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Iraq Expert Kenneth Pollack

Iraq expert Kenneth Pollack's new book is The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. He has studied Iraq and Saddam Hussein for 15 years. During the Clinton administration, Pollack served as director for Gulf affairs at the National Security Council, where he was one of the people responsible for implementing U.S. policy toward Iraq. Before that, he was a Persian Gulf military analyst in the CIA. In 1990, Pollack was among the very few analysts to predict the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. He is also the author of Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness, 1948-1991.


Other segments from the episode on October 2, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 2, 2002: Interview with Kenneth Pollack; Review of the Xinran's book ""The Good Women of China."


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Kenneth Pollack discusses US policy toward Iraq and
his new book, "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

This morning, President Bush and House leaders reached agreement on the
wording of a resolution that would authorize the president to use military
force against Iraq to defend national security interests, and to enforce all
relevant UN Security Council resolutions. My guest, Kenneth Pollack, has
spent his entire career wrestling with the problem of Iraq. He was director
for Gulf affairs at the National Security Council during the Clinton
administration. Before that, he served for seven years in the CIA as a
Persian Gulf military analyst. He was in that position during the Gulf War of
1991. Pollack has written a new book called "The Threatening Storm: The Case
for Invading Iraq." We asked him to make his case. I asked him first what
kind of congressional support he thinks the president should have before
taking military action against Iraq.

Mr. KENNETH POLLACK (Author, "The Threatening Storm"): I think it's very
important that the president receive a very clear statement of support by the
Congress, by the representatives of the American people. What we're embarking
on is potentially a very big military operation, and what's more, the military
operation itself might be the easiest part of what we're doing. The
reconstruction of Iraq afterwards may make the military operation itself pale
by comparison. And given that it is going to be such a big operation, and
potentially could cost many lives, I think it is critical that the
administration have the declared consent of the Congress for this operation.

GROSS: In your new book you make a case for invading Iraq. Do you think
President Bush has made the best case for invading Iraq? What would you add,
or what would you counter to the case the president has made?

Mr. POLLACK: I am concerned with the way that the administration is trying to
build the case against Saddam Hussein. I don't think that they've done the
best job that they could. First of all, I think that they're bringing in a
lot of extraneous elements, suggesting that somehow Iraqi attacks in the
no-fly zones are somehow a violation of their commitment to disarmament. They
are a violating their obligations under inspections. It's just that the
no-fly zones and the inspections are two different things.

And I think that by bringing in all of these other variables the
administration is confusing the American people and conveying a sense that
they just want to go to war with Saddam Hussein regardless of anything else,
and are willing to fixate on anything to make the case. In point of fact, as
I try to do in this new book, I try to lay out the fact that there is a very
powerful, compelling case for war with Iraq, and that case is built around
Saddam Hussein's determination to acquire nuclear weapons and his past, his
behavior in power as Iraq's leader that make Iraq uniquely threatening.

Now a lot of people have been asking very important questions, in particular,
`Why is Iraq different from other countries?' And I think that there is a
very strong case to be made that Iraq is different because of Saddam's
demonstrated behavior. We've had 34 years of experience with him in power,
and what we've seen during that period of time is this is a very, very
unstable regime, which has a leader who makes decisions based on what it is he
wants to believe, and oftentimes makes decision that no one else around him,
and certainly no one outside of Iraq, would have made, based on calculations
that no one around him and no one outside of Iraq would share. That makes him
very dangerous. If he has nuclear weapons, I think we need to be very
concerned about how he will use them, how he will try to expand Iraq's power
and influence in the region using those nuclear weapons to try to stand off
the United States. And I think that is the most powerful and the most
compelling case, and I have yet to hear the administration articulate it.

GROSS: Let me ask you a question a lot of Americans are asking, which is,
`Why now? What's changed?'

Mr. POLLACK: From a strategic perspective, I don't think that there is a
compelling reason that we have to do it in the next month or two. The problem
that we have with Iraq is Saddam's development of nuclear weapons. The best
estimates that the intelligence community and that the intelligence
communities of other countries--like Britain, France and Germany--have is that
Saddam is probably four to six years away from having a nuclear weapon, unless
he can buy fissile material on the black market, which he's not been able to
do successfully.

