nthposition online magazine

The dual containment of rogue states

by James D Boys

[ politics - april 05 ]

"I believe in deathbed conversions. " [1]
President William Jefferson Clinton

 

When assessing the foreign policy of the United States under the Presidency of Bill Clinton, it is important to note that unlike many of his predecessors, Clinton had neither the need nor the desire to prioritise the subject. With the end of the Cold War, domestic affairs could be prioritised for the first time in a generation, and this was where Clinton’s natural inclinations lay. As such, his administration signified a break with the old order as Clinton came to the White House determined to implement new ideas and new concepts. He singularly sought to avoid being drawn into contentious foreign policy issues which predated his administration. Clinton had not sought the presidency merely to find a new enemy or to confront old foes, but to implement sweeping domestic reform. Alas, he would find that such aspirations were to prove untenable.

For all of Clinton’s hopes for a new start for America, he inherited a world in flux. George Bush may have spoken of the New World Order, but while the world that Clinton inherited on January 20, 1993, might have been new, it was certainly lacking in order. Nowhere was this more apparent than in America’s relations with Iran and Iraq. Whilst Engagement and Enlargement would prove to be the overall approach adopted by the Clinton Administration as it stove to define America’s foreign policy for the 1990s, Iran and Iraq fell beyond the parameters of this policy. Indeed, the administration’s response to the two nations, the policy of Dual Containment, would be officially announced long before the concept of Engagement and Enlargement was agreed upon.

Since the 1960s, America had attempted to utilise a balance of power in the Persian Gulf, as it played nation against nation in an attempt to avoid the emergence of a regional super power. This was played out against the backdrop of the Cold War, with the Soviets and the Americans manoeuvring in an attempt to gain a foothold in each other’s sphere of influence, whilst avoiding nuclear confrontation. With the end of the Cold War and the start of the Clinton presidency, several factors had emerged to dictate a new policy for a new age. Gone was the posturing with the Soviets, and the idea of Iraq serving as a counterweight to Iran was discredited: No longer would the enemy (Iraq) of America’s enemy (Iran) be America’s friend.

These matters had been brought to a head by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, when, leading a coalition of nations, including Arab states, the United States stopped short of outright victory. As in Korea, the United States settled for a return to the status quo, with an uneasy peace marking the end of battle, rather than a victorious celebration at the defeat of a dangerous tyrant. The decision not to march on Baghdad and remove Saddam from power was premised on a number of factors: A need to hold the coalition together which may have foundered at the specific targeting of a Muslim leader; military planning that feared the loss of American life in hand-to-hand fighting on the streets of the Iraqi capital; the lack of an overall plan as to how to replace the Baathist regime; and geopolitical concerns for the region as fears grew that a weakened Iraq could well become the target for an Iranian invasion, leading to the foundation of an Islamic Fundamentalist super-state at the heart of the Persian Gulf.

There was also the question as to what to have done with Saddam. Had he been captured, the ensuing trial would no doubt have referenced Donald Rumsfeld’s 1982 visit on behalf of President Reagan and the numerous arms deals that had been enacted between Iraq and American companies during the 1980s. This would have been a tremendous embarrassment to a sitting Republican president who had served as vice president during the time in question, and viewed in this light, the rationale to allow Saddam to remain in power becomes more apparent.

So it was that the situation remained until January 1993. With the election of Bill Clinton, the personal animosity that had characterised the US-Iraq relationship since the invasion of Kuwait was removed. However, one of the president-elect’s first statements on foreign policy concerned the ongoing situation in the Gulf, a decision predicated on a number of issues: First, the situation with Iraq was the only deployment that Clinton inherited that immediately threatened hostilities. Whilst Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia were all issues of concern, they did not present an immediate threat to US interests, whereas US pilots, patrolling the skies of Southern and Northern Iraq were receiving regular attention from Iraqi missile sites.

Secondly, Saddam had become the official Number One enemy of the United States under President Bush, and the new administration could not simply ignore him. Yet neither did President Clinton wish to personalise the differences between the two nations, as many believed George HW Bush had done, telling the New York Times, “I am not obsessed with the man.” [2] Indeed, one of President-Elect Clinton’s first statements on Iraq was his assertion that “I believe in deathbed conversions. If he wants a different relationship with the United States and the United Nations, all he has to do is change his behaviour.” [3] This was not only one of his first foreign policy statements; it was seen as his first foreign policy error, as journalists and political opponents viewed the statement a sign of a weakening of American resolve.

