Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraqby Kenneth M. Pollack
For the past fifteen years, as an analyst on Iraq for the Central Intelligence Agency and the National/b>
In The Threatening Storm, Kenneth M. Pollack, one of the world’s leading experts on Iraq, provides a masterly insider’s perspective on the crucial issues facing the United States as it moves toward a new confrontation with Saddam Hussein.
For the past fifteen years, as an analyst on Iraq for the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council, Kenneth Pollack has studied Saddam as closely as anyone else in the United States. In 1990, he was one of only three CIA analysts to predict the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. As the principal author of the CIA’s history of Iraqi military strategy and operations during the Gulf War, Pollack gained rare insight into the methods and workings of what he believes to be the most brutal regime since Stalinist Russia.
Examining all sides of the debate and bringing a keen eye to the military and geopolitical forces at work, Pollack ultimately comes to this controversial conclusion: through our own mistakes, the perfidy of others, and Saddam’s cunning, the United States is left with few good policy options regarding Iraq. Increasingly, the option that makes the most sense is for the United States to launch a full-scale invasion, eradicate Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, and rebuild Iraq as a prosperous and stable society—for the good of the United States, the Iraqi people, and the entire region.
Pollack believed for many years that the United States could prevent Saddam from threatening the stability of the Persian Gulf and the world through containment—a combination of sanctions and limited military operations. Here, Pollack explains why containment is no longer effective, and why other policies intended to deter Saddam ultimately pose a greater risk than confronting him now, before he gains possession of nuclear weapons and returns to his stated goal of dominating the Gulf region. “It is often said that war should be employed only in the last resort,” Pollack writes. “I reluctantly believe that in the case of the threat from Iraq, we have come to the last resort.”
Offering a view of the region that has the authority and force of an intelligence report, Pollack outlines what the leaders of neighboring Arab countries are thinking, what is necessary to gain their support for an invasion, how a successful U.S. operation would be mounted, what the likely costs would be, and how Saddam might react. He examines the state of Iraq today—its economy, its armed forces, its political system, the status of its weapons of mass destruction as best we understand them, and the terrifying security apparatus that keeps Saddam in power. Pollack also analyzes the last twenty years of relations between the United States and Iraq to explain how the two countries reached the unhappy standoff that currently prevails.
Commanding in its insights and full of detailed information about how leaders on both sides will make their decisions, The Threatening Storm is an essential guide to understanding what may be the crucial foreign policy challenge of our time.
From the Hardcover edition.
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From Sumer to Saddam
For many long years, Iraq and the United States had little to do with each other. The days of Iraq's greatest glory occurred long before there ever was a United States, and in recent centuries, while America was still a young and relatively isolated nation, the Iraqis were ruled by the Ottoman Turks, whose relationship with the United States barely existed. Even after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in World War I and the formation of the modern state of Iraq, it was Britain, not America, that dominated Iraqi politics for decades. Indeed, as for many Arabs, until only the last few decades, the United States was little more than a strange name of a distant land for most Iraqis. Before the Second World War, the United States had only commercial relationships in the Persian Gulf, and it carefully avoided any involvement in the region's politics. In the decades after the war, Washington did take an increasing interest in the Gulf but mostly focused its attentions on Saudi Arabia and Iran. Iraq was a weak radical Arab state with ties to Russia but did not pose enough of a threat to take seriously. It was not until the 1980s that the two countries came into meaningful contact, and then the limits of their prior relations bred ignorance, miscalculation, and suspicion, leading to regular misreadings of each other's intentions.
