An old word is gaining new currency in Washington: containment. You may be hearing a lot more of it as the Bush administration hunkers down for its final two years. Containment of Iraq's low-level civil war, which shows every sign of persisting for years despite the new government inaugurated this week. Containment of Iran's nuclear power, which may lead to a missile defense system in Europe. Containment of the Islamism revived by Hamas and Hizbullah, by the Sunni suicide bombers in Iraq, as well as by the "Shiite Crescent"--as Jordan's King Abdullah once called it--running from Iran through Southern Iraq and into the Gulf.
During the cold war, containment doctrine was based on the premise that the Soviet Union was a powerful force that was going to be around for a long time to come. Containment's chief author, George Kennan, concluded that the best Washington could do was to keep the Soviet bloc penned up in its sphere of influence until it expired of its own internal problems (though Kennan later despaired that containment had become too militarily focused, culminating in Vietnam). The policy was carefully laid out in NSC-68, the basic blueprint for containment, in the spring of 1950. Forty years later, the policy succeeded.