israel — and maybe it’s the only solution for a world that is trying to figure out how to deal with a nuclear Iran. But what happens when Iran is ready to push past the “bulge,” i.e., its own territorial borders, inside which it is now contained?

An Israeli friend of mine suggested that the recent Annapolis Conference, in which Iran of course did not participate, was more an urgent discussion among the Arab countries, the Gulf States and Israel over what to do about Iran, and less about reconciling Israel and the Palestinians to each other. My friend is just an ordinary citizen with no special insight into Israeli or U.S. intelligence, but I am going to guess that nobody in the region wants to see Iran extend its nuclear weapons program. I think they worry that containment, Mr. Friedman’s recommendation, will be too little too late. Post-Iraq Debacle, I no longer know what to think about preemptive action. But I also fear that containment — whatever that actually means — only will give Iran more time to bolster its nuclear weapons program. Isn’t containment ultimately just a cease fire? During a cessation of hostilities, both sides in this new cold war will acquire more weapons and rethink military strategy. The crisis is deferred, but is war inevitable?

Some additional “fallout,” if I can use that word, from the Iraq War:

What kind of president do we want to elect in the U.S.? A Hillary Clinton who trusted CIA intelligence and supported the war for three years or a Barack Obama who doubted the CIA’s intelligence and never supported the war at all? Do we want a leader that trusts our intelligence institutions or one who doesn’t? The current intelligence crisis makes Watergate look like a high school warm-up exercise before the big game.

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