CONTAINMENT KILLS: Walter Russell Mead argues persuasively that containment is “Deadlier Than War.” He points out that:

Sanctions are inevitably the cornerstone of containment, and in Iraq, sanctions kill.

In this case, containment is not an alternative to war. Containment is war: a slow, grinding war in which the only certainty is that hundreds of thousands of civilians will die.

The Gulf War killed somewhere between 21,000 and 35,000 Iraqis, of whom between 1,000 and 5,000 were civilians.

Based on Iraqi government figures, UNICEF estimates that containment kills roughly 5,000 Iraqi babies (children under 5 years of age) every month, or 60,000 per year. Other estimates are lower, but by any reasonable estimate containment kills about as many people every year as the Gulf War — and almost all the victims of containment are civilian, and two-thirds are children under 5.

Each year of containment is a new Gulf War.

Saddam Hussein is 65; containing him for another 10 years condemns at least another 360,000 Iraqis to death. Of these, 240,000 will be children under 5.

Those are the low-end estimates. Believe UNICEF and 10 more years kills 600,000 Iraqi babies and altogether almost 1 million Iraqis.

While Mead correctly blames Saddam for these deaths–his compliance would lift the sanctions–he also says the reluctance to move beyond containment is partially responsible.

And what have we bought?

We’ve bought the right of a dictator to suppress his own people, disturb the peace of the region and make the world darker and more dangerous for the American people.

We’ve bought the continuing presence of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, causing a profound religious offense to a billion Muslims around the world, and accelerating the alarming drift of Saudi religious and political leaders toward ever more extreme forms of anti-Americanism.

What we can’t buy is protection from Hussein’s development of weapons of mass destruction. Too many companies and too many states will sell him anything he wants, and Russia and France will continue to sabotage any inspections and sanctions regime.

Morally, politically, financially, containing Iraq is one of the costliest failures in the history of American foreign policy. Containment can be tweaked — made a little less murderous, a little less dangerous, a little less futile — but the basic equations don’t change. Containing Hussein delivers civilians into the hands of a murderous psychopath, destabilizes the whole Middle East and foments anti-American terror — with no end in sight.

This is disaster, not policy.


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.