Now the intelligence communities have been wrong in the past, and therefore
that estimate of four to six years needs to be retreated very carefully. And
what that suggests is that we want to err on the side of caution, and the last
thing you want to do is to get that wrong and to wait until after Saddam
Hussein has a nuclear weapon. Because once that happens, invasion is off the
table, and we are going to be left living in this very, very dangerous world
of a very unpredictable and capricious dictator with nuclear weapons.

By the same token, we want to make sure that when we go into Iraq, we are in a
position to take that regime down very quickly, and then we also want to be in
a position where we can rebuild Iraq and start rebuilding very quickly and very
thoroughly and be in a position to commit ourselves to the long and costly
process of rebuilding Iraq.

GROSS: Now the Bush administration started pushing for regime change in Iraq
after September 11th, and a lot of Americans are wondering, `Wait a minute,
doesn't regime change in Iraq deflect attention from the war against
terrorism? And terrorism is the absolute immediate threat that we face.' So
what would your answer to that be?

Mr. POLLACK: Let me make a couple of points. First off, I think that it
certainly is an important fact to keep in mind that a war against Iraq could
distract the United States from the war on terrorism, and that is certainly
something I'm concerned about. Unfortunately, it's also something that it's
very difficult for a private citizen to make a real good judgment about,
because unfortunately, the war against terrorism is one being fought in the
shadows, and really only the president and his closest advisers who have
access to all of the classified information have a very good sense of how the
war on terrorism is going, and in particular how the war against al-Qaeda is

I think that it is important that the United States have driven al-Qaeda down
to a point where it will be very difficult for them to attack us while we are
off in Iraq, and it will be difficult for Saddam Hussein to take advantage of
al-Qaeda, to give them weapons of mass destruction or encourage them in other
ways to attack us. So I would like to be certain that when we go into Iraq,
al-Qaeda may not be eradicated, but that it has been weakened enough that we
can have confidence that they won't be in such a position.

GROSS: From what I'm reading, it sounds like there are people high placed in
the military and the Pentagon who disagree with the Bush administration and
think that it will be difficult for us to have a quick overthrow of Saddam
Hussein and that it will take away from the war on terrorism.

Mr. POLLACK: I think there's no question that it already is starting to take
away from it. We're already diverting intelligence assets, from trying to
track down al-Qaeda terrorists to trying to prepare ourselves for the war in
Iraq. Again, the question is, `How much so, and is it really having an
impact?' You're right, we're hearing voices from the military who are
complaining that they think that it is having a detrimental effect on the war
on terrorism. Unfortunately, again, it's very difficult for private citizens
who don't have access to classified information. And again, I am now out of
the government, so I am in the same position. It's hard for us to really know
what the truth of that is.

What I say in the book is I think that the president needs to be able to be in
a position where, if we do attack Iraq, and if there is an al-Qaeda terrorist
attack here in the United States during that time--and you cannot rule that
out--that he needs to be able to look the families of the victims in the eye
and be able to say to them in all truth that there was nothing about what we
were doing in Iraq that made it more likely that their loved one died. If the
president can meet that standard, then I think that's reasonable. But I think
that the president needs to ask that question, and his advisers need to ask
that question and look at it very hard before they are ready to go into Iraq.

GROSS: Do you think there's any evidence that Iraq is in league with al-Qaeda?

Mr. POLLACK: The evidence I've seen is very weak. Throughout the 1990s we
saw Iraq and al-Qaeda trying to make tentative contact with each other, mostly
the Iraqis trying to reach out to al-Qaeda. In every case that we were aware
of, the meetings came to nothing. The Iraqis and al-Qaeda simply couldn't
come to a meeting of the minds. They have very different agendas, and at the
end of the day, Osama bin Laden would like to destroy Saddam Hussein's regime
as well. He's just further down the list from the United States and Saudi

Iraq also has always been--well, I shouldn't say always, but Iraq has, for a
number of years, been very leery of international terrorist groups, because
they're hard for Iraq to control, and Saddam likes to have people working for
him who are under his complete control. Terrorist are free-lancers. If you
give them weapons of mass destruction, you just don't know what they're going
to do with them.

Now Secretary Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice have been making some very strong
accusations indicating that there is new evidence that these ties are much
more extensive than we knew about in the past, or that there are new ties
which are much more extensive than they were in the past. If that's the case,
I think they're going to need to make a much stronger, more compelling case.
In particular, I don't hear anyone in the Congress convinced of this, and
since they're also getting the classified briefings, you would think that they
would be aware of the information that the administration is privy to and that
they would be convinced. The fact that they have not yet been convinced makes
me a little bit leery of the information that the administration is claiming
is so strong.

