The Illogic of Dual Containment

Members of the Iranian army's land force marching during a parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war, Tehran, September 2010.  Morteza Nikoubazl / reuters


If there is one part of the world where the Clinton administration cannot be accused of lacking a clear foreign policy, it is the Persian Gulf. The administration has identified both Iraq and Iran as significant threats to America’s interests in the region. It has developed a policy, known as "dual containment," to deal with those threats by isolating both countries regionally, cutting them off from the world economic and trading system, and encouraging a regime change in Iraq. It has strongly supported the continuation of U.N. sanctions against Iraq, made efforts to persuade Europe, Russia and Japan to deny Iran access to international capital and arms markets, and continued American military commitments to Saudi Arabia and the smaller monarchies that form the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

In the case of the Persian Gulf, however, such clarity is not a virtue. The dual containment

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