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”

  1. 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.


  2. 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.


  3. I am amused to see that your

    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.

    Agreed, except that I think “con­ser­v­a­tive” does­n’t real­ly apply to Bush.

  4. 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.


  5. 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.