GROSS: Now a word you don't hear the Bush administration say in regards to
invading Iraq is oil, and a lot of skeptics are wondering, you know, `Let's
face it, we're talking about the region that we rely on for oil. Is there an
unspoken agenda here that is really about oil?' And that question takes on
more significance for skeptics when they factor in that, you know, President
Bush and Vice President Cheney have backgrounds in the oil business. So do
you think that there is an unspoken oil agenda that is involved with the
regime change plan?

Mr. POLLACK: Sure. Well, let me start by saying I think that there are bad
reasons related to oil and good reasons related to oil. The bad reasons
related to oil, as you suggest, are that somehow this is the doing of the oil
companies, that they are pressing the administration, or simply the
administration, given its ties to the oil companies, is doing this on its own,
believing this would be best for the oil companies. People have suggested
that the Iraqi opposition, if they became the new leadership (technical
difficulty) would cut sweetheart deals with the oil companies, would make
payoffs and that this would be beneficial to the oil companies. Others have
suggested that if the United States, quote, unquote, "got control" over
Iraq's oil it would make Saudi oil less valuable.

These are all theories out there. I don't think there's any--I have not seen
any proof to substantiate them. They are conspiracy theories. You know, it's
a conspiratorial town. I can't say categorically that they are right or
wrong. But I think that there is another issue that is related to oil that I
think that we need to think about and think very hard about because it affects
all of us, and it could affect all of us in terms of our daily lives, and that
is if Saddam Hussein does acquire nuclear weapons, one of the most frightening
scenarios that we can think of is that he might do something to the Persian
Gulf oil fields. Right now, about 25 percent of the world's oil comes from
the Persian Gulf. That number is expected to increase over the next 10 to 20
years, as China and India continue to develop and demand more and more oil,
because not only has the Persian Gulf got the largest reserves in the world,
it's also got the largest potential for expansion in the world.

And the problem that we have is if Saddam could eliminate Persian Gulf oil
from the market by conquering Kuwait and dropping nuclear weapons on the Saudi
oil fields--which is obviously an extreme scenario, but also certainly not out
of the question--you would remove 22 to 25 percent of the world's oil. And in
talking to economists, what they will tell you is a blow like that would send
the entire global economy into a recession, at least on the scale of the Great
Depression of the 1930s, if not worse. I mean, we need to face up to the fact
that we are not just a country, but a world addicted to cheap oil. All of our
economies are based on it, and if all of a sudden you were to wipe out 25
percent of the world's oil, or simply take it off the market, you would do
enormous damage to the global economy. That's one of the reasons why I'd love
to see a better energy policy in addition to a stronger policy with regard to
Iraq, and this is a problem that we are going to face for as long as we are
dependent on oil, regardless of who rules in Iraq.

GROSS: My guest is Kenneth Pollack, author of the new book "The Threatening
Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq." We'll talk more after a break. This is

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Kenneth Pollack. He was the director of Gulf affairs at
the National Security Council under the Clinton administration, and he also
was an Iran-Iraq military analyst at the CIA. He's written a new book called
"The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq."

During the '91 Gulf War, you were a junior analyst in the CIA's Iran-Iraq
military operation, and I'm wondering if you could describe for us what you
were looking at during the Gulf War.

Mr. POLLACK: Sure. Well, for me, the Gulf War began on about July 17th,
1990, when we began to see Iraqi tanks showing up on the Kuwaiti border. This
was right after both Saddam and his then foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, had
given incredibly inflammatory speeches accusing Kuwait of economic warfare
against Iraq, and threatening all kinds of consequences if the Kuwaitis didn't
stop. And very soon after those tanks began showing up on the Iraqi
border--in fact, within a day or two--I became convinced that the Iraqis were
going to invade Kuwait.

And at the time I was very much in the minority within the US intelligence
community; in fact, all through the buildup for the invasion of Kuwait, I was
in the minority. In fact, to my knowledge, I was one of only three people in
the whole intelligence community who were warning that this was, in fact, an
Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. There were a number of people who were willing to
believe that the Iraqis might try some kind of a show of force, maybe seize
these two offshore islands that Kuwait possessed that Iraq wanted, and maybe
seize the southern half of the Rumailah oil field, which straddled their
border. But there was an even larger group of people who just didn't believe
the Iraqis would use force at all, and it was one of my first and most
frustrating experiences trying to convince both my peers in the intelligence
community and the policymakers downtown that no, the Iraqis really were going
to invade. They were going to seize all of Kuwait. And, you know, we didn't
know what beyond that, but clearly they were going to take all of Kuwait.