However, Clinton was not the only politician suggesting that dealings with Saddam might just be viable. Douglas Hurd, the British Foreign Secretary declared on the eve of Clinton’s Inauguration that “It’s never been the coalition’s aim to drive him out.” [4] When asked if he could envisage the normalisation of relations with Iraq with Saddam in power, he replied, “With difficulty,” but not that it was impossible. “Whoever runs Iraq has to run it in a way the international community accepts. It’s hard to imagine him doing that. As President Bush said, I can’t see him changing his spots. And a rapid and complete change of spots would be needed.” [5] A the same time, Britain’s Gulf War Commander General Sir Peter De La Billiere was adamant that “we’re not trying to invade and crush the country.” Rather, the hope was to “point out to Saddam Hussein that unless he complies with the United Nations, then he must expect retribution, in the form of force.” [6] Of course, there was a vast difference between the president-elect’s statements and those of the two British personnel; one set Western policy, the other two essentially followed it. Within 24 hours of his interview with the New York Times, the president-elect had to explain his remarks and backtrack away from any suggestion about peaceful relations with Saddam.

Despite this early setback, the future relationship between the United States and the nations of Iran and Iraq began to emerge in May 1993 following meetings conducted by Secretary of State Warren Christopher in the Middle East and a policy review that President Clinton had requested shortly after he took office. [7] The conclusion of both was that the leadership of Iran and Iraq would remain hostile to American interests for the foreseeable future and that new steps should be taken to isolate both nations.

Clearly Iraq, which was already subject to United Nations sanctions and embargos, was most likely to be affected by such a move. Iran had negotiated trade deals with nations as diverse as Russia, China and even members of the European Union, and as such had a greater economic foundation to withstand the American policy. The Clinton Administration was, therefore, forced to bring pressure not only on Iran and Iraq, but also on its own allies in an effort to reduce trade with Tehran. The position of the administration was that “the income supported Iranian terrorism and that Iran’s steadily worsening economy made it a bad investment.” [8]

Clinton had made overtures to Iranian opposition groups before he took office but his advisers were adamant that the new policy would not involve ties with the People’s Mujahedin, due to alleged ties to Iraq and its attacks against Americans in the 1970s. The administration believed the timing was right, as it had no confidence in the ability of organised resistance or domestic unrest to generate political reform in the Iranian Government. Despite calls from the Iranian opposition groups, the Clinton Administration rejected the option of imposing an embargo on sales of Iranian oil, since the White House concluded that it could not be enforced without imposing a military blockade, a step it was unwilling to take.

The plan was unveiled not by the Secretary of State, nor by President Clinton, or even by the National Security Adviser, but by Martin S Indyk, the Senior Director for Middle East policy at the National Security Council. The choice of speaker is intriguing, considering the importance of the subject, and leads one to suspect that the address was something of a trial balloon, raised by a lower member of the administration to test the reception it received. Speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Indyk addressed the administration’s concerns about Iran and Iraq and introduced the concept of Dual Containment. Instead of supporting one nation to offset the other, the administration would now seek to rein in both countries, whom were viewed as “rearming... fervently anti-Western, both potential threats to Persian Gulf oil supplies.” [9]

The administration’s plan was to persuade her allies to halt loans, investment and arms sales to what was now viewed as a permanently hostile government in Tehran, thereby preventing Iran from emerging as a substantial threat to Western interests. The administration declared that the new policy was designed to prevent Iran gaining access to weaponry and funds it required to achieve a military renaissance. Indyk said, “If we fail in our efforts to modify Iranian behaviour, five years from now Iran will be much more capable of posing a real threat to Israel and to Western interests in the Middle East.” [10] Compounding the general fears of a revitalised Iran were concerns over potential links to the bombing of the World Trade Centre on February 26, 1993: “Government officials say Investigators have found that tens of thousands of dollars were wired from Iran to bank accounts held by suspects in the bombing.” [11]

Security concerns were paramount to the United States with regard to the Persian Gulf region and would remain so for the remainder of the decade. Since the end of the Gulf War the United States had been forced to undertake a serious military effort in the region, in particular enforcing the no-fly zones in the north and south of Iraq, requiring the positioning of aircraft carriers in the region. Concerns also existed over Iran’s conventional forces, with the US Defense Intelligence Agency reporting a two billion dollar increase in Tehran’s military budget. [12] This included the purchase of Russian submarines and attempts to buy state-of-the-art battle tanks. Ironically, the new policy of Dual Containment would require an increased military presence in the Gulf at precisely the moment the new president was looking to reduce military expenditure. The Congressional Research Service reported that to keep one carrier continuously on station near the Persian Gulf would require a total force of between six and nine carriers, to allow for rotation and refitting. [13] The Clinton Administration had been suggesting a fleet of 10 carriers worldwide. In the new era through which the Clinton Administration would govern, containing both Iraq and Iran would prove to be a serious and costly role.

