want to take the unusual step of discussing a book that I have only partially read. I do this because I believe that it is likely to be a book of utmost public importance. In effect, I am inviting you to pick up this book along with me to see if it delivers on its extraordinary promise.
The book is The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, by Kenneth Pollack. The book's importance rests, in part, on the fact that Pollack was a member of the National Security Council in the Clinton administration, and the principal working-level official responsible for implementing U.S. policy on Iraq. Pollack has grudgingly concluded that the post-Gulf War policy of containment deployed against Saddam by the United States has irretrievably broken down. Pollack believes that Saddam can no longer be safely deterred by our military might, and instead must be deposed by invasion. You might have seen the publication of this book touted as an important public event last Sunday on ABC's This Week.
Again, I have only read selected chapters of this large and important book. I cannot offer a definitive summary, much less a thorough analysis or review. Yet I have already been profoundly impressed by the book's fairness, depth of knowledge, powerful argumentation and by its very frightening conclusions. Imagine that a friend found you engrossed in a book that seemed to be life changing, even as you were reading it. Although you could not be certain until you were done about the real effects of the book, you would want to tell him what you were experiencing. I want to tell you about The Threatening Storm. It may not exactly be life changing, but I do believe it will change our national debate on Iraq. (Something on which, come to think of it, your life may actually hinge.) I am more concerned right now that this book be read and debated as soon as possible, than that my own account of it be definitive.
Pollack was one of the very few intelligence officials to warn his superiors in the first Bush administration about Saddam's imminent invasion of Kuwait. The State Department in particular accused Pollack and his colleagues of exaggerating the threat of Saddam's massing troops, but Pollack encountered many other officials at the CIA, and throughout the government, who refused to believe that Saddam would do anything so foolish as to invade Kuwait. The problem, says Pollack, is "mirror-imaging" the belief that Saddam will behave as you would if you were in his shoes. But Saddam, Pollack argues, because of the tribal culture in which he was reared, and because of his own personal peculiarities, does not act in the way that Americans expect him to act.
I know it's been said before that Saddam is "irrational" a "megalomaniac who cannot be trusted. Many dismiss these statements as bias against non-Westerners, or as hysteria by those who want to invade Iraq, and who therefore paint an unreasonably lurid picture of Saddam Hussein. Others simply credit the portrayal of Saddam as a "maniac," but perhaps wonder how a crazy man can hang onto power so successfully and for so long.
Pollack explains all this by presenting a detailed, balanced, and persuasive portrayal of Saddam's decision making. What emerges is a frightening pattern of "bizarre decisions, poor judgment, and catastrophic miscalculations," of deeply dangerous moves made with "no assessment of risks or costs." Pollack traces this pattern back decades into the past, to incidents that predate well-known cases like the Gulf War or the war with Iran. The account of Saddam's 1974 abrogation of his agreement with the Kurds, his attack on Kurdistan, and his baseless belief that the shah of Iran would not intervene against him, for example, is very powerful.
I can only begin to touch on Pollack's nuanced and well-supported portrait of Saddam, but the point of all this is that Saddam cannot be deterred. Yes, Pollack does believe that the one line Saddam is relatively unlikely to cross is direct and unprovoked attack on Israel or the United States. Although even here Pollack acknowledges important circumstances in which such attacks may indeed occur.
But what Pollack stresses is the terrible danger that, once in possession of nuclear weapons, Saddam will take this as a license to invade Kuwait, and otherwise terrorize the Middle East. The real danger from Saddam's possession of nuclear weapons is the conviction they will create in Saddam that he can act with impunity in the region, safe in the knowledge that the U.S. or Israel will not dare attack him (for fear of risking nuclear annihilation of their troops).
The frightening scenario described by Pollack, in which Saddam could seize Kuwait and threaten to nuke the Saudi oil fields if we attack, is something I've never seen publicly discussed. But as Pollack lays it out, the scenario is all too realistic. A nuclear-armed Saddam taking over Kuwait and threatening Saudi Arabia leaves us with a choice between ceding him control of the world's oil supply, or of seeing that supply destroyed and contaminated for decades by a nuclear strike, sending the world's economy into radical shock, perhaps for years.
