Finally, An Iranian Containment Strategy

Iran’s hegemonic impulse poses a threat to American interests in the Middle East. In a crucial policy shift, President Bush has formulated a bold new strategy for containing the Islamic Republic.

Don't let the buzz on the 24 hour news stations mislead you-the President's new "kill or capture" program aimed at Iranian agents in Iraq is only one aspect of the most important policy shift since the War on Terror began. The Bush Administration has taken a step in the right direction by developing a comprehensive Iran containment strategy.

Gone are the days of a one-dimensional Iran policy that focused exclusively on Iran's nuclear program. This latest shift recognizes the futility of a U.S. policy limited to garnering a Security Council blessing for a sanctions regime against Iran that may or may not halt Iran's nuclear program.

This policy came with a significant cost. In terms of the nuclear program, Turtle Bay diplomacy only benefited Iran; the time it took to mobilize the international community gave Iran the dilatory measure it needed to further refine its nuclear program. The most serious failure of our past policy, however, was a failure to address other destructive aspects of Tehran's conduct: Iranian terrorism in Iraq, particularly the presence of Revolution Guards Corps' Qods forces; the training, equipping and assistance it provides Hezbollah and Hamas; and its bellicose diplomacy that sows regional and global instability.

Contrary to the view of many pundits, a policy that engages Iran on every front where it uses terrorism and destabilizes the Middle East is the best way to avoid a military conflict. As our top intelligence officials recently reported to Congress, Iran has become more bellicose, as it views the U.S. situation in Iraq as an opportunity to expand its regional influence. Failure to neutralize Tehran's hegemonic impulse now could result in a regional devolution, reaching the point where the U.S. has no choice but to engage Iran.

Moreover, this new policy will pave the way for diplomatic success. Demonstrating to Tehran that adventurism will come at a cost will provide our diplomats with the leverage they need to force Iran to negotiate and make concessions. This policy enhances diplomacy-it does not set it aside.

Recent statements made by the president, and documents subsequently released by the National Security Council, signal that part and parcel of this policy is forging a security alliance with moderate Arab regimes, particularly the Gulf States. Though it has not received a lot of attention, the new policy also calls for deployment of security assets to the Gulf region and the launching of an international compact in 2007. Making the Gulf Security Initiative a presidential priority is the best way to prevent proliferation in the region and garner support in Iraq from states like Saudi Arabia.

This new policy could not have come at a more appropriate time. Consider the other story coming out of the Middle East this week: Hezbollah is once again intimidating and undermining the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, bringing that country closer to a reign of violent radicalism. Iran would like nothing more than to see Hezbollah redux in Iraq. Fortunately, the administration's new containment strategy signals that the U.S. will not make the same mistake it made in the 1980s when it left Beirut in chaos-a move that resulted in the ascension of Hezbollah. At a moment when good policy options in the Middle East seem few and far between, a plan that contains Iran is sound and essential to protecting U.S. national security.

Representative Jim Saxton (R-NJ) sits on the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats & Capabilities.