The fog of containment

In the coming weeks, the United States may well be joining a new round of nuclear negotiations with Iran. But, rather than working to promote their success, most commentators seem to be consumed with explaining their anticipated failure. And their follow-up policy prescriptions seem designed to do more harm than good. Take Karim Sadjadpour’s article, ...

Behrouz Mehri/AFP
Behrouz Mehri/AFP
Behrouz Mehri/AFP

In the coming weeks, the United States may well be joining a new round of nuclear negotiations with Iran. But, rather than working to promote their success, most commentators seem to be consumed with explaining their anticipated failure. And their follow-up policy prescriptions seem designed to do more harm than good. Take Karim Sadjadpour's article, "The Sources of Soviet Iranian Conduct," in the November issue of Foreign Policy. Sadjadpour seeks to adapt George Kennan's famous 1947 "Mr. X" article -- which proposed the outlines of the Cold War "containment" strategy used against the Soviet Union -- for America's current Iran debate.

"Like the Soviet Union, the Islamic Republic is a corrupt, inefficient, authoritarian regime whose bankrupt ideology resonates far more abroad than it does at home," Sadjadpour writes. "Also like the men who once ruled Moscow, Iran's current leaders have a victimization complex and, as they themselves admit, derive their internal legitimacy from thumbing their noses at Uncle Sam." It's a clever conceit, but it would be a disaster for U.S. interests if Sadjadpour's piece attains anything close to the level of influence achieved by Kennan's.

In the coming weeks, the United States may well be joining a new round of nuclear negotiations with Iran. But, rather than working to promote their success, most commentators seem to be consumed with explaining their anticipated failure. And their follow-up policy prescriptions seem designed to do more harm than good. Take Karim Sadjadpour’s article, “The Sources of Soviet Iranian Conduct,” in the November issue of Foreign Policy. Sadjadpour seeks to adapt George Kennan’s famous 1947 “Mr. X” article — which proposed the outlines of the Cold War “containment” strategy used against the Soviet Union — for America’s current Iran debate.

“Like the Soviet Union, the Islamic Republic is a corrupt, inefficient, authoritarian regime whose bankrupt ideology resonates far more abroad than it does at home,” Sadjadpour writes. “Also like the men who once ruled Moscow, Iran’s current leaders have a victimization complex and, as they themselves admit, derive their internal legitimacy from thumbing their noses at Uncle Sam.” It’s a clever conceit, but it would be a disaster for U.S. interests if Sadjadpour’s piece attains anything close to the level of influence achieved by Kennan’s.

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Flynt Leverett is senior fellow at the New America Foundation and teaches international affairs at Penn State. Hillary Mann Leverett is CEO of Stratega, a political risk consultancy. Both are former National Security Council staff members with long experience working on Middle East issues in the U.S. government.
Hillary Mann Leverett, who served as director for Afghanistan, Iran, and Persian Gulf affairs at the U.S. National Security Council, is the chief executive officer of STRATEGA, a political risk consultancy.

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