The Shadow of Iraq's Past
In the popular imagination, Iraq is a vast desert, interrupted by occasional oases and cut by the two great rivers of ancient Mesopotamia, the Tigris and Euphrates. While much of Iraq is desert, especially in the south and west, the Kurdish north is heavily mountainous and great swathes of the country are fertile farmland. Indeed, in ancient times, Iraq was one of the lushest regions on earth. The biblical Garden of Eden was set in Iraqi Mesopotamia. More than 5,000 years ago, that verdant soil produced the world's earliest known civilization, that of Sumer in southern Meso-potamia, which developed writing, divisions of labor, complex social hierarchies, and an elaborate political and religious system. Out of ancient Sumer came Abraham, the father of Jews and Arabs, the founder of Judaism, the first monotheist. The Sumerians were also the first pyramid builders, although their massive ziggurats were great temples like those of the Mayans and Aztecs, rather than tombs like the Egyptians'. Sargon I of Akkad conquered Sumer and spread its culture to the Mediterranean by adding northern Mesopotamia, Syria, and southern Turkey to his demesne. After the Sumerians, two of the ancient world's great empires ruled the lands that would become Iraq. First Babylon, whose Hanging Gardens were a wonder of the ancient world and whose people bequeathed us the Code of Hammurabi, perhaps the world's first written legal system and the origin of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." After that came Assyria, whose fearsome armies are credited with the first systematic application of the science of military logistics. Later Assyrian and Babylonian kings ruled all of modern Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel. Indeed, it was the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II who sacked Jerusalem and took the Jews into captivity in Babylon.
For more than a millennium after the fall of Babylon and Assyria, the lands of Iraq would be ruled by empires out of what would become Iran. First the Medes, then the Persians, and finally the Parthians would rule Mesopotamia, both north and south. Throughout that time, Babylon remained an important center of culture and political administration. Alexander passed through on his campaigns, fighting a mighty battle at Arbela (present day Arbil in northern Iraq). However, it was not until the Islamic conquest of the seventh century a.d. that Iraq again resumed prominence. Mesopotamia was among the first of the conquests of the caliphs who succeeded the prophet Muhammad, and it enjoyed temporary glory again when 'Ali Abu Talib, the fourth caliph and the husband of Muhammad's beloved daughter, Fatima, moved the Islamic capital to Kufa in southern Mesopotamia. But 'Ali was murdered after only a brief reign. His followers became the Shi'ah (from Shi'at 'Ali, the Party of 'Ali), while his rival, Mu'awiyah of Damascus, became caliph and leader of the majority Sunni branch of Islam, transferring the capital to Syria.
Less than a hundred years later, in a.d. 762, a new dynasty of caliphs, the Abbasids, built a new capital at Baghdad that would remain the center of the Islamic empire for nearly five hundred years. During that time, Baghdad was arguably the greatest center of art, learning, and culture in the world and was ruled by storied caliphs such as Harun al-Rashid, famous for his role in the epic Thousand and One Nights. In the midst of this golden age, barbarian warriors (at least the Arabs considered them such) from Christian Europe invaded the Levant to seize Jerusalem and other sites considered holy by all three of the great monotheistic faiths. In the long war against these Crusaders, it was another Iraqi-Salah ad-Din, or Saladin, a Kurd from the city of Tikrit-who would turn the tide in favor of the Islamic armies, recapturing Jerusalem and setting in motion the inevitable destruction of the Crusader kingdoms. These glory days ended in the thirteenth century, when Mongol hordes under Hulagu Khan smashed the caliph's armies and sacked Baghdad in 1258, ending the reign of the Abbasids. Although the Mongol conquest was brief, it was terrible, and it broke the power of the Islamic Arabs, paving the way for the rise of the Turkish empires, first of the Seljuks and later of the Ottomans, who would rule Iraq for nearly four hundred years, until the First World War.
During the Ottoman era, the territory of Iraq was administered by three separate provinces (vilayets). In the north was Mosul vilayet, including the cities of Mosul, Kirkuk, Arbil, and as-Sulaymaniyyah and dominated by Sunni Kurds. In the center was Baghdad vilayet, comprising the former Islamic capital, its environs, and the lands to the west that were primarily Sunni Arab. Finally, al-Basrah vilayet administered most of the old lands of southern Mesopotamia. It was heavily Shi'ite Arab and included the Shi'ite holy cities of Karbala and an-Najaf.
