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The Persian Puzzle

The outpouring of disbelief that Kenneth Pollack has a new book out saying we should invade Iran is, I think, understandable in light of what happened last time he wrote a book. But is this actually what his new book says? No one seems to have read it (perhaps I should read it). The op-eds he's written on the subject so far don't strike me as particularly hawkish -- he's saying the US needs to involve itself directly in negotiations. In Jim Fallows' Iran piece in the Atlantic, Pollack keeps opposition military action. So -- has anyone read the book? Does Pollack think we should go to war with Iran? One of the things that people appreciated about The Gathering Storm (though appreciation for the book has, obviously, declined considerably over time) was that unlike many of the hardened neoconservative types, Pollack was clear about what he was arguing for.

UPDATE: Praktike says "If anything, the book is meant to forestall a foolish course of action such as a military invasion (he's got a section aptly named "The Case Against Invading Iran") or a covert regime destabilization campaign (there's another section called "The Ghost of Kim Roosevelt")." And then he says it's a bad book. I'll probably give it a read nonetheless, as I suspect we'll be hearing more about it.

November 18, 2004 | Permalink

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Comments

Pollack was wrong about Iraq, which was supposedly his area of expertise. So I'm going with the assumption that whatever he's written about Iran is wrong as well.

Posted by: Jeff I | Nov 18, 2004 12:43:30 PM

Um, pretty much everybody with Pollack's level of expertise was wrong about Iraq.

Posted by: Steve | Nov 18, 2004 12:49:12 PM

Read: Exit Strategy.

Posted by: Modern Crusader | Nov 18, 2004 1:08:17 PM

Um, pretty much everybody with Pollack's level of expertise was wrong about Iraq.

Which is less a defense of his book than it is an idictment of this "level of expertise." The hawks loved to say that "no credible experts" were doubtful of the WMD--while defining credible experts as people who relied on official American intelligence for their information.

There were plenty of experts with other levels of expertise who were right about Iraq, and these are the people we should be paying attention to.

Posted by: Christopher | Nov 18, 2004 1:10:19 PM

There are varying degrees of wrongness wrt Iraq. There is only one unforgivable wrongness (or deception, hard to know which really) -- when UN inspectors started poking holes in the Iraq weapons theory, pulling them out and invading for WMDs, before letting inspectors do their job.
There is no real similarity between Pollacks position and what the Bush administration did. We had inspectors on the ground with access, and we could have verified any theories we cared to -- the problem was that Bush did not care to.

Posted by: theCoach | Nov 18, 2004 1:13:16 PM

People are simply coming with their expectations, and they are incorrect.

Praktike has been on the case and Pollack does not seem to come down on the side of taking Iran out, but to engage in negotiations. But he also doesn't pull any punches about the dangers.

Posted by: JC | Nov 18, 2004 1:18:24 PM

What do people plan to take Iran out with? I think that there is a troop of Boy Scouts in Fresno that aren't tasked.

Posted by: king toots | Nov 18, 2004 1:28:41 PM

OMG, could we spare ourselves the rerun? The ominous muttering has begun, and in the weeks/months to come we'll hear "unattributed sources" and long-time experts worrying about the problems posed by Iraq. Even half a flatworm would instinctively recoil from taking any of this seriously. If you're "in", fasten your seatbelt for another ride on the gravytrain; if you're "out", what the h**l did you think would happen if Bush was re-elected?

Attempting to exercise your intellect around the shenanigans of Bush's toxic crew is dangerous, and should only be done in the prescence of a trainer who already knows how to bend over backwards in the effort to be fair.

Posted by: serial catowner | Nov 18, 2004 1:28:51 PM

Oops! I dood it again!

Fell between the chairs of "presence" and "prescience". Hard to tell if making dyslexia a badge of distinction will create a nation of poets, or reduce our useful vocabularly to about the size of a baboon's.

Posted by: serial catowner | Nov 18, 2004 1:33:35 PM

The outpouring of disbelief that Kenneth Pollack has a new book out saying we should invade Iran is

The few articles on blogs that I have read regarding this have not really said that Pollack is clamoring for invasion.

Rather, it has been to comment on the fact that this sequence of events in Iran is a déja vu, as we saw this before with Iraq. A Pollack book was a part of that, a Pollack book is a part of this. But the couple stories I have seen have been a bit sarcastic, and not at all specific about Pollack's book.

Posted by: Timothy Klein | Nov 18, 2004 1:41:02 PM

I've got a brief review tracked back here, in case anyone is interested.

Posted by: praktike | Nov 18, 2004 1:47:46 PM

The Gathering Storm.

Actually, it's The Threatening Storm. The Ghathering Storm is Churchill.

Posted by: Zach | Nov 18, 2004 1:56:08 PM

I think a lot of the comments are just rotten vegetables from the peanut gallery. Unlike Big Media Matt, a lot of us can afford to take some cheap shots.

From watching Pollack on the Daily Show, I got the impression that the book was pretty much standard moderate fare:
* Things are dire, but we can still turn this thing around
* The Iranians are cunning and untrustworthy
* The Europeans are spineless and naive
* The U.S. is the last best hope for mankind

Posted by: Omada | Nov 18, 2004 2:08:21 PM

Puzzlement over the Persian Puzzle?