You might not believe that Saddam Hussein would dare to contemplate such an action, given all the attention now focused on him. Read this book, and I wager you'll think differently. Saddam, as Pollack shows, "is generally not deterred by the threat of sustaining severe damage." Instead, he has a "tendency to invent outlandish scenarios that allow him to do whatever it is he wants to do, no matter how dangerous." Again, these generalization become real in Pollack's book. For example, even though Iran had again and again demonstrated its superior ability to harm Iraq with retaliatory missile strikes, Saddam nonetheless repeatedly ordered air and missile strikes against Iranian cities. This was a clear breakdown of ordinary "rational" deterrence.
Of course, this book has grabbed my attention because it bears out much of what I have been arguing of late on NRO, although not entirely so. Above all, Pollack gives chapter and verse substantiating the argument I made in "The Future Is Now" and especially in "Brave New World." In those pieces I maintained that nuclear proliferation tends to embolden rogue nations, even as it cows "rational" nations. The prospect of a world in which our conventional power is effectively neutralized, while the bold (and foolish) exploit the fear of mutually assured destruction to launch dangerous adventures, finds its ultimate realization in Saddam Hussein. Read this book, and you will believe that a nuclear-armed Saddam Hussein is an intolerable danger to the world and danger that must be stopped before the cost becomes something truly horrifying to contemplate.
Pollack also drives home a point that I made in these earlier pieces that allowing our fear of Saddam's current weapons of mass destruction to hold us back from an invasion would set off an arms race effectively signaling every rogue nation in the world that the conventional power of the U.S. can be neutralized with even a small stock of chemical and biological weapons. This, says Pollack, would be "allowing our hands to be tied with very weak string."
What about the prospect of Saddam passing a nuclear weapon, or other weapons of mass destruction, to terrorists for use on the United States? Pollack sees this as "unlikely," but by no means impossible. One key, says Pollack, is traceability: "If Saddam believes it highly improbable that the attack could be traced back to him...he might well decide" to work through terrorists to attack the United States. (I argued in "Beyond Deterrence" that such an attack would in fact be quite difficult to trace.) Pollack also thinks it is unlikely, and certainly unproven, that Saddam had any direct involvement in either the first or the second attacks on the World Trade Center. But he does believe that the prospect of revenge, as in Saddam's attempt to assassinate former President Bush, sometimes tempts Saddam to throw even his own limited caution to the wind. So revenge and secrecy combined could in fact lead to a nuclear alliance between Saddam and al Qaeda. (As I write, Condoleezza Rice has said for the first time that Saddam is sheltering members of al Qaeda and helping them to develop chemical weapons.)
I've covered only the issues on which my own interest has focused of late, and which seem to me to be most central to our national debate at this moment. (For these issues, see especially Pollack's chapters, "The Threat" and "The Dangers of Deterrence.") But Pollack's book goes far beyond these questions and touches on a large number of issues, such as the nature and risks of an invasion and the need to rebuild Iraq after an invasion is complete. I have not read these parts of the book, but after what I have read, I cannot wait to tackle them.
Let me also mention one final and more provisional response to the book. Much of the power of this book, of course, comes from the fact that President Clinton's chief Iraq expert is announcing his reluctant belief that an invasion is needed. I do detect what might fairly be seen as some defensiveness on the matter of the Clinton administration's conduct, although I would have to read much more to come to a balanced conclusion on this. Yet Pollack honestly acknowledges at the end of the book that we have not been tough enough with Saddam Hussein, and that this record of weakness is a part of what has gotten us into the current mess.
Setting aside, for the moment, the question of which political party is responsible for past missteps, Pollack's more politically significant point may be his concluding claim that "the members of the international community who bleat about the importance of collective security, multilateral diplomacy, and international law have gravely weakened all three (not to mention the U.N. Security Council) by allowing Iraq to flout them while chastising the United States (and our handful of allies) when we objected...." In other words, Pollack argues that the same nations now screaming about our invasion plans are the very ones who undermined the legal and multilateral policy of containment against Iraq.
That casts a very harsh light on those Democrats who continue to trust in the United Nations and international law to solve the problem of Saddam. Oh, for a Democratic party of men like Kenneth Pollack! I would fear them politically, even as I gave them my respectful thanks.
Perhaps this book, on fuller consideration, will be less than I have taken it to be. But I am willing to bet it will be everything that it promises, and more. This book, I believe, will change the course of our national debate on Iraq. The trouble with that debate up to now is that the war's opponents have not been forced to confront a detailed and realistic picture of what will happen if Saddam is not definitively stripped of his weapons of mass destruction and deposed. Yet no one, I wager, will now be taken seriously on this issue who has not come to grips with the facts and arguments of The Threatening Storm. Buy it. Read it. Like it or not, there will be a test.