Bucking a worldwide trend toward democracy, free markets and civilized conduct, "backlash states" pose a threat to U.S. interests and ideals. The United States must devise strategies to contain and eventually transform these rogue regimes. Iran and Iraq are particularly troublesome since they not only defy nonproliferation exports but border the vital Persian Gulf. Past attempts to build up Iran to counter Iraq and vice versa have been disastrous. The policy of "dual containment" creates a favorable balance of power in the region by relying on America's strengths and those of its allies, and it is already showing signs of success.
Anthony Lake is Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.
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Every president since Richard Nixon has recognized that ensuring stability in the Persian Gulf is a vital U.S. interest. In its first term, the Clinton administration attempted to deal with the twin dangers of Iran and Iraq through a strategy of "dual containment" that kept both countries boxed in with economic sanctions and military monitoring. Dual containment, however, is more a slogan than a strategy, and far too blunt an instrument to serve American interests in the Middle East. The United States must employ a more nuanced approach, keeping the straitjacket on Saddam while seeking improved relations with Iran.
"Dual containment" is shot through with dangerous inconsistencies and flaws. It assumes that either the regional status quo in the Middle East will endure or the United States will be able to stage-manage a change of regime in Iraq, while keeping Iran from being a spoiler of stability. Dual containment now pushes Iran and Iraq closer together despite their history of hostility. An end to the futile U.S. economic embargo of Iran and a diplomatic dialogue to assuage Iran's fears of hostile encirclement would make for a better policy.
The Middle East that awaits the Clinton administration is a locus of terrorism, drugs, refugees, armaments and oil. Iran, newly pragmatic on domestic and economic issues, is not inclined toward cooperation with either its neighbors or the wider world. Iraq's Saddam Hussein wasted no time in testing the resolve of the incoming American president. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia find an increasingly educated middle class seeking a greater voice in the political process. Turkey, after half a century of avoiding outside entanglements, is a country at risk. The former Soviet republics of Central Asia are newly relevant to American policy, with Muslim fundamentalism on the rise and the nuclear arsenal of Kazakhstan still intact.