Whilst conventional weapons were being considered, the CIA reported Iranian meetings with Chinese and Russian delegations for the purchase of nuclear material. Such developments led analysts to speculate that Iran could become a nuclear power by the end of the 20th Century. Within the administration, Robert Gallucci, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, expressed his concerns over Iran’s nuclear power program and his hope that both Russia and China would choose not to provide Iran with the nuclear material they sought: “We believe no country ought to cooperate with Iran in the nuclear area,” [14] Gallucci declared. In its efforts to counter the efforts of Iran and Iraq the administration sought to “broaden membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime and... establish a new regime to promote transparency and restrain trade in arms and dual-use technology. To make these agreements more effective, we are working to integrate Russia into these regimes, once the question of its arms sales to Iran is resolved.” [15] The administration was adamant that no stone would be let unturned: “Intelligence, counter terrorism and multilateral export control policies, especially on weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems, are all being employed.” [16]

Of course, while conventional and nuclear weaponry were of major concern to the Clinton Administration, the threat posed by international terrorism was equally clear and present to the White House. In 1993, a lasting peace in the Middle East finally appeared to be a viable option. The Middle East stood, for a time, at the threshold of a more promising era, an era that heralded Arab-Israeli peace, Israeli security and unimpeded access to Persian Gulf oil. Before Clinton’s first year in office was over, he would preside over the signing of a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, and a year later a similar signing ceremony was held between Israel and Jordan. Relationships were beginning to be made between Israel and her Arab neighbours, including Tunisia, Morocco and Oman. However, whilst many were working in the direction of peace, there were some who would stop at nothing to disrupt the peace process and it was believed that Iran was the main sponsor of many of the groups dedicated to such an outcome. In this environment, the rational behind the Dual Containment policy becomes all the more apparent.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher had denounced Iran as an “international outlaw” and a “dangerous country” that supported terrorism and was attempting to gain nuclear weapons: “The enemies of peace are determined to kill this historic chance for reconciliation. As we promote peace, we must also deal with the enemies of peace. That is why it is so important to continue our opposition to Iran and Iraq, the region’s most dangerous actors. Indeed, through the president’s Dual Containment policy, the United States is leading the international effort to combat the threat they pose and helping to create the secure environment in which Arab-Israeli peacemaking can succeed.” [17]

The United States attributed Iran with active support for efforts of the Hezbollah in south Lebanon and Hamas on the West Bank to disrupt the Middle East peace process. They further alleged that Iran had established terrorist training camps in Lebanon and the Sudan, and had assisted groups trying to overthrow the Governments of Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia. The administration was adamant: “Iran is the world’s most significant state sponsor of terrorism, and the most ardent opponent of the Middle East peace process. It supports those who commit atrocities... throughout the Arab world. The evidence is overwhelming: Iran is still intent on projecting terror and extremism across the Middle East and beyond. Only a concerted international effort can stop it.” [18] Secretary Christopher announced the United States would seek to block loans to Iran by international organisations, but the Dual Containment policy went further than this, with the administration declaring that its Iranian policy would end only when Teheran “halted its support for terrorism, curtails its military build up, stops its subversion of other governments and ends its quest for nuclear weapons.” [19]

Despite the policy’s noble ambitions, it was not without incident or opponents. In order for Dual Containment to be effective, the United States needed to convince other nations to adhere to the policy. Indeed, one of the most serious dilemmas faced by the Clinton Administration was the decision to implement the policy at a time when industrial nations were increasingly in need of the oil that Iran and Iraq could have otherwise offered. This meant attempting to convince Russia and China not to sell Iran weapons and nuclear reactors, and to persuade Germany, the UK and Japan to cut off loans. Not surprisingly perhaps, these countries were loathe to do so at a time of economic instability. The administration’s cause was further disrupted when the World Bank decided to loan Iran $165 million to upgrade its electrical power system in March 1993. [20]

Many nations, America’s allies amongst them, argued that rather than isolate the nations, a move towards rapprochement would best serve all involved. Highlighting the American policy towards China, it was suggested that a more tolerant approach to Iran and Iraq could lead to economic liberalisation and political democratisation. Despite the Chinese precedent, the administration believed that such an approach would be flawed in regard to two nations that remained openly hostile to Western interests: “Fuelling their economic resurgence would only permit them to rearm and become more adventurous.” [21]

The Clinton Administration attempted to stress the inherent risks in dealing with Iran, referencing the $25 billion the countries had borrowed over the previous four years, and the $5 billion it had already fallen behind with in its repayments. Clearly, as Indyk said, Iran was “no longer a good commercial proposition.” [22] The Dual Containment policy had implications at home as well as abroad, blocking as it did a bid by Boeing to sell Iran twenty 737 jets in a deal worth more than $750 million. [23] There was also an internal rationale for the policy: with high inflation and unemployment, it was believed that Iran was “more vulnerable than it has been in the past or is likely to be in the future,” but as Indyk warned, “this moment will not last long.” [24]

The administration may have unveiled a new policy to deal with Iran and Iraq in a joint fashion, but despite this, the administration did not view the two nations as a monolithic power to be handled the same way. Rather it recognised the different cultural and religious influences that were exerted over both nations and attempted to tailor its policy accordingly: “In Saddam Hussein’s regime, Washington faces an aggressive, modernist, secular avarice; in Iran, it is challenged by a theocratic regime with a sense of cultural and political destiny and an abiding antagonism toward the United States.” [25]

