Interview with Kenneth Pollack

Joshua Micah Marshall has an interview with Kenneth Pollack, author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. Pollack is a smart guy, with a lot of experience in the Middle East, but some of his statements in his book cause me to raise my eyebrows.

Joshua Micah Marshall has an interview with Kenneth Pollack, author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. Pollack is the director of research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, and served as director of Gulf Affairs on President Clinton’s National Security Council from 1995-96 and 1999-2001. Prior to that, he spent seven years with the CIA as a Persian Gulf military analyst. His book is considered by many to be the most cogent argument for war against Iraq at this time and Pollack presents himself as a reluctant warrior, saying, “I do not embrace such a policy lightly … I embrace it only grudgingly. As I try to demonstrate in this book, a new war with Iraq definitely won’t be cheap and it might not be easy. I recognize full well that such a war will could result in the deaths of thousands of people — Americans, Iraqis and others — and destroy the lives of many more. It would cost tens of billions of dollars. And it would likely be the highest U.S. foreign policy priority for many years, precluding other foreign policy initiatives as we turn our resources and attentions to Iraq.” Few people would disagree with this statement. Unfortunately, those that do include the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of Defense, et al.
I just started reading this book myself, and I’m not very far into it, but I’ve already come across a couple of points that have raised my eyebrows. In the introduction, he mentions great risks to the United States if it does not deal with Iraq now rather than later. As Pollack says, “The global war against terrorism could also prove a distraction from Iraq.” (Emphasis added.) Most people I know — and most opinion polls — would say Pollack has this exactly reversed, that Iraq is the distraction from the war on terror (which any sane person would support. I do, by the way.) Secondly, he claims, early on, that because of the goals of preventing Saddam from attaining weapons of mass destruction, “containment of Iraq was always a much more ambitious undertaking than containment of the USSR had ever been.”
Really? Fifty years of Cold War strategy, with proxy wars fought in southeast Asia, Africa and central America, aimed at chaining a nuclear-tipped superpower was not as ambitious as preventing a single dictator from arming a single country with nukes? I’m not a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, but it seems to me that if Israel, a single country, can stop Saddam’s nuclear ambitions with a well-placed bombing run in 1981, coupled with 12 years of U.N. sanctions to keep supplies from coming into Iraq, then his statement that Saddam’s containment program was more ambitious has to be looked at as somewhat ridiculous.
At any rate, most readers know my views on this war — it’s the wrong time and the wrong war. But read the interview. It’s enlightening.
(Here’s the original article in Foreign Affairs that Pollack based his book upon.)

Navy Seals

The Navy, under the aegis of the Marine Mammal Program has had to acknowledge a squad of anti-terror sea lions, trained to patrol the Persian Gulf for terrorist divers, based in Bahrain harbor. Their barking was so loud there was no way the Navy could hide the existence of the mammals, which are not native to the Persian Gulf. I’m not making this up.

Sea lions and their handlersOK. Usually this is a very serious site, but every now and then I find something a little … odd. This is one of those things.
Turns out the Navy, under the aegis of the Marine Mammal Program has had to acknowledge a squad of anti-terror sea lions, trained to patrol the Persian Gulf for terrorist divers, based in Bahrain harbor. Their barking was so loud there was no way the Navy could hide the existence of the mammals, which are not native to the Persian Gulf. I’m not making this up.
The Navy has long feared enemy divers who could blow up ships by attaching mines to them. Sea lions, dolphins and even a Beluga whale are trained to patrol the waters around the ships, locate enemy divers, snap a clamp onto one of their limbs and leave.
ABCnews.com continues: “The clamp is connected to a rope and signal buoy that humans with guns would then reel up, presumably pulling up a human on the other end.” [“Humans with guns”? Who writes this stuff? — Ed.] “In theory, the animals would not be hurt. Their contact with a potential terrorist — who would presumably be surprised — would last only an instant as they briefly made contact.”
“When you study the animals and you come to realize what they can do in their own environment, the aquatic environment, it’s no surprise that we have not been able to build a machine that can do what they do,” said Navy veterinarian Eric Jensen.
Sea lions are preferred because, unlike dolphins, they can continue their pursuit of an enemy diver onto dry land. What? How hard is it to outrun a waddling circus act on flippers?
In a time of continuous bad news, this story — while weird — made my night.
UPDATE: Yes, yes, I know sea lions are not seals, already. But c’mon, that headline was too good to pass up.