An Undersold But Valid Mideast Policy

The U.S. foreign policy of containment, which defeated communism and won the cold war, is being dusted off by some policymakers in Washington who worry about China's growing power. We think that a more appropriate focus of a revived containment policy is the Middle East, where a number of countries, including Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Syria, represent direct and obvious threats to the U.S. and all industrial democracies. President Clinton's modulated military response to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Erbil, the Kurdish city in northern Iraq, buttresses a containment policy. Clinton's action tightening allied control of Iraqi airspace in the south, near the critical oil fields in the gulf, is a shrewd countermove.

Containment is the appropriate Middle East foreign policy, because the status quo is much more favorable to the world's interests than it was just five years ago. There is an Israeli-Palestinian peace that is half complete, an Iraq that is half as powerful, and an Iran and Syria that are half as threatening, thanks to the decline of Moscow as a cold-war patron and the expansion of U.S. military power in the gulf. The rogue states' main threat now comes through the support of worldwide terrorism. Freezing and squeezing has a decent chance of containing war and generating a change in leadership.

But for that to work, the U.S. needs the cooperation of its European allies, who insist on trading with the likes of Iran. The Clinton Administration has not put the time or energy into cajoling Germany, France, and the rest of Europe to follow its lead in containing the purveyors of terrorism. Instead, it has alienated allies with an ill-conceived and arrogant Iran-Libya Sanctions Act that threatens European business people with jail time in America if they invest in those two countries. The U.S. should save the bullying for the bullies in the Mideast. It has the right foreign policy: containment. Now, it should get its allies behind it.