The differences however could not mask concerns that the two former enemies may well be engaged in an act of rapprochement. The two nations were challenging enough alone, but in the early 1990s fears emerged that the two former enemies could well be attempting reconciliation. Iran was importing refined Iraqi oil and was believed to have obtained a shipment of Iraqi steel, acts that violated the UN trade embargo. [26] In addition, early 1993 saw a repatriation of Iraqi prisoners of war from Iran. The administration was dismissive of suggestions that by combining Washington’s approach to Iran and Iraq, the White House risked driving the two nations together: “The prospects for reconciliation will remain limited for a simple reason: they mistrust each other more than they mistrust the United States.” [27]

Indyk clarified the policy, making clear that no reconciliation with Saddam was envisaged. As Indyk explained, “We seek Iraq’s full compliance with all UN resolutions. The regime of Saddam Hussein must never again pose a threat to Iraq’s neighbourhood. And we are also committed to ensuring Iraq’s compliance with UN Resolution 688, which calls upon the regime to end its repression of the Iraqi people.” [28] The Clinton Administration did not “seek or expect a reconciliation with Saddam Hussein’s regime,” [29] Indyk said. Instead, the Clinton Administration favoured the prompt creation of a UN commission to investigate Iraqi war crimes and human rights abuses “to establish clearly and unequivocally that the current regime in Iraq is a criminal regime, beyond the pale of international society and, in our judgment, irredeemable.” [30]

If that was the message for Saddam, the administration gave a notably different line to the Iranian mullahs, to whom it held out the potential of normalised relations. Such a status would require hard work, but it was conceivable: “Normal relations with the government in Tehran are conceivable, once it demonstrates its willingness to abide by international norms and abandon policies and actions inimical to regional peace and security. Reconciliation will be difficult, but the choice is Iran’s to make.” [31]

The Clinton Administration was forthright in stating their case against the Iranian regime: “Iran is actively engaged in clandestine efforts to acquire nuclear and other unconventional weapons. It is the foremost sponsor of terrorism and assassination worldwide. It is violently and vitriolically opposed to the Arab-Israeli peace process. It seeks to subvert friendly governments across the Middle East and in parts of Africa.” [32] The White House was determined to stress, however, that “the Clinton Administration does not oppose Islamic government, nor does it seek the regime’s overthrow. Indeed we remain ready for an authoritative dialogue in which we will raise aspects of Iranian behaviour that cause us so much concern.” [33] Again, the administration’s desire to remove religion from the equation should be noted: “Washington does not take issue with the ‘Islamic’ dimension of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is extremism, whether religious or secular, that we oppose.” [34]

The administration believed that a window of opportunity existed “to prevent Iran from becoming in five years time what Iraq was five years ago.” [35] Indyk stressed: “we do not seek a confrontation but we will not normalise relations... until and unless Iran’s policies change across the board.” [36] The administration was concerned that if Iran was left unchecked, its military power and influence within five years could be comparable to Iraq’s before its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. [37]

The administration believed that Dual Containment was a viable concept for a number of reasons. First, the end of the Cold War meant that the West no longer had to fear a potential Soviet incursion into the region. This had significantly reduced the strategic importance of both Iraq and Iran, as “their ability to play the superpowers off each other has been eliminated.” [38] Secondly, “Iraq’s victory in the Iran-Iraq War substantially reduced Iran’s conventional offensive capabilities, whilst Iraq’s defeat in Desert Storm significantly diminished its offensive capabilities and brought its weapons of mass destruction under tight control.” [39] Thirdly, following the Gulf War, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states had become far more inclined to enter into pre-positioning arrangements with the United States, allowing the US to deploy forces in the region against any threat posed by Iran or Iraq. [40] However, the administration was wary of accusations that its policy was somehow racially or religiously motivated. Eager to reject a fashionable concept, Anthony Lake stressed: “This is not a clash of civilisations... it is a contest that pits nations and individuals guided by openness, responsive government and moderation against those animated by isolation, repression and extremism.” [41]

Indeed, it would the repressive nature of the ruling bodies, as opposed to the ethnicity or creed of the population, that best underscored the rationale for what would become known as The Rogue States concept, of which Iran and Iraq were but two. As would occur with the National Security Strategy document, internal disputes and uncertainty appeared to be based more on the manner in which such states were defined, than in their specific definition. Regardless of whether such nations were referred to as Rogue States or as Backlash States, the Clinton Administration was agreed that the terms defined “all those who would return newly free societies to the intolerant ways of the past.” [42] These nations, which the administration listed as including Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Iraq and Libya, sought “to traffic in the weapons of mass destruction, support terrorism and are dedicated to the destruction of the tolerant society.” [43] Years before President George W Bush announced his War on Terror, the Clinton Administration was engaged in a similar struggle, in which America would “make progress only over time, in small victories, through persistence and pragmatism. These are not evidence of indecision: they are the hallmarks of determination, of a nation engaged in the long struggle for democracy and the freedom and tolerance it brings.” [44]