And what we found, or at least what I found was that not only was I going up
against the intelligence community, but I was going up against all of our Arab
allies who kept assuring the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein wasn't
crazy, he wasn't going to do anything that drastic, that this was all just a
summer cloud that would pass quickly if the United States just stayed out.
And then after the Gulf War, we were all so very deeply involved in trying to
access what was going on in Iraq while the two large revolts broke out against
Saddam Hussein, the one in the south led mostly Shiite Iraqis, and in the
north mostly by Kurdish Iraqis, and there as well had some run-ins with the
administration because US Central Command, the command that is responsible for
all US forces in the region, and that had run the Gulf War, had an imperfect
understanding of what they had done to Iraqi forces during the Gulf War.

There were many units that had reported that they had destroyed entire Iraqi
Republican Guard divisions when in some cases they had only destroyed part of
the division. And we started early on letting the decision makers downtown at
the White House and the State Department know that, in point of fact, a lot of
the Republican Guard had actually escaped, and I think that was very
disconcerting for the Bush administration because one of the reasons that they
had been willing to stop the war on February 28th was that they were under the
impression that far more of the Republican Guard had actually been destroyed
than was the case. It was, you know, one of these instances of the real fog
of war. And it's important to keep in mind that even in this age of our
nanotechnology, where we think that we know everything that's going on on the
battlefield, the fog of war is still a very heavy presence, and can lead to
some mistaken decisions.

GROSS: OK, as somebody who was very involved in analysis, intelligence
analysis, during the Gulf War, what are some of the lessons you think we
should learn from the Gulf War and apply to the situation we're in now?

Mr. POLLACK: I think the first and most important is the danger of mirror
imaging. Again, it was something that I came across frequently. Policymakers
and even other intelligence analysts who tried very hard to understand Saddam
Hussein by asking the question, `What would I do if I were in Saddam Hussein's
shoes?' Now it's a very understandable approach, and it's a very common
approach. The problem is it's a very treacherous approach with Saddam
Hussein, because what we have learned over the 34 years that he has been in
power in Iraq is that Saddam Hussein doesn't think like you or I. In fact, he
doesn't think like most Iraqis. As best we understand it, many of the most
important decisions he's taken, all of the people around him, or at least the
vast majority of the people around him, recognized were deeply mistaken

But because Saddam is so brutal and is so perfectly willing to shoot the
messenger, to shoot anyone who brings him bad news, under most circumstances,
his advisers, his intelligence people keep their mouths shut and tend to tell
him what he wants to hear, something that simply reinforces his penchant to
miscalculate. And the more that we ask ourselves the question `What would I
do if I were in Saddam Hussein's shoes?' the more likely we are to misjudge
what it is he's actually likely to do. Because he doesn't think like us, and
the inputs into his decision making are very bizarre, and oftentimes we don't
know what those inputs are until well after the fact.

And this means that you need to treat Saddam Hussein very, very carefully.
You need to treat him almost in a way that you don't treat most other leaders
in the sense of looking mostly at his capabilities and asking things like,
`What is the worst-case scenario with this guy?' rather than asking, `What is
he most likely to do?' Because under most circumstances, we really don't know
what he is most likely to do.

GROSS: Since you worked with the CIA during the Bush administration, I'm
wondering if you think that any of the people in the Bush administration now
who were in the Bush Sr. administration then have this kind of personal thing
going on with Saddam Hussein or with war in Iraq. In other words, like `We
left this unfinished. Here we are back in the White House, and we're going to
take care of it this time around.' Or in the case of President Bush, you
know, `They did this to my father, you know, in '91. I'm in the White House
this time, and they're not going to get away with it any longer.' You know,
it is personal?

Mr. POLLACK: I certainly was very disconcerted by that remark by the
president the other day that, you know, `He tried to kill my daddy.' It's
certainly true, he did try to kill George Bush Sr., no question about that,
and certainly Saddam believes in revenge. I don't think that revenge should
be a guiding principle of American foreign policy, however. If there are
people in the Bush administration who have personal vendettas against Saddam
Hussein for whatever reason, you know, that's fine for them; that's all well
and good. I certainly hope that that's not shaping their decision making for
US foreign policy. I think that US foreign policy needs to be made purely on
the basis of what is in the best interest of the United States as a country.

