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 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.)

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