cover image THE PERSIAN PUZZLE: The Conflict Between Iran and America

THE PERSIAN PUZZLE: The Conflict Between Iran and America

Kenneth M. Pollack, . . Random, $26.95 (576pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-6315-4

When Pollack, formerly director for Gulf affairs at the National Security Council and a military analyst for the CIA, wrote The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq in September 2002, he both shaped the debate over the imminent invasion and helped persuade many reluctant Democratic policy makers to support the war. This time around, he is much more cautious, concluding that although "Iran is on the wrong path and marching down it quickly," invasion would be a serious mistake. Part history lesson, part current affairs primer and part party policy memo, Pollack's new book about the second Axis of Evil member revolves around an extremely pressing question: would the acquisition of nuclear capabilities prompt the Iranians to disregard the threat of American intervention and pursue a more aggressive, destabilizing and dangerous foreign policy? Pollack cautions that there are two ticking clocks: the first is internal regime change in Iran and the second is how long it will take Iran to go nuclear. Ultimately, and with many codicils, Pollack decides that the U.S. can live with a nuclear Iran, postulating that through strong multilateral engagement we can effectively deter Iran, if not yet welcome the country into the world community. Analyzing the assumptions behind both American and Iranian foreign policy, Pollack reminds us that behind Iran's tendency to blame "everything but the weather on foreign subversion" lies a kernel of truth. The CIA did, in fact, overthrow Mossaddeq in 1953, although Americans, conveniently, "are serial amnesiacs; as a nation, we forget what we have done almost immediately after doing it." For anyone wanting to understand the stark choices the U.S. faces concerning Iran, and how to respond to them, this is the place to start. (Nov.)