GROSS: Kenneth Pollack is the author of the new book "The Threatening Storm:
The Case for Invading Iraq." He's now director of research at the Saban
Center for Middle East Policy at The Brookings Institution. He'll be back in
the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)


GROSS: Coming up, we continue our conversation with Kenneth Pollack, author
of "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq." And Maureen Corrigan
reviews "The Good Women of China," an account of the lives of women in China
based on the stories the author gathered on her radio call-in show in Nanjing.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Kenneth Pollack, author
of the new book "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq." He says
he makes the case grudgingly and reluctantly, knowing that war with Iraq could
be difficult and expensive and could result in thousands of deaths. But based
on his understanding of Saddam Hussein, he thinks invasion is our best option.
Pollack worked at the National Security Council in the Clinton administration.
During the Gulf War, he worked with the CIA as a Persian Gulf military expert.

You directed Gulf affairs at the National Security Council during the Clinton
administration. What would you say were the Clinton administration's goals
for Iraq?

Mr. POLLACK: Throughout the Clinton administration, there were some very
fierce debates over Iraq. The Clinton administration itself was deeply
divided over how to handle Iraq. Everyone in the administration recognized
that Saddam Hussein was pure evil and he ruled over an odious regime that was
going to make trouble for the United States if it couldn't be kept in check,
if it couldn't be prevented from acquiring the weapons of mass destruction
which would give it the ability to really threaten US interests in the region
and potentially throughout the world.

The question really came down to: What do you do about it and what are your
priorities? And the debate in the Clinton administration throughout this
period of time centered on those issues and centered on how much effort the
United States had to make to keep Saddam contained. Now there were a number
of people, myself included, who felt that we needed to mount some kind of a
regime change effort, but it was more a sense of we needed to set ourselves up
in the hope that we could be lucky and get this guy with some kind of a covert
action program and also to keep pressure on him, because at least those like
myself who felt that Saddam Hussein was a real threat and would be challenging
the containment regime regularly, felt that it was important for the US to be
pushing back as hard as we could and on a constant basis.

But you had others in the administration who really their agenda was elsewhere
in the world, and even though I didn't agree with them, I could never fault
them. And their point was that the United States was at a unique moment in
time. The Soviet Union had collapsed, the Cold War was over, the entire world
was in a state of flux. And their feeling was the United States had to be
ready and willing and devoting all of its resources to trying to craft a new
world order, to make the Soviet Union into a democracy, to expand NATO, to
create a democratic NATO from, you know, the Atlantic to the Urals, to build a
new relationship with China and move them on a peaceful course, to build a new
relationship with India, to help out the struggling nations of the world that
were trying to develop themselves economically. And these were all their
priorities and, you know, for those of us who worked on Iraq, we had to
explain to them why containment required a greater effort. And oftentimes it
was hard because containment, at least early on, was a very strong policy and
weakened only over time.

GROSS: You know, it was your job directing Gulf affairs for the National
Security Council to develop realistic options for regime change. What did
that mean exactly?

Mr. POLLACK: Well, when...

GROSS: In other words, were you developing options for overthrowing Saddam
Hussein or options to replace Saddam Hussein after he was overthrown?

Mr. POLLACK: Both.

GROSS: Uh-huh. OK.

Mr. POLLACK: When I came--I did two tours at the National Security Council
and when I came back in 1999, it was right after Operation Desert Fox, the
four-day air strikes that the United States launched against Saddam in
September of 1998. And it was right after President Clinton's announcement
that the United States would be pursuing a policy of regime change. And when
I came back on, the administration turned to me and to my boss and said,
`We're serious about this. We want to get rid of Saddam Hussein, that--we are
losing the support of the world. The world is turning away from us and,
therefore, we don't have a multilateral containment regime anymore that we can
really rely on. And, therefore, we need to get rid of him.'

And so we started to try to develop options to do exactly that, to get him out
of power and to create a new Iraq, one that would abide by its obligations to
the international community and that could hopefully live in peace in the
Middle East with its neighbors.

GROSS: Did you look at the possibility of assassination?