The Backlash States threatened their neighbours, important US allies and vital American interests. The ideology that motivated the Cold War may have been over, but the administration recognised that, “we face a contest as old as history - a struggle between freedom and tyranny... between those who would build free societies governed by laws and those who would impose their will by force.” [45] The administration believed that it had to “face the reality of recalcitrant and outlaw states that not only choose to remain outside the family but also assault its basic values.” [46] They were “ruled by cliques that control power through coercion, they suppress basic human rights and promote radical ideologies... their leaders share a common antipathy toward popular participation that might undermine the existing regimes.” [47]

The great fear was less immediate and more long term, for whilst in the short term such states lacked the resources that “would enable them to seriously threaten the democratic order,” over time it was feared that “the ties between them are growing as they seek to thwart or quarantine themselves from a global trend to which they seem incapable of adapting.” [48] Above all, “these nations exhibit a chronic inability to engage constructively with the outside world... they do not function effectively in alliances... are often on the defensive, increasingly criticised and targeted with sanctions in international forums.” [49] The administration was attempting to solve what it recognised as being “a complex strategic puzzle that has confounded the policies of three previous American administrations.” [50] However, the White House believed that the United States bore the responsibility “for developing a strategy to neutralise, contain and, through selective pressure, perhaps eventually transform these Backlash States into constructive members of the international community.” [51] The administration believed that these nations, were “on the wrong side of history,” [52] and felt that this was an opportunity to rectify this.

Anthony Lake was aware that there were those who believed that a different course of action was appropriate with regard to Iran. He was adamant, however, that such a conciliatory approach would not be forthcoming: “The record clearly shows, however, that positive inducements such as trade and aid concessions or rescheduling of loans do not lead to real changes in Iran’s unacceptable behaviour. The most effective message is a consistent one: no normal relations until these actions end.” [53] That was not to say, however, that communications were at an end: “We do not eschew an authoritative dialogue; dialogue and pressure are not mutually exclusive policy approaches.” [54]

One form of dialogue occurred in April 1993, when Vice President Gore and other senior officials met with representatives from the Iraqi National Congress, a group composed of Iraqi dissidents in exile dedicated to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Despite concerns in the previous Bush Administration about the ability of the INC to bridge religious and ethnic rivalries, Indyk said the group had “succeeded in broadening its base” and allayed some US and allied concerns by pledging to maintain current Iraqi borders. Washington was now “very keen to ensure that the INC gets more regional recognition and support,” particularly from Persian Gulf nations, a senior official explained. The aim was in part to “hold out some vision of an alternative, democratic future” in Iraq. [55]

The Clinton Administration decided to throw its support behind the aspirations of the Iraqi National Congress, which promoted itself as a government in exile. The White House claimed that the INC had “established facilities in northern Iraq and deepened its ties with neighbouring Arab governments that share the twin goals of maintaining Iraq’s territorial integrity while promoting representative and benign governance in Baghdad.” [56] The administration was also pleased by reports of unrest within Saddam’s inner circle. “There are now frequent reports of coup attempts and unrest among the relatively privileged Iraqi elite. These trends could lead to new conditions for the citizens of Iraq and new opportunities to build a more peaceful and normal relationship between Iraq and the outside world.” [57] The administration believed that it had a new approach to Iran and Iraq, which it felt was both “realistic and sustainable,” as well as one that took into account both “US interests and the realities of the Persian Gulf region.” [58]

The Dual Containment strategy pre-dated the official National Security Strategy of the United States, that of Engagement and Enlargement. However, whilst Dual Containment would remain a separate policy consideration, it nonetheless served similar aspirations as the overall NSSR policy. Both were designed to formulate the spread of democracy, to foster the growth of free markets, extend American economic opportunities and to increase American National Security. The Dual Containment policy may have fallen outside of the official NSSR, but it is impossible not to see the input of Anthony Lake’s philosophy in both policies: “This is not a crusade, but a genuine and responsible effort, over time, to protect American strategic interests, stabilise the international system and enlarge the community of nations committed to democracy, free markets and peace.” [59]

Such a commitment earned the policy its share of admirers. The Boston Globe believed the Clinton Administration had propounded “a clear, forceful policy adapted to the transformations wrought by the implosion of the Soviet Union and by Saddam Hussein’s failure to annexe Kuwait.” [60] Even Paul Wolfowitz referred to the policy of Dual Containment as one that “provided a much-needed break with old notions of depending on a balance between the two to protect security in the gulf.” [61] Despite his initial praise, Wolfowitz questioned the administration’s commitment to the policy, the degree of interest shown in the matter at a senior level and the effect that an Iraqi victory in overcoming sanctions would have upon the prestige of the United Sates: “A victory of that magnitude for Saddam Hussein would be a terrible setback for stability in the Middle East, including the very promising peace process.” [62] Considering that someone of Martin Indyk’s stature announced the policy, Wolfowitz’s concern about senior level interest (itself a thinly veiled reference to the President) is perhaps not wide of the mark.

