Lecture at Yale: “Containment: Rebuilding a Strategy against Global Terror”

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I managed to make it to a couple of lectures during my 20th Reunion Weekend at Yale. The standout lecture was from Professor Ian Shapiro, Sterling Professor of Political Science and Henry R. Luce Director of the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale. The title of the lecture is also the title of his recent book, available at Amazon (among other places). The general gist of his 45 minute speech, delivered I might add with precision and wit, was to propose a revised version of George Kennan’s Containment Strategy in the Global fight against Terrorism. There were several parts to his lecture that struck me.

– As in Kennan’s strategy, it is important to win the hearts and minds of countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan & Iran by demonstrating the success of democratic capitalism. The most important country to “seduce” is Iran. And it is true, the media has generally helped to distort the image that the West has of Iran – obscuring the beautiful land & music, exceptional fruit, enormous history & culture…not to mention the increasing population of women activists and a more enlightened youth. Since President Ahmadinejad‘s party lost ground in the last local elections, hopefully, this is a harbinger of things to come for Iran to move to a more secular, more democratic, more liberal state. While we should positively figure out how to win the hearts & souls of the local population, I note that the Iranian diaspora seems to be doing a better job of the reverse (winning our [or at least my] heart & soul). I have frequently received disarmingly beautiful slide shows of Iran via emails. Iranians in their country need to know that we are also good people and be able to see beyond the politics just as we Westerners must look beyond President Ahmadinejad. There is much work to be done on this count: maybe we should create an online community of West meets {middle] East to share virtual home-made apple pie?

– As Kennan said about Communism not being sustainable because it could not create viable economic prosperity, the same is true of Islamic fundamentalism (long term). No argument there if you consider that the oil supply will eventually run out and/or conversely the price of oil will finally oblige the West (and East) to find alternative (and hopefully) less polluting sources.

-Shapiro’s two adjustments to the Kennan Containment strategy are (1) to fight the war on terrorism only via international legitimacy (recognize the imprimatur of the United Nations, ironically an institution to which Kennan was opposed); and (2) to create international regional alliances of a NATO-like character. Specifically, Shapiro would like to see a Syria/Iran alliance crafted around common interests (getting rid of the Taleban, territorial integrity of Iraq and keeping the peace [there has been no attack by Iran since the 18th century]).

-Shapiro refers to the need to create a strategic opening AND containment between US, Iraq and Iran, much like we saw in the Cold War between US/China/Russia.

-Shapiro talked about the current situation in Libya as being proof of the success of containment: recognition of involvement in and compensation to the Lockerbie victims, giving up of the Libyan nuclear program, curbing terrorism, etc. And, for my understanding, that does seem to be a victory. The picture (to the right of Blair with Gaddafi) tells a thousand words and shows who “won” and might have felt “vanquished”. This meeting took place in the Sahara Desert on May 31, 2007 – potentially a win that Blair would like to own in his legacy.

The best quote of Shapiro’s lecture: “The Bush Doctrine is the Monroe Doctrine on crack.” The Bush Doctrine establishes that nowhere is off limits in this war on Terror. We are no longer operating in spheres of influence. What is scariest of the Bush Doctrine is the acceptance that the war on Terrorism is an infinite war as no armistice will ever be reachable, since there is no representative able to sign the “other side’s” peace agreement.

And, while Shapiro was critical of President GW Bush (Doctrine) as well as the Democrats (no well articulated alternative policy), in the end of the day, whomever is the next US President will need to find and construct a new path and avoid giving a greater “common cause” behind which to rally Islamic Fundamentalists across the region. And it is hard not to want to find a way to render the war finite.

Finally, I cite this TigerHawk blog for widening the discussion with our brethren from Princeton.

One Comment, RSS

  1. TigerHawk

    I’ve since read Shapiro’s book, and I’ve got somewhat less regard for his point of view having done that. Maybe I’ll work myself up to write a review and elaborate.

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