After the defeat of the Ottomans during the First World War, their territory was divided up by the British and French, who established mandates over much of the former Ottoman Empire. Britain coveted Baghdad and al-Basrah (what it called "the Mesopotamian provinces") in part for its suspected oil and agricultural wealth, but mostly because London wanted a contiguous land bridge from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean across which it could move forces to defend British India. The British secured the Mediterranean end of this route by acquiring Palestine and Trans-Jordan (later renamed "Jordan"). The eastern end would be the new mandatory territory of Iraq, at first intended to comprise only the Baghdad and al-Basrah provinces. Eventually, London would add Mosul province, not only because it was believed to be rich in oil (later proven by the finding of the massive Kirkuk oil fields in the 1920s) but also to create a buffer zone against Turkey and Russia. As for Iraq's western boundary, it was determined largely by simple geography: the great urban centers of Baghdad and the Mesopotamian valley were divided from those of the Levant by the Syrian desert, and the main transportation artery stretching across it was the Baghdad-Amman road. The British essentially divided that road in half and gave the administration of territory to the west of that midpoint to Jordan, while that to the east went to Iraq. In 1921, the British decided to make Faysal ibn Hussein al-Hashim, the third son of their World War I ally (and Lawrence of Arabia's principal confederate) Sharif Hussein of Mecca, the new king of Iraq.
The Hashimites would rule Iraq for thirty-seven years. It was a turbulent reign because the kings were foreigners installed by the British, whom the Iraqi people quickly learned to hate. Of the three Hashimite kings, only Ghazi, who ruled from 1933 to 1939, had any degree of popularity, because he was anti-British. When he died in an automobile accident in 1939, it was widely believed that London was responsible. In 1936, Iraq was the first Arab nation to experience a military coup, although the generals were seeking only to replace the pro-British cabinet and not the popular King Ghazi. In 1941, with German armored columns driving toward the Middle East from both the west (Rommel's Afrika Corps) and the north (from Russia), a pro-Axis military cabal took power and attempted to evict the British from Iraq with German support. But the British quickly deployed forces from Palestine and India and crushed the revolt. The monarchy was then restored to its full authority and would rule with British approval for another seventeen years.
Saddam Hussein and the Ba'th
Saddam Hussein was born in the small village of al-'Awja outside of the backwater town of Tikrit in northwest Iraq, probably on April 28, 1937.5 He was born into the Bayjat clan of the al Bu Nasir tribe, a modest-sized Sunni tribe. His name, a somewhat unusual one, means "he who confronts." His father, Hussein 'Abd al-Majid, died before Saddam was even born. His mother, Subhah Talfah, remarried quickly, to a man named Hassan Ibrahim, who was known locally as "Hassan the Liar." Hassan and his family reportedly made their living as local bullies and petty thieves.
What little we know about Saddam's early life indicates that it was unpleasant for all involved. Various sources claim that Hassan Ibrahim often beat Saddam with an asphalt-coated stick and kept him busy stealing with his own sons and their cousins. For his part, Saddam was something of a loner, famous for carrying an iron bar wherever he went that he would heat until it was white hot and then use to impale unwary animals-dogs, cats, whatever made the mistake of coming within his reach. When he was ten years old, he was sent off to live with his uncle Khayrallah Talfah, a former army officer who had briefly been jailed for his role in the 1941 pro-Nazi coup attempt. In later years, Khayrallah regaled the world with his philosophy in the book Three Whom God Should Not Have Created: Persians, Jews and Flies. Saddam's closest friend from childhood was Khayrallah Talfah's son, Adnan, who convinced Saddam to go to school to learn to read and write. Adnan eventually passed the entrance exam to Iraq's military academy, thereby earning a career in the army, but Saddam failed the exam-to his enduring resentment.
