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About Kenneth M. Pollack
I am an expert on the political-military affairs of the Middle East. I have served as a Persian Gulf military analyst at the CIA and the Director for Persian Gulf Affairs at the National Security Council in addition to a stint in the Department of Defense. I have been in the think tank world--Council on Foreign Relations, The Brookings Institution, and now the American Enterprise Institute--since I was thrown out of government by the incoming George W. Bush Administration in 2001. I have a BA from Yale and a PhD from MIT.
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Here Pollack, a former CIA analyst and National Security Council official, brings his keen analysis and insider perspective to the long and ongoing clash between the United States and Iran, beginning with the fall of the shah and the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran in 1979. Pollack examines all the major events in U.S.-Iran relations–including the hostage crisis, the U.S. tilt toward Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, the Iran-Contra scandal, American-Iranian military tensions in 1987 and 1988, the covert Iranian war against U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf that culminated in the 1996 Khobar Towers terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia, and recent U.S.-Iran skirmishes over Afghanistan and Iraq. He explains the strategies and motives from American and Iranian perspectives and tells how each crisis colored the thinking of both countries’ leadership as they shaped and reshaped their policies over time. Pollack also describes efforts by moderates of various stripes to try to find some way past animosities to create a new dynamic in Iranian-American relations, only to find that when one side was ready for such a step, the other side fell short.
With balanced tone and insight, Pollack explains how the United States and Iran reached this impasse; why this relationship is critical to regional, global, and U.S. interests; and what basic political choices are available as we deal with this important but deeply troubled country.
The greatest danger to America’s peace and prosperity, notes leading Middle East policy analyst Kenneth M. Pollack, lies in the political repression, economic stagnation, and cultural conflict running rampant in Arab and Muslim nations. By inflaming political unrest and empowering terrorists, these forces pose a direct threat to America’s economy and national security. The impulse for America might be to turn its back on the Middle East in frustration over the George W. Bush administration’s mishandling of the Iraq War and other engagements with Arab and Muslim countries. But such a move, Pollack asserts, will only exacerbate problems. He counters with the idea that we must continue to make the Middle East a priority in our policy, but in a humbler, more humane, more realistic, and more cohesive way.
Pollack argues that Washington’s greatest sin in its relations with the Middle East has been its persistent unwillingness to make the sustained and patient effort needed to help the people of the Middle East overcome the crippling societal problems facing their governments and societies. As a result, the United States has never had a workable comprehensive policy in the region, just a skein of half-measures intended either to avoid entanglement or to contain the influence of the Soviet Union.
Beyond identifying the stagnation of civic life in Arab and Muslim states and the cumulative effect of our misguided policies, Pollack offers a long-term strategy to ameliorate the political, economic, and social problems that underlie the region’s many crises. Through his suggested policies, America can engage directly with the governments of the Middle East and indirectly with its people by means of cultural exchange, commerce, and other “soft” approaches. He carefully examines each of the region’s most contested areas, including Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Lebanon, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and explains how the United States can address each through mutually reinforcing policies.
At a time when the nation will be facing critical decisions about our continued presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, A Path Out of the Desert is guaranteed to stimulate debate about America’s humanitarian, diplomatic, and military involvement in the Middle East.
For the past fifteen years, as an analyst on Iraq for the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council, Kenneth Pollack has studied Saddam as closely as anyone else in the United States. In 1990, he was one of only three CIA analysts to predict the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. As the principal author of the CIA’s history of Iraqi military strategy and operations during the Gulf War, Pollack gained rare insight into the methods and workings of what he believes to be the most brutal regime since Stalinist Russia.
Examining all sides of the debate and bringing a keen eye to the military and geopolitical forces at work, Pollack ultimately comes to this controversial conclusion: through our own mistakes, the perfidy of others, and Saddam’s cunning, the United States is left with few good policy options regarding Iraq. Increasingly, the option that makes the most sense is for the United States to launch a full-scale invasion, eradicate Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, and rebuild Iraq as a prosperous and stable society—for the good of the United States, the Iraqi people, and the entire region.
Pollack believed for many years that the United States could prevent Saddam from threatening the stability of the Persian Gulf and the world through containment—a combination of sanctions and limited military operations. Here, Pollack explains why containment is no longer effective, and why other policies intended to deter Saddam ultimately pose a greater risk than confronting him now, before he gains possession of nuclear weapons and returns to his stated goal of dominating the Gulf region. “It is often said that war should be employed only in the last resort,” Pollack writes. “I reluctantly believe that in the case of the threat from Iraq, we have come to the last resort.”
Offering a view of the region that has the authority and force of an intelligence report, Pollack outlines what the leaders of neighboring Arab countries are thinking, what is necessary to gain their support for an invasion, how a successful U.S. operation would be mounted, what the likely costs would be, and how Saddam might react. He examines the state of Iraq today—its economy, its armed forces, its political system, the status of its weapons of mass destruction as best we understand them, and the terrifying security apparatus that keeps Saddam in power. Pollack also analyzes the last twenty years of relations between the United States and Iraq to explain how the two countries reached the unhappy standoff that currently prevails.
Commanding in its insights and full of detailed information about how leaders on both sides will make their decisions, The Threatening Storm is an essential guide to understanding what may be the crucial foreign policy challenge of our time.
There is no greater foreign policy challenge for the United States today than the reconstruction of Iraq. The Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings recently assembled a small group of experts to consider U.S. policy toward Iraq in all of its dimensionsmilitary, political, and economic. Saban Center director of research Ken Pollack took the recommendations of the Iraq Policy Working Group and combined them with findings from trips to Iraq and to U.S. Central Command in Tampa to produce A Switch in Time, a comprehensive strategy for stabilizing Iraq in the near term and setting it back on the path toward political and economic advancement. The current U.S. approach is encountering considerable difficulty and appears unlikely to produce a stable Iraq within the next few years, not only because of the military insurgency but also because of government failure in Iraq: the overthrown Saddam regime was not replaced by effective military or political institutions. The alternative proposed by some Bush administration critics, howevera rapid withdrawalwould not serve U.S. interests. While many thoughtful experts have attempted to offer a realistic third course of action, none has so far succeeded. This report proposes such a strategy by detailing the essential need to integrate military, political, and economic policies in Iraq. This concise and straightforward book offers a comprehensive, alternative approach to current U.S. military, political, and economic policies in Iraq. Iraq Policy Working Group: Raad Alkadiri (PFC Energy Consulting), Frederick Barton (Center for Strategic and International Studies), Daniel Byman (Saban Center and Georgetown University), Noah Feldman (New York University), Paul Hughes (United States Army [ret.], United States Institute of Peace), Brian Katulis (Center for American Progress), Andrew Krepinevich Jr. (United States Army [ret.], Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments),Andrew Parasiliti (Barbour, Griffith & Rogers), Kenneth M. Pollack (Saban Center), Irena Sargsyan (Saban Center), and Joseph Siegle (Development Alternatives)