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A Case for Invading Iraq

Kenneth M. Pollack's The Threatening Storm

During my weekend forays I visited two bookstores and found vastly different displays in regards to our man of the hour, Saddam Hussein.

At Books Inc. in Laurel Heights, I discovered The Complete Idiot's Guide to Middle East Conflict. At City Lights, I found four shelves devoted to a possible war with Iraq. The funny thing was that in neither spot did I find the book I'm reviewing today, The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, by Kenneth M. Pollack.

Why funny? Because Oprah Winfrey had the author on her show a month ago and encouraged millions of women to buy this book.

Once again, I was struck by San Francisco's isolationism. Whether you support invasion or condone it, wouldn't you want to know what the rest of the country is reading? I was curious enough to say yes.

If, in Molly Ivin's parlance, you want to know who brung you to this event, Pollack is a former junior analyst for the CIA, once assigned to the Iran-Iraq "account." Preceding the Gulf War, Pollack predicted Saddam's invasion of Kuwait while his colleagues believed Pollack was crying fire in an empty theater.

Since legitimized, Pollack wrote this book to convince the American public that invasion is our only recourse with Saddam. The containment policy is eroding -- the French bailed on no-fly zones and the British want to. Iraq knows how to build WMDs; it only needs to enrich the uranium it already has to weapons or nuclear grade.

Pollack maintains that Saddam will use these weapons because he is an irrational man who thinks he can win. "He doesn't compare to Hitler because he doesn't have the same economic or military power, but like Hitler, he takes big risks," Pollack says. The fact that he will use WMDs is certain. The only question is when.

Fifty percent of the book is devoted to the invasion of Iraq as a Platonic dialogue. Each argument why we should avoid invasion is shot down by Pollack -- revising sanctions, deterrence, killing Saddam, supporting an internal rebellion, waiting for Saddam to die, etc. If we invade Iraq, we will surely lose people, but with a minimum number of casualties. In any case, Pollack says, "often the costliest [battles] are the most important to fight."

With a cursory topographical and historical review of the region, Pollack also provides a psychological history of Saddam (a name, when translated, means "he who confronts") as a paranoid man obsessed with security. Pistols and bulletproof vests comprise his daily wardrobe. His inner circle is composed of more yes men than Jennifer Lopez's. His payroll includes doubles, food tasters and a military guard of 80 thousand sworn to sacrifice their lives for him. His only municipal experiences outside of Iraq have been visits to Paris, Cairo and Moscow.

The first section of this book also creates a dramatic timeline from a Western perspective. In this version, interest in Iraq erupted in 1908 when D'Arcy discovered oil in Persia and the British went to town. By 1976, France had become a major player when it sold Iraq a nuclear reactor. In 1982, Reagan removed Iraq from his list of "terror-supporting" states. Then Iran-Contra and the Gulf War. Eventually, we fall in the hands of George Bush, Sr., who, in Pollack's opinion, dropped the ball on Middle Eastern policy when he failed to finish off Saddam. Using "mirror imaging" techniques, Pollack theorizes why Saddam attacked Kuwait and why the invasion failed.

One quarter of the book is devoted to "Iraq today." Pollack posits that due to Saddam's military failures, the Iraqi people suffer in a police state that tortures and kills those who protest Saddam's regime. Economically,the people suffer as well. Due to the UN's "smart sanctions" policy of oil for food, all businesses must work through the Iraqi government. As for how many Iraqis have died as at the hands of Saddam's policies, Pollack estimates 150 thousand children.

This book is text heavy with nary a graphic, with the exception of a blotchy map of Iraq that appears to have been taken from the nearest elementary school. A data table provides the breakdown of military forces of each Persian Gulf nation by manpower, artillery, tanks, helicopters, sea warships as provided by the CIA.

A survey of Iraq would be incomplete without assessments of the other chess pieces in the game. In the region, Kuwait is our queen, Israel our rook and the other Arab countries pawns with ominous allegiances. In a fleeting bit of verbal creativity, Pollack writes that Saudi Arabia would be "Finlandized" if the Iraqis invade Kuwait. Outside of the region, Pollack considers global friends and foes: who we need to please now to make invasion happen (Turkey, Saudi Arabia) and who we will need to please later (Saudi Arabia), who we should fear (Southern Europe, China), who we dismiss (just about everyone else).

The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq
by Kenneth M. Pollack
Random House; ISBN: 0-375-50928-3
Hardcover: 384 pages (September 2002)

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