Others, just as politically motivated, were perhaps less ingenuous. Brent Scowcroft, National Security Adviser to President George Bush during the Persian Gulf War, declared that the Clinton Administration had “behaved as if the principal issues of the region, Iraq, Iran and the (stalled Israeli-Palestinian) peace process, have no relation to each other and can be dealt with as if each was isolated from the others. Further, (they) behave as if we expect others to follow our lead without question.” [63] Such criticism was founded on the false premise that the administration failed to see the impact that Iranian sponsored terrorism and Iraqi inspired instability was having upon the Middle East peace process. As has already been highlighted, this was very much at the heart of the administration’s strategy of Dual Containment. The suggestion that the United States expected the nations of the world to follow blindly was equally fatuous. The administration sought to enforce United Nations sanctions on Iraq, which were being flouted and to prevent the sale of nuclear materials to Iran in violation of various non-proliferation accords. These were hardly the actions of an overbearing and intolerant super-power.

Whilst the containment of Iraq struck many as being a logical move, the decision to impose similar constraints upon Iran struck others as less than wise. Critics pointed to the size of the country, its population of almost 60 million and a leadership determined to be pre-eminent in the Gulf and perhaps in Central Asia through ties in Afghanistan. Such factors suggested that an embargo would struggle to succeed. It was also highlighted that for a policy of containment to be successful, especially considering the lack of a viable alternative leadership. “Even with persistent economic malaise and resulting popular discontent, there is no evidence of a credible threat to the regime’s staying power.” [64] Daniel Pipes, editor of the Middle East Quarterly, believed that the Iranian threat was being underestimated: “They’d want to take control of Iraq, at least, if Saddam were gone, but they’d likely create a classic satrapy [65] rather than move to an outright annexation. They’re not dumb enough to do something that offers a pretext for an American military response.” [66] A senior Kuwaiti official added, “it’s exactly because they’re so much more clever than Saddam that the Iranians pose the more serious long-term threat.” [67]

The impact of the Dual Containment policy is one that is open to speculation. Certainly neither Iran nor Iraq was able to emerge as a regional superpower during the implementation of the policy. Neither country made forays into foreign lands, despite a number of unsuccessful efforts by Saddam. The Dual Containment policy, along with allied patrols of the No Fly Zones, effectively kept Saddam “in his box” [68] for the remainder of the decade. This was, of course, only ever likely to be a short-term solution, and one that did precious little to end Iran’s support for Hezbollah and its cycle of terror in the Middle East. In Iraq, Saddam’s conventional forces were rebuilt following his defeat in Desert Storm, allowing him to re-impose his will over Shiite Muslim rebels in southern Iraq and the Kurdish rebels in the north. The allied solution to this during the 1990s was simplistic: “Drop a lot of iron, meaning there would be allied air strikes but no commitment of ground troops.” [69]

However, just as with the policy of Engagement and Enlargement, the Clinton Administration’s stated policy in the Persian Gulf differed from its eventual actions. The Clinton Administration’s policy toward Iraq ultimately consisted of maintaining the sanctions imposed by the United Nation since the aftermath of the Gulf War of 1991. The administration did not embrace a concept of regime change in its first term since they rightly believed that to do so would entail an armed conflict that had little or no backing from the Congress, the population or within the administration itself. Prior to the attacks of September 11, 2001, the concept of pre-emption was still an alien one to many in Washington and the wider world.

Despite warnings from administration critics that Dual Containment could result in instability within Iraq that could have been exploited by Iran to formulate an Islamic super-state at the heart of the Persian Gulf, [70] such apocryphal events failed to occur. The same critics argued that whilst a containment policy was correct for Iraq, Iran should receive a more conciliatorily approach. Such a philosophy however failed to consider the long-standing hostilities between the United States and Iran. Even discounting the history of the 1980s, by 1993 Iran was still believed to be funding violent Islamic revolutionaries in Egypt, Algeria and other Arab states and continuing in its efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This was hardly a regime that could be counted on to assist American interests in the region/

Whilst Dual Containment fell outside of the official National Security Strategy of the United Sates, the two policies presented the Clinton Administration with a similar predicament: They had devised a highly nuanced policy which, along with arms control and an Arab-Israeli peace, formed a three-strand Middle East strategy, the successful implementation of which could well have bought about sweeping change in a vital part of the world. Like the policy of Engagement and Enlargement, however, the biggest hurdle would come not in devising the initiative, but in implementing the policy.

For Dual Containment to be effective America would have needed to convince her allies to halt their transaction with Iran and to have prevented Saddam Hussein from exporting Iraqi oil. On both issues, the United States failed to gain the complete international support that would have been necessary for such a policy to be successful. At the time Europe was preoccupied by the events in Bosnia and by poor economic conditions across the continent. At home, the American people were searching for a peace dividend following the end of the Cold War and were not looking at getting involved in a new stand-off in the Persian Gulf. Given that this was the environment, it is perhaps not surprising that the policy was unable to produce sweeping change in Iran and Iraq.