Mr. POLLACK: The United States has been--to put it very bluntly, the United
States has been trying to assassinate Saddam Hussein since 1991. We tried
during the Gulf War, using airpower. The CIA mounted other efforts to
overthrow him since then. The problem we had was really not the will. I
mean, everyone recognized, again, that Saddam Hussein was pure evil and that
if he could be eliminated, the world would be a much better place. And truth
to tell, while there--I think many people believe that assassination is
against the law, in point of fact, that's not correct and the president is
empowered to remove foreign leaders under certain circumstances. And the
Clinton administration lawyers believed that those circumstances were met and
so did the Bush administration lawyers believe that those circumstances were
met, and tried very hard to do so. But what we found is also actually what
the Iranians found and the Syrians found and the Israelis found and the Saudis
have found--all other countries that tried to remove Saddam Hussein--is that
it's very, very hard to do. There's one...

GROSS: Why is it so hard?

Mr. POLLACK: There's one thing in this world that Saddam Hussein is good at
and that's keeping himself in power in Iraq. He has built an elaborate police
state modeled on the police state built by Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union
but which I think actually goes way beyond what Stalin ever achieved. He has
multiple redundant security services, all of which watch him, watch each
other. They compete with each other. They are--they pry into every aspect of
Iraqi society. They are thorough, they are relentless, they are brutal. They
have everything wired, everything bugged. And, what's more, they use torture
and force on such a routine basis to extract information and to intimidate the
population that the vast majority of Iraqis are simply terrified. And
penetrating Saddam's rings of security are extremely difficult and so far no
one, not the United States, not Israel, not Syria, not Iran, not Saudi Arabia,
has ever been able to do it.

GROSS: Now a question that had to be faced when you were directing Persian
Gulf affairs at the National Security Council and that has to be faced by the
Bush administration now is, if there is success in overthrowing Saddam
Hussein, then what? Who replaces him? What does that government look like?
I know that the Bush administration is looking in part to Iraqi exiles now.
And I'm wondering if you think that there really is the possibility for good
leadership to emerge from those groups that the CIA has been working with and
talking to in exile.

Mr. POLLACK: Sure. That really is a critical question. I think we need to
be very, very clear that rebuilding Iraq is a necessary component of invading
and taking down Saddam Hussein's regime. Allowing Iraq to go its own way, to
slip back into chaos and warlordism and civil war, much as I'm afraid we are
allowing Afghanistan to do, really isn't an option in the case of Iraq. Iraq
is too important a country and too important a region of the world to allow
that to happen. Now that said, the opposition are out there and I think that
they can play a helpful role in the rebuilding, but I think that we have to be
very careful about how much we entrust that mission to them, simply because we
don't know how the Iraqis inside Iraq feel about the exiles.

You know, there are many exiles who are perfectly nice, smart, patriotic,
creative, well-meaning individuals, but that doesn't necessarily mean that
they're the people who the Iraqis will want to lead them. And in many cases,
you know, we have reasons to be concerned that some of the exiles really don't
have very good ties to people inside, are not well-known, are not very
popular. For that reason I think it would be a mistake for the United States
to, for example, nominate a provisional government from among the exiles and,
you know, walk into Iraq, invade the country, drive in and then say, you know,
`Congratulations. Meet your new government.' 'Cause I think that many of the
Iraqis would look at the people we brought in and say, `Who are these guys?
You know, where have they been for the last 20 years while we were suffering
under Saddam's rule? Why should we allow them to be our new government?'

GROSS: My guest is Kenneth Pollack, author of the new book "The Threatening
Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq." We'll talk more after a break. This is

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Kenneth Pollack, author of the new book "The Threatening
Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq." He served for seven years in the CIA as
a Persian Gulf military analyst. In the Clinton administration, he was the
National Security Council's director of Gulf affairs.

Do you really see a possible scenario in which the new Iraqi government is not
a puppet government of the United States? If this happens, we're going to be
investing a lot of time, money and American lives in overthrowing Saddam
Hussein, and the American government is going to want its best interests
represented in the new Iraqi government. And in a way that's, like, the
perfect scenario for, you know, a puppet government installed in--you know,
that looks a whole lot like a democracy but isn't exactly.

