Michael Massing (a friend of mine) has a great piece in the Columbia Journalism Review called "The War Expert," marvelling at the fact that Brookings Institution scholar Kenneth M. Pollack still gets called up to opine in editorial pages about what we should be doing in the Middle East after he was so wrong about Iraq.
Massing interviewed Pollack and asked him about his track record as a belligerent.
As for his position on the invasion itself, Pollack maintained that he
had not been a strong advocate for the war but rather a “tortured” one.
“I know I wrote a number of pieces that were very helpful to the Bush
administration in making its case,” he said. “But that’s not why I
wrote them.” In The Threatening Storm, he told me, “I said
that this wasn’t a war we needed to fight right away, that there were
other things we needed to do first, like work on the Middle East peace
process…and run down al Qaeda….I don’t like to characterize myself as a
supporter of the invasion.” Yet his book contains a whole chapter
titled “The Case for an Invasion.” In it, he states flatly that “the
only prudent and realistic course of action left to the United States
is to mount a full-scale invasion of Iraq to smash the Iraqi armed
forces, depose Saddam’s regime, and rid the country of weapons of mass
I leafed through the book today and Massing is right. There is nothing tortured about
a book that compares Saddam to Hitler and says that the "conservative" course is to "invade as soon as possible."
I am chiefly irritated by Pollack’s claim that "work on the Middle East peace process" had a higher priority to him in that book than invading Iraq. Pardon my Arabic, this is bullsh-t.
It is true that Pollack called for the U.S. to take a more active role in Israel/Palestine issues prior to invading Iraq. But he did so almost reluctantly, stating that in the fervid mind of "the Arab street," there was alas "linkage" between the U.S. role in Israel/Palestine and its activities elsewhere in the region. And so it was necessary to reduce "bedlam" or "violence" in Israel/Palestine before the U.S. invades Iraq. This policy objective doesn’t have a high priority to Pollack. In his "Conclusions," where he bangs the war drum over and over, I see only one line mentioning the peace process, when he states, "it is reasonable for them [Arab states and Turkey] to expect us to take a more active role in attempting to mollify the problems of the region, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian violence."
Let’s be clear. This is never Pollack’s concern; it is always the strange concern of Arab states. Thus Emirates citizens "would have a more favorable view of the United States if it were to apply pressure to ensure the creation of an independent Palestinian state." Similarly, the Saudis would cooperate with the war only if there were "negotiations and a sense of progress" in Israel/Palestine. Though here Pollack reassures us that "a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace" is not necessary before we invade. He emphasizes that we should invade "only during a period of relative calm between Israelis and Palestinians" lest natives elsewhere grow restless.
Months ago in this blog I noted that Pollack never used the word "occupation" in his book, never described the hateful treatment of the Palestinians, which as Mohamed ElBaradei has said is a "red flag" of injustice across the Arab world. I have suggested that he was blinded by the fact that he is supported by Haim Saban, an Israeli-American who supports the center at which Pollack works. In that sense, Pollack was like many other war-drum-bangers: he completely overlooked the Israel/Palestine issue, and deluded himself about how much the Arab world hates us for that injustice, even as he said that the Arab world would come to love us for building a democratic Iraq.
Being wrong is one thing, misrepresenting your record another. His book is full of moral assertions about the necessity of toppling Saddam. There is no moral imperative at all to his statements about working on peace in Israel/Palestine. No, doing so is merely an instrument of making war in Iraq. Now he claims that this had moral priority for him.
Pollack’s misrepresentation is, happily, a reflection of the turn in the conventional wisdom in this country. Now that Condi Rice is putting all her efforts into the peace process with the blessing of President Bush (and godspeed their efforts), Pollack wants to say that he was for this a long time ago. Next he’ll be telling us he wrote The Israel Lobby.