Time would see alterations to the policy, and these changes would lead ultimately to its demise. In Indyk’s own words, “over time the nature of the threats changed. The Iraqis became more of a problem, more difficult to contain.” By November 1998, the Clinton Administration changed its policy to containment plus regime change and “declared that our objective is not only to contain Saddam as long as he was around, but also to help the Iraqi people remove him and set up a different kind of government.” [71] However, the administration took the opposite approach to Iran. Viewing the changes implemented following the election of Khatami, “Secretary of State Albright sent a signal that America was ready to move from containment to engagement with Iran, if they were prepared meet us half-way, in which each of us would take actions to deal with the problems that the other side had." [72] Regretfully the Tehran regime failed to respond as hoped for, “so in the meantime, we will continue with containment. But, whereas what we’re saying is on the Iraqi side it’s containment plus regime change, we’re saying on the Iranian side it’s containment until they are ready for engagement.” [73]

The policy with Iran and Iraq fitted into the Clinton Administration’s overall approach to the Middle East. The administration was adamant that “the more we succeeded with making peace, the easier it would be to contain these two regimes that were threatening our interests. The more we succeeded in containing them, the easier it would be to pursue comprehensive peace.” [74] Seeking to avoid an all-out confrontation with Saddam, a policy of Dual Containment was the most appropriate course of action for the Clinton Administration to take in 1993. In the years prior to the attacks of September 11, 2001, there was neither the political nor popular support for a war of pre-emption against either Iran or Iraq. Ultimately Dual Containment did not provide a lasting solution, but throughout the 1990s it proved effective at restricting both Iran and Iraq without strengthening either side, demonstrating that there was a theoretical alternative to a balance of power strategy in the Persian Gulf.

 