Mr. POLLACK: Yeah, I think that would be a terrible mistake for the United
States, and there are a lot of mistakes that the US can make in rebuilding
Iraq. This is the problem. There are a lot of ways to get the rebuilding of
Iraq wrong and only a few ways to get it right. And I think it is critical
that we do get it right. And that means a very long-term commitment, allowing
the UN and the international community to build democracy from the ground up
in Iraq, which is going to be a long process, potentially a costly one;
one--the very important bright note there is that Iraq's oil revenues can
almost certainly cover the vast majority, if not all, of those reconstruction
costs, which would make Iraq very different from other countries where we've
done this, say, Germany, Japan, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor. But nevertheless,
we need to be committed to this long process because if we do just try to
install some kind of a puppet government--you know, some leader who is nothing
but a facade for the United States--I think that that person will be rejected
very quickly by the Iraqi people and you will see a quick slide into
fragmentation, into chaos, into warlordism, into civil war.

GROSS: OK, you say we have to go in with massive force. I want to quote
something from your new book, "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading
Iraq." You write, "The only prudent and realistic course of action left to
the United States is to mount a full-scale invasion of Iraq to smash the
Iraqi armed forces, end Saddam's regime and rid the country of weapons of mass
destruction." Then you say, "Every time I say or write this, I find myself
wondering whether it is truly necessary." Can you talk about that little war
within yourself, about how much force you think we need to do and how extreme
you think our action needs to be?

Mr. POLLACK: Sure. The debate that I have within myself is not over the
amount of force, actually; it's whether we need to do it at all. I think that
if we're gonna do it, there is no question we need to bring overwhelming
force. Again, this is not a war that you want to try to win just barely. We
won't get any points for style, and no one's going to clap any louder if we
win this war with only 50,000 troops than if we win it with 250,000 troops. I
spent much of the last 10, 12 years trying to make containment work, and I
believed very strongly that containment could be made to work. And I still
believe to this day that if we had done things differently and if our allies
had done things differently, containment could have been made to work much
longer than was actually the case. I recognize that a war with Iraq is going
to be costly and potentially risky and, you know, I don't particularly like
the idea of espousing massive military operations where potentially hundreds
of thousands of people may die.

Unfortunately, what my analysis keeps bringing me back to is I don't think
that we have any other alternative. I don't think that we have any other
course of action left to us at this point in time so late in the game to
preventing much larger, much deadlier war. And this is really, I think, the
choice that we face is that if we do not head off Saddam's nuclear weapons
programs--and the only way that we are really going to be able to do that is
through an invasion because the inspections, the sanctions are not going to be
able to do it. If we can't keep Saddam from gaining those weapons of mass
destruction and, excuse me, the nuclear weapons in particular, I believe that
we are likely to wind up in a nuclear confrontation, if not a nuclear war with
Saddam Hussein at some point in the future. And to me, that prospect is so
terrifying that it brings me right back to the justification for `We need to
do this. We need to invade. We need to eradicate Saddam's regime and its
weapons of mass destruction so that we don't ever have to face that horrifying

GROSS: And you say you'd like to think that containment can work, but you
think it's been handled badly and that it's not gonna work. By containment,
does that include the UN weapons inspections? Have you given up on that?

Mr. POLLACK: Oh, absolutely. Again, I was a huge supporter of the UN
inspections. I think that, if handled differently, they might have worked
even better than they did. But there are many points to be made here. Let me
just make two of them about the inspections and the inherent problems with the
inspections. The first problem with the inspections is that the inspections
were always dependent on international goodwill. Without international
support, the inspections can't work. We can't forcibly disarm Saddam Hussein
using inspections. Now remember, the inspections were set up at the end of
the Gulf War to do nothing more than inspect. The Iraqis were supposed to
destroy all of their weapons of mass destruction and all the UN teams were
supposed to do was to go in and inspect and certify that Iraq had, in fact,
destroyed everything. They were never intended to try to forcibly compel
Saddam to give up his weapons of mass destruction. And, in fact, no one ever
believed they could.

And what we found by 1996 was that they couldn't because we just didn't know
where anything was. But by 1996, Saddam Hussein had gotten so good at hiding
his weapons of mass destruction programs that the inspectors couldn't find
anything. We had no idea where to look. And it wasn't just the inspectors.
It was CIA and all of the other foreign intelligence services who were
supporting the inspectors. We didn't know where they were. All of this
suggests that, A, you know, we're not going to be able to make the inspections
work again in the future because we just don't have international support.
And we certainly could get the UN to pass any kind of a new resolution on
inspections if we give them the alternative of `Either pass it or we'll
invade.' But the problem is, six or 12 or 18 months down the road, Saddam
will again start to cheat and I think all the evidence is that the rest of the
world will once again start to ignore it and we'll find ourselves exactly
where we were back in 1998, not knowing where the weapons were, not being able
to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has them and effectively alone in
being the only nation willing to actually try to back up the inspectors and to
make that program work. And the problem is that if that happens again in the
future, we may find ourselves so much closer with Saddam Hussein having a
nuclear weapon at that point in time.

