Tuesday, February 11, 2003

More Containment Mythology

Morton Halperin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has published an op-ed piece in today's Washington Post, A Case for Containment, that is in fact anything but.

Halperin starts with the assertion that war isn't necessary because not only is Saddam containable, but he has been successfully contained so far. Efforts to develop and aquire weapons of mass destruction notwithstanding, Saddam has not used them against any party capable of retaliation since the Gulf War -- he is contained. The "logic" of this argument relies on a fatuous definition of containment that robs the concept of any meaning and ignores the historical reality of how a policy of containment served to protect American, and more broadly Western, interests during the Cold War. Containment was not a successful policy because the Soviets never launched nuclear-tipped ICBMs aimed for Washington and New York, containment was successful because the spread of Soviet influence was resisted -- sometimes at a terrible price -- and kept to a minimum in areas (e.g., Western Europe, Japan) crucial to the survival of a thriving international community of capitalist, pluralistic countries. In other words, in its one meaningful historical manifestation, containment was not a military policy, but a political strategy aimed at limiting the influence of a potentially belligerent rival. As Saddam pursues the development of sophisticated chemical, biological and nuclear weapons -- and no one has made the case that he is not -- he is increasing his ability to exert leverage against the enemies of his autocratic regime, whether they be Iraqis, other Middle Eastern countries, or the United States. He is anything but contained.

Halperin admits that, dispite his being successfully "contained," Saddam is not meeting his obligations under the U.N. resolution. Not to fear, Halperin has a solution: a policy of "containment plus" (I'm not making this up). Wait a minute -- if containment is working, why do we need the 'plus' version? Well, quite understandably, Halperin doesn't get into that question, but he does let us know what the plus version entails: tightened sanctions, beefed-up inspections, support for opposition groups, and (of course) the creation of a U.N. war-crimes tribunal.

The last two are barely worth commenting on: no one is against supporting opposition groups, and granting the U.N. any kind of supreme authority over Iraqi weapons development, whether it be in the form of a war-crimes tribunal or anything else, is just another way of thwarting U.S. intentions and helping Saddam sleep at night. Tightened sanctions means putting U.N. authorized troops on Iraq's borders and compensating Iraq's neighbors for any loss in revenues caused by the embargo. Of course the existing embargo has been hard enough to enforce, as Saddam makes sure it's his unfortunate subjects who suffer as a result. Many U.N. member countries have accused the U.S. of crimes against humanity for its insistence on maintaining the sanctions regime, yet Halperin suggests we engage them as partners in enforcing even tighter sanctions.

By "beefed-up" inspections Halperin means "for example, destroying from the air any building to which inspectors are denied entrance." Of course anyone who cares enough about the probably-pending Iraq war to have read coverage of Powell's speech at the Security Council last week knows that some of this development doesn't take place in buildings at all, but in trucks -- trucks which can move around, perhaps hiding the very fact of their existence from the inspectors, trucks which can move around and be hard for planes to find (remember those mobile Scud launchers?). And as for buildings the inspectors won't be let into, how long will Halperin be able to stomach a policy of destroying them from the air once Saddam starts packing them with women and children?

As we've argued previously, a case for containing Saddam as opposed to removing him would be difficult if not impossible to make. Halperin doesn't even come close.


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