The Dual Containment Foreign Policy of the United States

The Dual Containment Foreign Policy of the United States

Martin Indyk, a foreign relations analyst and then senior director for Middle East Affairs of the National Security Council, introduced and used the term “dual containment” while at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in May 1993. He officially announced the concept on 24 February 1994 during a symposium of the Middle East Policy Council.

Nonetheless, dual containment was an official foreign policy of the United States under the administration of Bill Clinton aimed at containing Iran and Iraq. Note that these countries have been two of the most important adversaries of Israel in the Middle East.

The Rationale Behind the Foreign Policy

In his 2009 book “Innocent Abroad: An Intimate Account of American Peace Diplomacy in the Middle East, Indyk explained that the U.S. has an established doctrine in Middle East affairs centered on ensuring that no single country become so powerful that it could control the oil supply of the Gulf region. Initially, the American government considered Saudi Arabia and Iran as the twin pillars of regional security.

Iran and Iraq were growing considerably powerful during the 1980s, and they were able to display their political and military capabilities during the Iran-Iraq War. In his article published by the Journal of International and Area Studies, scholar Reza Simbar noted that the American government under the Reagan administration initially planned to engineer a stalemate between the two countries by feeding both with critical information

Nonetheless, when Bill Clinton became the President of the U.S. in 1993, its administration found a perfect time to contain Iran and Iraq seeing that both countries had been exhausted militarily and financially from the Iran-Iraq War, and the Soviet Union was no longer around to exert geopolitical influence over the Gulf region.

Dual Containment Strategy for Iran and Iraq

The Clinton administration essentially wanted to isolate Iran and Iraq through its dual containment policy, thus cutting them off from the world economic and trading systems. Note that the United Nations had already imposed economic sanctions on Iraq, alongside daily aerial patrols. Hence, Iran was the focus of containment.

For Iran, the U.S. government exerted effort to convince Europe, Japan, and even Russia to deny the country access to global capital and arms markets. It also empowered Saudi Arabia and other countries within the Gulf Cooperating Council through military assistance.

Clinton signed an executive order on 6 May 1995 that placed an embargo on trade with Iran. The trade restrictions centered on banning the importation of Iranian goods, arms sales, and dual-use technologies. The administration further promoted a position that blocked the country from international lending. Hence, the policy worsened Iran-US relations.

Criticisms of the American Foreign Policy

There was limited support toward the dual containment of Iran and Iraq. King Fahd of Saudi Arabia responded favorably by promising to support American industries. Indky mentioned that the monarch pledged to buy dozens of civilian airliners from Boeing and McDonnell Douglas.

American historian and subject-matter expert for Middle East policy Daniel Pipes praised the foreign policy during a testimony delivered to the U.S. Congress in March 1995. However, he remarked problems in tactics and implementations.

The magazine Foreign Affairs under the Council of Foreign Relations ran an article authored by F. Gregory Gause III that criticized the dual containment policy. It noted that the strategy was shot “shot through with logical flaws and practical inconsistencies and is based on faulty geopolitical premises.”

An article by Barbara Conry of the Cato Institute noted that the policy was misguided. To be specific, it was risky because it depended on an expansive network of alliances by maintaining continued U.S. military presence and political maneuvering that are costly. The problem with the foreign policy the Clinton administration failed to provide a reasonable interest in the region.


  • Conry, B. 1994, November 10. America’s Misguided Policy of Dual Containment in the Persian Gulf. Cato Institute. Available via PDF
  • Gause, F. Gregory., III. 1994. “The Illogic of Dual Containment.” Foreign Affairs. Available online
  • Indyk, M. 2009. Innocent Abroad: An Intimate Account of American Peace Diplomacy in the Middle East. New York: Simon & Schuster
  • Simbar, R. 2006. “Iran and the US: Engagement or Confrontation.” Journal of International and Area Studies. 13(1): 73-87. JSTOR: 43107130