I first became exposed to Kenneth Pollack’s writing with *The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq*. Pollack is a former CIA analyst and director for Gulf affairs at the NSC, and I found *Threatening Storm* to be surprisingly well-thought out and informative.
I’m a bit fascinated by Iran; as some of you know, I have a tattoo in Farsi. The Bush administration has dropped hints that Tehran would be the next target for regime change, so being informed about the history of conflict should, I think, be a priority for all Americans.
When I read *Threatening Storm*, I was dead-set against the invasion of Iraq, but had gotten sick and tired of reading the shoddy logic and inflammatory accusations of the authors with whom I agreed. I figured that if I were right, my views would survive the reading of one book, and that if I were wrong I’d like to find out sooner rather than later. I soon discovered that just owning such a book made me a traitor in the eyes of many of my liberal peacenik friends. Well, so be it. Pollack’s book did what no anti-invasion book about Iraq had done: it considered the opposing viewpoint with respect and made a logical case without insulting those who did not agree. Pollack clearly explained a set of reasons *not* to invade and used these as a starting point. He basically wrote, «of course we shouldn’t invade. No right-thinking person should support invasion without drastic and compelling reasons. Unfortunately, here they are.» At every turn, he’d present the viewpoint against invasion as being a moral and patriotic choice, and then proceed to build the case for invasion. Perhaps this was simply a rhetorical strategy to drop the reader’s defenses, but in the end, *Threatening Storm* shifted my opinion dramatically. Ironically, it made me *more* angry with the George W. Bush administration for using lies and deception to push its agenda rather than the logic and reason available.[^1] Even if Pollack’s approach was «simply» a rhetorical strategy, I was very impressed with the book. It was informative, clearly-written, and mostly well-organized. When I learned that Pollack had written a book about Iran, I didn’t wait for the paperback and I didn’t wait for an online bookseller to deliver it to me; I went right to my nearest full-price corporate bookseller and bought a copy during my lunch hour.
[^1]:Aside to my father: I know that I haven’t responded to your request to «back up» my assertion that Bush lied about Iraq. It’s a tiring subject. I spent hours poring over State Department and UNSCOM reports to find any support for statements he made during his 2003 State of the Union address and was unable to find any at all. Perhaps that’s unremarkable; Bush is privy to a lot of intelligence that I cannot access. What is remarkable is that later it was revealed that there never was any such evidence. Even when the CIA took the heat for Bush, CIA never claimed that there had been evidence, just that Bush had been exposed to opinion and analysis. Anyone who claims to have solid evidence when all he has is conjecture is lying. Unless the definition of truth has changed since I was a child.
Pollack doesn’t have a clear and controversial objective with *Persian Puzzle*; he saves policy recommendations for the final chapter, taking up only about 50 pages of roughly 425 with discussion of options for America to take into the future. Most of the book is a history, focusing only on the events of the past eighty years. His analysis shows depth and insight, at least to my layman’s eyes. Things are rarely simply what they appear, but also rarely so different as to require hidden machinations or players. He seems not to have any political agenda, but also does not shy from criticism of policymakers. In an increasingly polarized political environment bent on blaming one side or another in any situation, Pollack presents us with a more complicated picture. Both sides have blundered, and both sides have misdeeds. These have had tragic consequences, but Pollack seems more interested in providing the reader with an understanding of a complex relationship than assigning blame.
*Persian Puzzle* is probably not as compelling as *Threatening Storm* for many readers, simply because it does not contain any clear-cut answers. But because it is so rich in history and analysis, *Persian Puzzle* will likely weather the passing of time better. *Threatening Storm* speculates about an event that has now already happened. *Persian Puzzle* will continue to be useful regardless of the future of Iran.