Presidential historian Robert Dallek has an excellent essay in Foreign Policy about the power of metaphor in shaping U.S. foreign policy:
Three enduring illusions — a misguided faith in universalism, or America’s power to transform the world from a community of hostile, lawless nations into enlightened states devoted to peaceful cooperation; a need to shun appeasement of all adversaries or to condemn suggestions of conciliatory talks with them as misguided weakness; and a belief in the surefire effectiveness of military strength in containing opponents, whatever their ability to threaten the United States — have made it nearly impossible for Americans to think afresh about more productive ways to address their foreign problems. Call it the tyranny of metaphor: For all their pretensions to shaping history, U.S. presidents are more often its prisoners.
The section on containment is particularly good. Read the whole thing here.