As a young man, Saddam got caught up in the maelstrom of Arab politics during the 1950s. In those days, Communists, socialists, Nasserists, Pan-Arabists, and nationalists of every stripe actively vied for power throughout the Middle East. Saddam soaked up the politics of his uncle Khayrallah and Khayrallah's cronies, who included a kinsman and army officer named Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, an important member of the Iraqi Ba'th Party. The Ba'th (Renaissance) Party had started in Syria in the 1930s as one of many Pan-Arabist parties but later sprouted offshoots in Iraq and several other Arab countries. Like numerous other political parties then in vogue, the Ba'th combined socialism and Pan-Arabism in a nebulous and often contradictory philosophy that showed little real erudition or practical knowledge. Its treatises were mostly rhetorical gobbledygook that provided little basis for concrete action. But in this respect too, the Ba'th was not unlike many of its competitors. Saddam himself began carrying a gun and drifted among various groups of Nasserists and Pan-Arabists before eventually falling in with Bakr and the Ba'th. The early Ba'thists were mostly intellectuals, army officers, students, and lawyers; Saddam stood out for his limited education, money, and manners. His only virtues were his ambition and penchant for violence. He was relegated to a low position within the small Iraqi branch of the Ba'th Party.
In 1958, the monarchy was finally overthrown by General 'Abd al-Karim Qasim, who capitalized on the widespread popular unhappiness with the government because of its failure to provide any support to Nasser's Egypt when it had fought the Israelis, British, and French in the 1956 Sinai-Suez War. When Qasim overthrew the monarchy, Saddam and the Ba'thists rejoiced, only to become quickly disillusioned with the new dictator. The key to Pan-Arabism was the notion of uniting all of the Arab states into one great Arab nation, powerful enough to stand up to the Western powers as an equal. Qasim refused to join the Pan-Arabist vehicle, the new United Arab Republic, which Syria and Egypt had formed under Gamal 'Abd al-Nasser. In addition, Qasim began relying heavily on the Iraqi Communists and increasingly regarded the nationalist and Pan-Arabist parties as enemies. Saddam and the Ba'th's other toughs began mixing it up with their opposites from the Communist Party in bloody gang wars. In 1959, Saddam participated in an assassination attempt against Qasim. He was the seventh member of a seven-man hit team, and his job was to provide covering fire against Qasim's bodyguards to allow the rest of the team to kill the dictator. But Qasim was late on the day of the hit. When he finally arrived, Saddam was so keyed up that he forgot his assignment and instead fired at Qasim too. Thanks to Saddam's impatience, the hit failed: Qasim was seriously wounded but not killed because his bodyguards were able to kill one of the assassins and drive the rest off, wounding Saddam. Eventually, Saddam managed to flee to Syria and from there to Egypt, where he spent three years lying low, debating politics, and waiting to return to Iraq.
The Ba'th finally managed to overthrow Qasim in 1963, but only by combining forces with a group of army officers including Qasim's former accomplice in the 1958 coup, Colonel 'Abd as-Salim Arif. With the Ba'th in the driver's seat, Saddam returned home as a follower of Hassan al-Bakr. However, the Ba'th was ill suited to rule Iraq and no sooner had it taken power in Baghdad than the left and right wings of the party fell to fighting among themselves, leaving Bakr to try to moderate-unsuccessfully. The divisions within the Ba'th then allowed Colonel Arif to turn on them and purge them the next year. While a traumatic event for the party, its ouster proved to be to Saddam's advantage. The radical wings of the party were purged, and Bakr emerged as the leader of the new Ba'th with Saddam as his right-hand man-a ruthless thug whom Bakr could count on to work tirelessly and do anything. Saddam spent two years in prison as a result of his work for Bakr.
