The Spectacle Blog

Containing Iran

By on 8.14.06 | 1:20PM

Writing in the Atlantic Monthly (subscription required), Jonathan Rauch argues:

Here are some things we have seen before: a nuclear-armed country with a brittle and aggressive ideology, world-revolutionary aspirations, and a belief in the historic inevitability of its triumph against a decadent and ultimately hollow West. In that country, an unpopular and divided regime, with hard-liners and relative pragmatists squabbling for influence. A crumbling resource-dependent economy. A paranoid worldview in which America is an omnipresent military and ideological threat. A tactical predilection for supporting and manipulating insurgent proxies around the world, rather than engaging in direct confrontations. Above all, a belief that nuclear weapons are strategically essential to deter the United States and maintain national prestige. . . .

Iran is, if anything, more vulnerable to long-term pressure than the USSR was. It is smaller and weaker in every dimenstion. Its economy is a mess. Its oil weapon fires backward as well as forward, because oil sales keep Iran's economy afloat. And, unlike the Soviet Union, Iran has no conceivable hope of disarming or crippling America with a first strike; America's deterrent against Iran is massive, credible and impregnable.

. . . the United States dealt with the Soviets, who were at least as murderous as the mullahs and far mightier, and the end result was regime change. It took a while, but containment is a long term game, and it's a game on which the United States wrote the book.

Here are some things we have seen before: a nuclear-armed country with a brittle and aggressive ideology, world-revolutionary aspirations, and a belief in the historic inevitability of its triumph against a decadent and ultimately hollow West. In that country, an unpopular and divided regime, with hard-liners and relative pragmatists squabbling for influence. A crumbling resource-dependent economy. A paranoid worldview in which America is an omnipresent military and ideological threat. A tactical predilection for supporting and manipulating insurgent proxies around the world, rather than engaging in direct confrontations. Above all, a belief that nuclear weapons are strategically essential to deter the United States and maintain national prestige. . . .

Iran is, if anything, more vulnerable to long-term pressure than the USSR was. It is smaller and weaker in every dimenstion. Its economy is a mess. Its oil weapon fires backward as well as forward, because oil sales keep Iran's economy afloat. And, unlike the Soviet Union, Iran has no conceivable hope of disarming or crippling America with a first strike; America's deterrent against Iran is massive, credible and impregnable.

. . . the United States dealt with the Soviets, who were at least as murderous as the mullahs and far mightier, and the end result was regime change. It took a while, but containment is a long term game, and it's a game on which the United States wrote the book.

Hat tip Hit and Run.

Me: As evil and murderous as the U.S.S.R. was, its leaders were still interested in self preservation. The jihadists who run Iran have no such hang-ups. To them, their own death and destruction is a ticket to paradise and just as much of a victory as world domination. Yes, the Soviets never used a nuclear weapon, but for decades they used their nuclear arsenal as leverage, making it a lot easier for them to throw their weight around the world, subjugate their own people, and intimidate Eastern Europe. Obviously, using military force against Iran comes with many risks, but allowing them to acquire nuclear weapons is a risk that we cannot afford. It is the worst possible outcome and should be viewed as unacceptable.   

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