Posted by: Laura | Nov 18, 2004 3:41:02 PM

Um, pretty much everybody with Pollack's level of expertise was wrong about Iraq.

Posted by: Steve

No. As a matter of fact, most of the people who knew the most about Iraq were, as with everyone's intelligence agencies, ignored.

Pollack himself, wittingly or otherwise, produced more evidence in The Threatening Storm showing that Iraq was more of a paper tiger by 2002, even with WMD, than a threat to even it's neighbors.

Posted by: Jeff I | Nov 18, 2004 4:24:27 PM

What has Mr. Pollack been smoking? Our armed forces are stretched to the breaking point, partly as a result of his bad advice to invade Iraq. Iran is far larger and has a vastly greater population. Even though much of the populace is sick of "rule by mullah", there is every reason to believe that this would be forgotten and both Iranian troops and civilians would resist a U.S. invasion ferociously. The Iranians have a number of hidden nuclear facilities scattered about their country; a Yugoslavia-type bombing campaign could not possibly destroy them all, even if the Mujahhadin e Khalq opposition group turns up a few more of them.

We've already shot our bolt. (See James Fallows' cover article in the November issue of "The Atlantic".

Posted by: Sikov Ittall | Nov 18, 2004 4:41:26 PM

psst, Sikov ... did you read the post?

Posted by: praktike | Nov 18, 2004 4:42:14 PM

While I'll confess to not having read either of his books, I suspect the consternation is due to the fact that:

1. His previous book didn't advocate invading Iraq
2. It was nonetheless used as part of the argument in favor, and seemed to have helped various so-called 'liberal hawks' convince themselves that an invasion might not be such a bad thing

Under the circumstances, I can see why antiwar types are nervous when he writes a new book about the neocons' next favorite target, saying it's a threat but we can deal with it without invading. Especially when Colin Powell starts parroting 'intelligence' from Iranian exiles about Iran's weapons programs...

Posted by: Redshift | Nov 18, 2004 4:44:37 PM

Redshift, his previous book definitely did advocate invading Iraq. Not in the manner that eventually happened, but he did argue for an invasion.

Posted by: Haggai | Nov 18, 2004 4:51:50 PM

Whoops! Sorry; I went back and read more carefully. For whatever it excuses, just when I had finished reading: "The outpouring of disbelief that Kenneth Pollack has a new book out saying we should invade Iran...", I lost it. (Not my SOP.)

Posted by: Sikov Ittal | Nov 18, 2004 5:04:12 PM

I was at a briefing by Pollack this morning and his case was explicitly that displomacy and inspections can make war w/ Iran unneccesary. He even says that if it fails, we can likely live w/ a nuclear Iran. You can't blame him that Iran wants weapons, but he's come up with a very solid strategy for dealing with it that also prevents war. After his last book, I give him credit for admitting his mistake, being willing to reassess what he said and investigate how he could have been so wrong.

Posted by: Judah | Nov 18, 2004 5:09:36 PM

After his last book, I give him credit for admitting his mistake, being willing to reassess what he said and investigate how he could have been so wrong.

Pollack has never accepted that he was wrong about Iraq. Go to his supposed mea culpa in the Atlantic. It's nothing but one long CYI. He tried to shift all the blame, as did the Bush administration, on faulty intelligence.

Posted by: Jeff I | Nov 18, 2004 5:29:40 PM

To clear up any lingering confusing, allow me to quote from Strobe Talbott's foreword:
This book is the latest evidence of Ken Pollack's impeccable sense of timing. Two years ago, in October 2002, as the Bush administration was focusing the world's attention on the dangers posed by Saddam Hussein, Ken's best-selling The Threatening Storm: THE CASE FOR INVADING IRAQ appeared. It argued both for decisive use of force and for a strategy that would win the peace that would follow a military victory.

Now Iran is increasingly the focus of international attention--and, with The Persian Puzzle of Ken's incisive analysis and hardheaded policy prescription as well. [...]

Ken shuns simple answers and sifts the evidence in search of the grittier truth that will be useful to policy makers and an informed public. HE OFFERS A DIPLOMATIC WAY FORWARD. It features a coordinated U.S.-European pursuit of a deal with Iran on its nuclear ambition.Emphasis mine. I hope that clears things up.

Posted by: praktike | Nov 18, 2004 5:42:25 PM

Pollack has never accepted that he was wrong about Iraq.

You're mistaken; read his thing in TNR from a while back. I never really interpreted the Atlantic thing as meant to be a mea culpa.

Posted by: Toadmonster | Nov 18, 2004 5:47:20 PM

. . . I never really interpreted the Atlantic thing as meant to be a mea culpa.

That's what I said, it wasn't an apology, it was a CYA. It's all the fault of the other nasty analysts.

Pollack had been out of the loop for three years before the Iraq invasion. The Threatening Storm was essentially a history book with very little background on current intelligence.

Posted by: Jeff I | Nov 18, 2004 6:31:48 PM

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