Lately there has been a great deal of handwringing about what to do as Iran pursues the development of nuclear weapons. Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich recently warned that "Iran armed with nuclear weapons is a mortal threat to American, Israeli and European cities." The Pentagon is rumored to be formulating plans for strikes aimed at knocking out Iranian nuclear and other military facilities.
Jonathan Rauch, a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly (subscription required) and a frequent contributor to Reason, offers an intriguing alternative with a proven track record: containment.
Below are some of Rauch's salient thoughts: :
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.