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
Kenneth M. Pollack wrote this book as Olin Senior Fellow and Director of National Security Studies for the Council on Foreign Relations. From 1995 to 1996 and from 1999 to 2001, he served as director for Gulf affairs at the National Security Council, where he was the principal working-level official responsible for implementation of U.S. policy toward Iraq. Prior to his time in the Clinton administration, he spent seven years in the CIA as a Persian Gulf military analyst. He is also the author of Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness, 1948–1991. He is a graduate of Yale University and received a Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and is director of research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Threatening Storm is a wonderfully detailed book that uses all of the then current information to make an air tight case for action on the Iraq issue. It isnt a call to arms but more a wakeup call for America and her Allies. The wonderful part of reading the book today is that it clearly illustrates the faulty logic and lack of comprehensive intelligence about Iraq in both military and social terms. Had all the facts in the book been 'true' facts then our endeavour in that embattled nation would be very different. Had the Bush administration followed the steps so clearly and painstakingly outlined by Pollock in the book what may have happened? It is just this kind of book that sits and waits for a reader with knowledge and time. Understanding what it says and how things really are is a fascinating exercise that virtually takes one back in time to the pre-war days. In a way it also outlines, in a much fainter voice, a way to salvage Americas prestige and Iraq's future. I recommend this book 'hand in had with Ritter's' to anyone who has an interest in the history of that murky pre-war time.
This book was a fabulous critique of the options available prior to declaring war on Iraq. For those not used to heavy reading, it can be a hard read and uses technical language in places, but if there is one book or article that I would recommend about the decision to go to war with Iraq, this is undoubtedly my top choice! I was the team captain in a debate on this topic, and this book was a key resource on both sides of the issue. While visiting Paris on two-week trip to Europe, the opposing team's captain and I used this book in a discussion with American university students participating in an anti-war rally. Though the title of the book reveals the author's conclusion, I felt that this book was balanced and relatively unbiased. It reviewed nearly every issue in meticulous detail and presented clear, succinct responses with plenty of cited sources. This is a great book for anyone interested in the war in Iraq!
This is a very good, very informative book. I read this book well after the completion of Operation Iraqi Freedom and had my doubts as to whether or not the information contained in the book would be dated, and much to my suprise, this book would be every bit as appropriate 1 year later as it would have been before Operation Iraqi Freedom. Mr. Pollack pled and made his case very well by providing extraordinarily detailed information not only on what he thinks should be done, but also on the events that led up to this point. The book also covers the many other issues such as human rights in Iraq that need to be discussed and is not a simple dissertation on Iraq's alleged possesion of weapons of mass destruction. The book takes awhile to read and is definitely intended for a more well-read audience. It could have been 25 pages or more shorter because some of the information becomes redundant and spun in a different way. This most likely is because the author wanted to make sure his point was clear, well-stated, and that the importance was not minimized. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone searching for information on the conflict in Iraq, how we got there, and what should be done about it.
This book is a good read. It tells the good and the bad views of how America should deal with Iraq. If you want to know about what Iraq has been up to the last 20 or so years this book is for you.
He makes his case in a very extensive and elaborate way. The delays that the UN has caused are leading to a worse case senario according to the author. The longer the delays the more the potential casualties.
This book has much important background on Saddam and Iraq, and makes a strong case for doing something new about or with Saddam. Its case for invading Iraq, however, fails to convince me that the danger from Saddam is serious and imminent and that the danger cannot be addressed in any peaceable way. Nor does it show that the destruction caused by an invasion would be outweighed by the benefits. If this book convinces some people to favor invading Iraq, I hope they at least consider these two points the author makes: 1. war against Iraq could be "quite costly." "The cost in casualties could vary considerably based on three critical factors: how hard the Iraqi armed forces fight, whether they are willing and able to defend Iraq's cities, and how able they are to employ their weapons of mass destruction against U.S. forces. We don't know the answer to any of these questions." (Page 344) 2. "We have a lot of work to do in terms of political, military and diplomatic preparations; the need to get the more immediate threat from al-Qa'eda under control; and the need to reduce the bedlam in the Middle East to lower levels. Unless and until we have done that preparatory work, an invasion of Iraq itself would be the risky option." (Page 421) How fascinating it would be to see the author debate Scott Ritter, the ex-Marine who inspected weapons in Iraq seven years for the UN! An example of their differences: Pollack partly supports his case by quoting Khidhir Hamza (Pages 174, 266), who Ritter says was rejected by the CIA and the entire intelligence community "because they knew he wasn't who he said he was" (War on Iraq, by William Rivers Pitt with Scott Ritter, 2002, Page 52).