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****The Threatening Storm

The Case for Invading Iraq

by Kenneth M. Pollack

Reviewed November 10, 2002.
Random House, New York, 2002.  494 pages (424 pages of text, plus notes).

It was easy to decide to order The Threatening Storm for the library.  If the U. S. goes to war against Iraq, some of our customers at the Sembach Library would certainly be involved.

When the book arrived, I wasn’t at all happy about the idea that we would invade Iraq, but since it looks like such action is fairly likely to happen, I decided to read this book, hoping to better understand why such a step would be considered necessary by our leaders.

I didn’t expect to be convinced, but I’m afraid that I was.  Although I certainly am still not happy about the idea of invading Iraq, the author did convince me that this would probably be our wisest course of action right now.

Unlike many highly knowledgeable authors, Kenneth Pollack writes in a clear and readable style.  Not only did he present a good argument, but he did so in a way that was easy to understand and summarize.

Part One talks about the history of Iraq, especially focusing on the last decade, since Desert Storm.  He looks at how Saddam Hussein has acted in many different situations.  Even before I got past this section, I was convinced that anyone who could get Saddam Hussein out of power would be doing a noble deed that would benefit mankind.  He’s up there with Stalin and Hitler among the evil dictators in the history of the world.  Even soccer players get tortured and beaten for losing international matches.

Part Two talks about Iraq today and how sanctions have affected the country and their relationships with their neighbors.  He shows how Saddam Hussein has not co-operated with the United Nations from the beginning and how he has gotten away with hiding weapons from inspectors and smuggling goods past the sanctions.  Part Three, the main focus of the book, talks about our options in dealing with Saddam Hussein and the threat that he represents as he actively seeks nuclear weapons.

The first option is to continue to attempt containment of Iraq.  Combined with the history section earlier, the author shows that this is not working and is less likely to work in the future.  Iraq is finding ways past the sanctions, and sanctions have hurt the Iraqi people more than the government.  Other countries are letting Iraq get past the sanctions and this approach to containment has used up its effectiveness.

Of course, this section was written before the latest U. N. resolution.  My impression is that Iraq will never comply with a new inspection regime, but it will be interesting to see what happens.

The second option is deterrence.  We could give up trying to stop Iraq from developing nuclear weapons and trust that once they have them, they would not be stupid enough to use them.  There are several problems with this approach.  One is that evidence indicates that once Saddam Hussein has nuclear weapons, he would believe that he could get away with more conventional aggression, because other countries would be afraid to stop him.  He has said that his mistake in invading Kuwait was that he should have waited until he had nuclear weapons, and then captured the Saudi oil fields as well.  Once he has nuclear weapons, he may very well decide to carry out further aggression, believing that no one will dare to stand against him.  If he can control more oil resources, he can also manipulate the economy of the entire world.

Another problem with deterrence is that it is hard to predict how Saddam Hussein will act in any given situation.  Many in America did not believe he would invade Kuwait because it would be suicidal.  However, as a dictator, Saddam Hussein is surrounded by people who tell him what he wants to hear.  He has a tendency to believe that things will happen in the best possible way for himself.  So he may believe that he can attack other countries and no one will dare to intervene.

Another point is that if Saddam Hussein were ever in a losing battle, there is evidence that he would want to take as many people with him as possible.  It would be better if this does not happen when he has nuclear weapons available.

Another problem with deterrence is that if the No-Fly Zones are deactivated, there is a good chance that Saddam Hussein will again attack the Kurds in the north.  Genocide would become much easier without the protection we have in place in the current containment situation.

The third option available to us is covert action.  This has been tried over the last decade, but has consistently failed.  What Saddam Hussein does best is keeping himself in power.   Iraq society is now so tightly controlled that any covert action is tremendously difficult and highly unlikely to succeed.

The fourth option available is “The Afghan Approach”—providing air support for existing national opponents on the ground (like the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan), and letting these allies do the dirty work.  Again, the main weakness to this approach is that there is no strong opposition group in Iraq, because it is so tightly controlled.

Finally, the last option is to invade Iraq, topple Saddam Hussein’s regime, and help install a new government in his place.  He claims that although it won’t be easy, it would be much easier now than in the future, when Iraq has nuclear weapons.  Since all the other options have been ruled out, he shows how this is our best choice.

One thing that bothered me is that I’m hearing the government saying that we need to invade Iraq because they are supporting terrorism.  Kenneth Pollack said that that’s not the case.  Up to this point, Saddam Hussein hasn’t trusted terrorists.  He doesn’t want to give them his weapons when they might not support his goals.  This made me feel that public feeling is being manipulated, talking about terrorism when that’s not the issue here at all.

Another concern made me wonder.  One evening this week I read on Yahoo that Saudi Arabia has said that we could not use their bases or air space to invade Iraq.  The next morning, I read in this book that the support of  Saudi Arabia would be crucial to the success of an invasion.  Kenneth Pollack seemed to think that getting their support would be simple, since Saudi Arabia is one of the countries that would most benefit if Saddam Hussein were out of power.  So I wonder if this development would change any of his conclusions.

All in all, I feel that this is an important book.  After reading it, I understand the complexities of the situation with Iraq far better than I did before.  And if America does end up invading Iraq, I will not be embarrassed  by my country’s actions, but will feel that we are part of a noble cause.

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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