Notes

1 Thomas L Friedman, ‘Clinton backs raid but muses about a new start’, New York Times, 14 January 1993, A1 [Back]
2 Thomas L Friedman, ‘Clinton backs raid but muses about a new start’, New York Times, 14 January 1993, A1 [Back]
3 Thomas L Friedman, ‘Clinton backs raid but muses about a new start’, New York Times, 14 January 1993, A1 [Back]
4 Daniel Pederson, ‘The world crowds in, an interview with Douglas Hurd’, Newsweek, 25 January 1993, 48 [Back]
5 Daniel Pederson, ‘The world crowds in, an interview with Douglas Hurd’, Newsweek, 25 January 1993, 48 [Back]
6 General Sir Peter De La Billiere, ‘Choosing our next target’, Newsweek, 25 January 1993, 26 [Back]
7 Douglas Jehl, ‘US seeks ways to isolate Iran; Describes leaders as dangerous’, New York Times, 27 May 1993, A1 [Back]
8 R Jeffrey Smith and Daniel Williams, ‘White House to step up plans to isolate Iran, Iraq; Administration to try “Dual Containment”’, Washington Post, 23 May 1993, A26 [Back]
9 Russell Watson with John Barry and Douglas Waller, ‘A new kind of containment’, Newsweek 12 July 1993, 30 [Back]
1 Martin Indyk, ‘Clinton Administration policy toward the Middle East’, (speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 18 May 1993). [Back]
11 Douglas Jehl, ‘US seeks ways to isolate Iran; Describes leaders as dangerous’, New York Times, 27 May 1993, A1 [Back]
12 Douglas Jehl, ‘US seeks ways to isolate Iran; Describes leaders as dangerous’, New York Times, 27 May 1993, A1 [Back]
13 Russell Watson with John Barry and Douglas Waller, ‘A new kind of containment’, Newsweek, 12 July 1993, 30 [Back]
14 R Jeffrey Smith and Daniel Williams, ‘White House to step up plans to isolate Iran, Iraq; Administration to try “Dual Containment”’, Washington Post, 23 May 1993, A26 [Back]
> 15 Warren Christopher, ‘America’s leadership, America’s opportunity’, Foreign Policy, Issue 98: 6-27 [Back]
16 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no. 2 (1994): 46 [Back]
17 Warren Christopher, ‘America’s leadership, America’s opportunity’, Foreign Policy, Issue 98: 6-27 [Back]
18 Warren Christopher, ‘America’s leadership, America’s opportunity’, Foreign Policy, Issue 98: 6-27 [Back]
19 Douglas Jehl, ‘US seeks ways to isolate Iran; Describes leaders as dangerous,’ New York Times, 27 May 1993, A1 [Back]
20 Douglas Jehl, ‘US seeks ways to isolate Iran; Describes leaders as dangerous,’ New York Times, 27 May 1993, A1 [Back]
21 Michael Kramer, ‘The cost of removing Saddam’, Time Magazine, 24 October 1994, 39 [Back]
22 Martin Indyk, ‘Clinton administration policy toward the Middle East’,” (speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 18 May 1993) [Back]
23 Douglas Jehl, “US seeks ways to isolate Iran; Describes leaders as dangerous,” New York Times, 27 May 1993, A1 [Back]
24 Martin Indyk, ‘Clinton administration policy toward the Middle East’,” (speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 18 May 1993) [Back]
25 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.2 (1994), 49 [Back]
26 R Jeffrey Smith and Daniel Williams, ‘White House to step up plans to isolate Iran, Iraq; Administration to try “Dual Containment”’, Washington Post, 23 May 1993, A26 [Back]
27 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.2 (1994), 54 [Back]
28 Martin Indyk, ‘Clinton administration policy toward the Middle East’,” (speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 18 May 1993) [Back]
29 Martin Indyk, ‘Clinton administration policy toward the Middle East’,” (speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 18 May 1993) [Back]
30 Martin Indyk, ‘Clinton administration policy toward the Middle East’,” (speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 18 May 1993) [Back]
31 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.2 (1994), 52 [Back]
32 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.2 (1994), 52 [Back]
33 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.2 (1994), 50 [Back]
34 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.2 (1994), 52 [Back]
35 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.2 (1994), 53 [Back]
36 Martin Indyk, ‘Clinton administration policy toward the Middle East’,” (speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 18 May 1993) [Back]
37 R Jeffrey Smith and Daniel Williams, ‘White House to step up plans to isolate Iran, Iraq; Administration to try “Dual Containment”’, Washington Post, 23 May 1993, A26 [Back]
38 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.2 (1994), 48 [Back]
39 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.2 (1994), 48 [Back]
40 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.2 (1994), 49 [Back]
41 Anthony Lake, ‘The reach of democracy; Tying power to diplomacy’, New York Times, 23 September 1994, A35 [Back]
42 Anthony Lake, ‘The reach of democracy; Tying power to diplomacy’, New York Times, 23 September 1994, A35 [Back]
43 Anthony Lake, ‘The reach of democracy; Tying power to diplomacy’, New York Times, 23 September 1994, A35 [Back]
44 Anthony Lake, ‘The reach of democracy; Tying power to diplomacy’, New York Times, 23 September 1994, A35 [Back]
45 5 Warren Christopher, ‘America’s leadership, America’s opportunity’, Foreign Policy, Issue 98, 6-27 [Back]
46 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.2 (1994), 45 [Back]
47 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.2 (1994), 46 [Back]
48 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.2 (1994), 45 [Back]
49 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.2 (1994), 46 [Back]
50 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.2 (1994), 47 [Back]
51 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.2 (1994), 46 [Back]
52 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.2 (1994), 54 [Back]
53 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.2 (1994), 54 [Back]
54 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.2 (1994), 54 [Back]
55 R Jeffrey Smith and Daniel Williams, ‘White House to step up plans to isolate Iran, Iraq; Administration to try “Dual Containment”’, Washington Post, 23 May 1993, A26 [Back]
> 56 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.2 (1994), 51 [Back]
57 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.2 (1994), 52 [Back]
58 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.2 (1994), 54 [Back]
59 Anthony Lake, ‘Confronting backlash states’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.2 (1994), 55 [Back]
60 ‘Containing Iraq and Iran’, Editorial, The Boston Globe, 27 March 1994, 74 [Back]
61 Paul D Wolfowitz, ‘Clinton’s first year’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.1 (1994): 40 [Back]
62 Paul D Wolfowitz, ‘Clinton’s first year’, Foreign Affairs 73, no.1 (1994): 40 [Back]
63 Thomas W Lippman, ‘Critics want US to re-evaluate “dual containment” policy on Iran and Iraq’, Washington Post, 7 December 1997, A33 [Back]
64 L Bruce Laingen, ‘Perspective on Iran; a nation unlikely to be contained’, Los Angeles Times, 9 July 1993, B7 [Back]
65 A Satrapy is a province governed by a satrap, a provincial governor, derived from the time of the ancient Persian Empire [Back]
66 Michael Kramer, ‘The cost of removing Saddam’, Time Magazine, 24 October 1994, 39 [Back]
67 Michael Kramer, ‘The cost of removing Saddam’, Time Magazine, 24 October 1994, 39 [Back]
68 Henry Kissinger, Does American need a foreign policy? Towards a diplomacy for the twenty-first century, (New York: Simon Schuster, 2001), 191 [Back]
69 Russell Watson with John Barry and Douglas Waller, ‘A new kind of containment’, Newsweek, 12 July 1993, 30 [Back]
> 70 Such fears were reported in ‘Containing Iraq and Iran’, Editorial, The Boston Globe, 27 March 1994, 74 [Back]
71 Martin Indyk, ‘Interview’, Al-Qabas newspaper, Kuwait, 31 January 1999 [Back]
72 Martin Indyk, 'Interview', Al-Qabas newspaper, Kuwait, 31 January 1999 [Back]
73 Martin Indyk, 'Interview', Al-Qabas newspaper, Kuwait, 31 January 1999 [Back]
74 Martin Indyk, 'Interview', Al-Qabas newspaper, Kuwait, 31 January 1999 [Back]