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The Costs of Containing Iran

The price is high.

10:27 AM, May 3, 2010 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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At National Review Online, Michael Anton has the definitive analysis of the costs of containing Iran. There is, of course, much debate concerning what to do about Iran and the regime's pursuit of nuclear weapons. The policy proposals most frequently debated by wonks are: (1) sanctions, (2) military strikes, (3) working with, or at least supporting, the Iranian people in their efforts to overthrow the regime, (4) containment, and (5) do nothing. These are not mutually exclusive options, of course, but each comes with its own primary tactic and should come with a rigorous cost-benefit analysis.
Anton has done us all a service by thinking through the costs of a "containment" strategy, similar to that used to contain the Soviet empire. He points out that the situation is very different from the Cold War, during which America was up against a legitimate super power as opposed to a "Third World upstart." In recent months, however, the "contain Iran" strategy has garnered new prominence with very little thought (until Anton's piece) given to the costs of containment. 
This paragraph, in particular, stands out to me:

The unstated (and probably unrealized) assumption underlying the contain-Iran argument is that, once Tehran is nuclear, America will have to get tougher. But how likely is that? If we won’t confront Iran over the killing of American soldiers now, why would our national spine get any stiffer in the face of a threat of nuclear retaliation? If we won’t do anything to stop Iran from getting the bomb, why should anyone believe that we will suddenly grow bolder once Iran actually has the bomb?

The simple fact of the matter is that the Iranians kill Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, primarily through their proxies, with impunity. They do this at a time when America's combined force commitments to both countries are still great - and far greater than they will be in the coming months if drawdown plans currently on the table are executed. Yet, the Iranian regime is not "contained" now, even without a nuclear bomb. 
As they say, the whole piece is a must-read. We need more of this sort of well-researched and thought-out discourse in debating what to do about Iran. 

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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