'Red lines' bluster but don't safeguard

I am not for containment in Iran. Let me repeat that, since no one seems to be listening closely: I am unequivocally not for containing Iran. I am also not for announcing that the United States should never contain Iran. That was the choice I was given a few months ago and is the scenario being misunderstood by some in the news.

To be against a "we will never contain Iran" resolution is not the same as being for containment of a nuclear Iran. Rather, it means that foreign policy is complicated and doesn't fit neatly within a bumper sticker, headline or tweet. Those who reduce it to such do a disservice to their reporting and, potentially, to the security of our nation.

To some people this may seem to be a nuance, but it is, in fact, an incredibly important detail in the consideration of war. Nuance has been a bit lacking in our foreign policy of late. Whether through pre-emptive war or "red lines" that were crossed without consequence, the extremes of foreign policy have had their way, and it has not worked.

Ronald Reagan was once criticized for not announcing in advance his policy toward particular situations. He was accused of not having a concrete foreign policy. His response was that he simply chose not to announce his policies in advance.

If he had been bluffing the Soviets with his Strategic Defense Initiative, or using it as leverage in negotiations, it would have been counterproductive to announce that in advance.

In fact, Reagan often practiced strategic ambiguity. He thought, as many other presidents have, that we should not announce to our enemies what we might do in every conceivable hypothetical situation.

It is a dumb idea to announce to Iran that you would accept and contain that country if it were to become a nuclear power. But it is equally dumb, dangerous and foolhardy to announce in advance how we would react to any nation that obtains nuclear weapons.

If, after World War II, we had pre-emptively announced that containment of nuclear powers would never be considered, the United States would have trapped itself into nuclear confrontations with Russia, China, Pakistan, India and North Korea.

I believe all options should be on the table to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, including the military option. I have voted repeatedly for sanctions against Iran and will continue to do so. But I will also continue to argue that war is a last resort and that, as Reagan wrote, we should be reluctant to go to war but resolved to do so if necessary.

Should war become necessary, the American people through their representatives must debate and deliberate the pros and cons of action and not be trapped into a predetermined response based on a resolution passed without debate or discussion.

The Constitution reserved the power to declare war to Congress, and when contemplating war, words are critical.

Containment of Iran is a bad idea, but our leaders need to think before they speak and consider that pre-emptively announcing responses to every hypothetical situation may well damage our ability to keep the United States safe and strong.

I have often said that we have, for too long, had a debate between the extremes of foreign policy - and that to be on either end of the extremes can have life-or-death consequences.

False choices between being everywhere all of the time and nowhere any of the time are fodder for debate on Sunday morning shows or newspaper columns. Real foreign policy is made in the middle; with nuance; in the gray area of diplomacy, engagement and reluctantly, if necessary, military action.

National defense is the No. 1 job of our government, and I believe in a strong nation, at peace with the world.

I believe peace through strength should be our goal at all times.

The writer is a Republican senator from Kentucky. He wrote this commentary for The Washington Post.

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