A new Cold War?
Posted by Zvika Krieger
Yale professor Ian Shapiro has published an interesting op-ed that argues for the revival of containment as a post-Iraq strategy for the Middle East. Drawing on parallels from the Cold War, he predicts that the dysfunctional states of the Middle East will implode of their accord, and our interventions are only making things worse (while saddling ourselves with a massive military burden).
While I am hesitant to swallow his full equivalence of communism and radical Islamism, the point in the article that most resonates for me is his analysis of why containment worked: "So long as the USSR did not stage a military attack, containment...would guarantee security." In other words, containment necessitates patience. Americans had patience for it during the Cold War because they realized that there was not an immediate threat to their security. So that forces us to ask the question today: Are we, as Americans, really in that much danger of attack? Or, more precisely, how much safer have we become as a result of our interventions in the Middle East?
I would argue, as are an increasing amount of security analysts, that our interventions have made us less safe. In the most immediate sense, they have put our troops in the line of fire. But in a larger sense, they have provided a common enemy for secularists and fundamentalists -- America -- and are thus preventing the internal clashes (or what some might call "soul searching") that are necessary for actual democracy to emerge in the Middle East. We have to remind ourselves that the war against radical Islamism -- like the war against communism -- is much more of an internal battle for the countries of the Middle East than it is our battle. While we may have felt some its affects on 9/11, we can't let that distract us from the fact that the war can only be won by the people of the Middle East themselves.
So there are two lessons from the Cold War: We only hurt ourselves by intervening, and that we will only have the confidence not to intervene when we acknowledge that there is little direct threat to American security. We can't use the abstract threat of "terrorism" to justify hasty and aggressive action in the Middle East anymore. We have to recapture that Cold War confidence that authoritarian states will collapse as a result of their own dysfunction, and that "the best way to spread democracy is to demonstrate its superiority" rather than "ramming [it] down people’s throats."