Opinions, shockingly based in facts and analysis
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.
5 Replies to “Opinions, shockingly based in facts and analysis”
I am sure that I never said
I am sure that I never said that Bush didn’t lie. He is, after all, a politician. That said, I have seen no evidence to indicate that he knew there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. All the US government intelligence agencies told him they believed there were; the French, German, British, Israeli, and Saudi intelligence agencies all believed there were. Saddam was clearly trying to make everyone believe he had them in spite of the UN sanctions. Congress, who BTW had available all the intelligence that Bush was relying on, voted overwhelmingly for the war. So, when no serious WMD were found, everyone attacks Bush for believing the same reports they believed. Dunno.
My question to you was in response to the Felber blog when I asked why there was this vitriolic reaction to W. That is what I have never been able to get a response to from any of the liberal Bush-bashers I ask. If they answer at all, they say things like “He’s an idiot.” That is not only factually incorrect, but not very clarifying. Liberals seem to spit and stutter when they think about him. I can understand people disagreeing with his policies. That’s politics. I just don’t understand the hatred. For comparison, I never hated Clinton, but I can easily tell you a dozen issues we disagree on, and I can also tell you why I think he is personally despicable. I believe that being a moral person is important, and he wasn’t. So maybe someone out there will explain this hatred for our current President.
It’s funny. I’m a strict
It’s funny. I’m a strict Constitutionalist, so that makes me fall pretty far to the right side (literally and figuratively) of the political spectrum. (Please don’t take this out on Steve. His politics are clearly his own.) Our local radio offers up four talk shows in the 12 – 3 segment: Rush Limbaugh, Tony Snow, NPR, and Arnie Arnesen, who ran for Governor of NH a few years back on an extremely liberal platform. (She lost.) I usually listen to Arnie, although occasionally she irks me enough to switch to NPR or Tony Snow, and once every couple of months I listen to Rush. I never learn anything from Rush. Tony Snow occasionally comes up with an unusual topic, but NPR and Arnie are non-stop liberals. NPR tries to be a little bit more subtle about it, but Arnie is just blatant party-line rhetoric. So why do I listen to them? Both are quite well-spoken. I get to hear the liberal arguments from them in a venue where I can ponder their arguments without having to immediately respond. By the time I hear these arguments in person I have had time to research their claims and, in most cases, develop a coherent rebuttal. I am amused to see that your liberal friends think that a policy of knowing your enemies is traitorous. That’s probably why we have a conservative President, and why the liberals don’t seem to understand why.
I am amused to see that your
Agreed, except that I think “conservative” doesn’t really apply to Bush.
I hear what you are saying,
I hear what you are saying, but he was certainly the MORE conservative candidate in November. That isn’t saying much, though, considering that Kerry is one of the most liberal Democrats. The problem with being fiscally conservative as opposed to socially conservative is that there are so many people weaning at the public teat that any attempt to make cutbacks loses votes. With elections as close as they are today, neither side can afford to cut the pork. That’s why I don’t expect to see any real change in the income tax, either. A sensible solution like a national sales tax would affect too many lawyers, accountants, and IRS employees. Count up all those votes and too many Congressmen would be looking for jobs. That’s why Libertarians aren’t a major party, although I very much like their politics: fiscally conservative and socially liberal.
I was also impressed with
I was also impressed with Kenneth Pollack when I heard him on the radio. He listed all kinds of good reasons why the regime of Saddam should not be allowed to go on. The one visible problem with the idea was the one that did indeed turn out to be where the plan failed in hindsight: there was no evidence that our intervention could actually create a better situation. As Molly Ivins likes to say, it’s very hard to convince people that you’re killing them for their own good.
A lot of people who thought the war was a good idea would probably like to view the current difficulties as some kind of nasty surprise. Well, every one of them — such as most of the populace turning against us regardless of their prewar alignment — was predicted with great accuracy by the antiwar left. Any sufficiently well-informed person (me, for instance) could have told you before the war started just how badly it was going to go wrong.
Any sufficiently well-informed person also could have told you before the war that the WMD issue was being pumped up out of nothing by the Bushies, and that their main source for believing it was not intelligence data, but smoke being blown by Ahmed Chalabi and his pals. Treating the nonexistent WMDs as some kind of fluke that caught all the experts by surprise is seriously disingenuous, because this outcome is right where everything already pointed at the start.
Knowing what I knew then, I couldn’t go along with Pollack’s argument, despite its sound basis. And sure enough, all my doubts were confirmed. At this point I have no idea what to recommend as a best policy… there just isn’t a good option left as far as I can see. We’ve got a choice between fighting an eternal guerilla war we can’t ever really win, or handing over the country to pro-Iranian Islamists who are ideologically more anti-American than Saddam was, and whose attitude toward possible civil war is “bring it on”.
The party with the biggest share of culpability for losing the war may actually be Halliburton. If they hadn’t been skimming all the money for rebuilding, if they had instead allowed the rebuilding process to create jobs, we might have saved things. That’s actually the number one complaint of average Iraqis: they want jobs.