Home/Daniel Larison/Containment and the “De-Reaganizing” of Rand Paul

Containment and the “De-Reaganizing” of Rand Paul

Rand Paul’s op-edtoday was intended to answer criticisms of what he said in an interview with ABC News, but I’d say that he made a more compelling argument in his original statement:

But he said those who oppose the idea of containment — or living with an Iran with nuclear weapons — ignore that such an outcome has been necessary in the past.

“They said containment will never ever, ever be our policy,” Paul said of those who oppose Iran getting nuclear weapons at any cost. “We woke up one day and Pakistan had nuclear weapons. If that would have been our policy toward Pakistan, we would be at war with Pakistan. We woke up one day and China had nuclear weapons. We woke up one day and Russia had them.”

Paul’s remarks should remind us of a few things. The first is that the U.S. and its allies have managed to cope with the acquisition of nuclear weapons by several states, all of which were and are much more dangerous than Iran. In the event that Iran did acquire nuclear weapons, it would still be possible to deter it in the same way that other nuclear-armed states have been deterred. That doesn’t mean that this would be a desirable outcome, but that it would be a manageable one and something that the U.S. has faced several times before. Absolutely ruling out containment may be a politically expedient bit of posturing, but as a matter of policy it is deeply irresponsible and it makes it much harder for the U.S. to avoid a war with Iran. Unless one wants to make war with Iran more rather than less likely, ruling out containment makes no sense.

Jennifer Rubin’s response to the interview is just as absurd as you would expect. She declares that Paul’s statement has “de-Reaganized” him:

The idea that Reagan would consider allowing a reckless enemy of the United States with terrorists at its beck and call get the bomb is preposterous.

The key word in this bit of fantasy is “allow,” as if the U.S. were capable of preventing another government from doing this if it really wished to by any means short of a full invasion. Would Reagan have been willing to wage so-called “preventive” war to try to stop this from happening? Reagan operated in a very different world, so we can’t know for sure, but it is doubtful that he would have been prepared to initiate a war rather than tolerate another state’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. Hawks love to cite the phrase “peace through strength,” but consistently fail to recognize that taking this phrase seriously precludes starting unnecessary wars. Reagan wouldn’t have wanted more states to acquire these weapons, and even aspired to eliminating all of them, but he probably wouldn’t have thought that it was worth starting a war in order to keep one medium-sized regional power from getting them.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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