In 2002, Kenneth Pollack’s book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq helped to persuade some Americans that, sooner or later (preferably sooner), the US would have to unseat Saddam Hussein in order to safeguard its own security. Pollack put his case more cautiously, and more adroitly, than many Republican proponents of “regime change” in Iraq, but he turned out, like them, to be wrong about the threat that Saddam Hussein posed to the United States. He also failed, like them, to predict the grave repercussions of an invasion. In contrast to many hawkish members of the Bush administration, and a great many newspaper columnists and editors, Pollack had the grace to apologize for his errors. Now that the Bush administration is trying to decide how it should respond to a second hostile Middle Eastern state, Iran, which it suspects of seeking nuclear weapons, Pollack has written another long book, The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America, advising what should be done.
Although Pollack’s judgment has been found lacking, he is more qualified than most to write about US policy toward the Middle East. Besides serving as director of Persian Gulf Affairs and Near East and South Asian Affairs on Bill Clinton’s National Security Council, he has variously worked on policy toward Iran (as well as Iraq) for the CIA and for several think tanks and universities. Iran’s recent efforts to acquire advanced nuclear technology justify his argument that now is the time to devote attention to the Islamic Republic. “If we do not take advantage of this window of opportunity to deal with Iran’s nuclear program,” he says, “someday we doubtless will regret not having done so.”
The US and other nations, notably EU member states, Japan, Canada, and Australia, are alarmed by Iran’s progress toward being able both to enrich uranium and to separate plutonium, processes that can produce fuel either for civilian power reactors or for nuclear bombs. Under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which Iran ratified in 1970, the Iranians are entitled to develop these technologies for civilian purposes, but the covert way that they have done so has aroused the suspicion that they intend to produce bombs, as well as energy for peaceful use. As part of its adherence to the NPT, Iran signed a “safeguards agreement” with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), allowing agency officials to monitor its activities regularly.
Beginning in the summer of 2002, however, in view of longstanding suspicions of nuclear activities that had remained hidden from inspectors, the agency brought the Iranian program under closer scrutiny. It has since established that Iran has egregiously breached the safeguards agreement which was designed to keep its nuclear activities transparent and limited to peaceful purposes. These breaches include Iran’s failure to report the purchase and development of nuclear materials, and to declare the existence of several of its nuclear sites.
Using the Iranian government’s past behavior as a …