GROSS: If we do go to war with Iraq, what do you think the odds are that Iraq
would use weapons of mass destruction against our troops or against Israel? I
should say biological or chemical weapons is what I mean more specifically,

Mr. POLLACK: I think it's a virtual certainty that Iraq will try to use its
weapons of mass destruction, both against our troops and against our allies in
the region: Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, you name it. That's why I
think that an invasion of Iraq needs to be massive and overwhelming, because
if we bring all of our capabilities, we have very good ways to counter all of
those different threats. Just--I'll give you one example. It's going to be
very difficult for Saddam Hussein to hit Israel with anything but Scuds.
Their aircraft are highly unlikely to be able to get through. They might try
a terrorist operation, but that's tough also because Israel is, you know, so
tightly controlled and will be looking for that stuff very closely. Their
best way to deliver biological and chemical agents against Israel, as they did
during the Gulf War, is to put it on the nose of a Scud missile and launch it.
But if the United States brings enough force that we can seize western Iraq,
we can effectively eliminate that threat because Iraq's Scuds have a limited
range. They have to be launched from western Iraq.

And during the Gulf War we tried to deny western Iraq to their Scud forces
using nothing but air forces and special forces. And, ultimately, it was
inadequate. It couldn't quite do the job. Today our air forces and our
special forces are actually much more capable than they were in 1991, but
still no one can be certain that they can do the job of eliminating all the
Scuds in western Iraq. But if we bring enough force to actually occupy
western Iraq, we can have a high degree of confidence that Saddam Hussein will
not be able to launch too many Scuds, perhaps not any. And it's those kind of
measures that the United States can take that can greatly minimize Saddam's
ability to launch weapons of mass destruction.

GROSS: Bottom line question, you're confident we need to invade Iraq, use a
lot of force to do it, to get the job done right and to help rebuild Iraq
afterwards so that there's stability in the region and stability in the world.
OK, bottom line, are you confident that it's going to go well, that we're
going to do it, you know, right by your standards and that, on the other end
of this war, if there is one, we'll emerge better and stronger and more stable
as opposed to the world will emerge just in a more disastrous situation?

Mr. POLLACK: Right now, in early October of 2002, I can't say that I have
seen everything from the administration that I would want to see that will
convince me that we are going to do this right. I'm still waiting for a whole
bunch of stuff to fall into place. I am hopeful that the administration will
do the necessary but, as I said, I've not yet seen it.

GROSS: And if we don't do it right, do you think we're better off not doing
it at all?

Mr. POLLACK: That's the hardest question of all. I hope we do it right and I
hope that we don't have to make that kind of a decision, because, if we do it
wrong, we could create as many problems as we solve. But if we don't do it at
all, we could face some truly terrible choices down the road.

GROSS: It sounds like you think we're at a pretty precarious moment.

Mr. POLLACK: I think this is an important moment for the country and I think
it's important that we get this right. And just along those lines, you know,
a question you asked earlier on, just to reiterate it, this is something that
I think needs to happen sooner rather than later and I certainly don't have
any problem with doing it this winter. But I also think that an argument can
be made that, if it is necessary to hold it off for a longer period of time to
make sure that we can do it right, I think that that may be necessary, too.

GROSS: Kenneth Pollack, thank you very much.

Mr. POLLACK: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Kenneth Pollack is the author of the new book "The Threatening Storm:
The Case for Invading Iraq." He's now director of research at The Brooking
Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews a new book about the lives of women in
China written by a Chinese journalist who used to host a radio call-in show in
China. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New book, "The Good Women of China" by Xinran

One evening in November of 1999, Xinran, a Chinese lecturer at London
University's School of Oriental and African Studies, was mugged coming out of
a nearby train station. Irrationally, she struggled with her attacker, a man
over six feet tall, for her handbag. It contained the only manuscript copy of
a book she had just finished writing. Certainly a book is not worth more than
a life, but this book contained the remarkable and true stories of many lives.
Her book is "The Good Women of China," and critic Maureen Corrigan says it's
a good thing Xinran had a strong grip.


Over the past decade or so, a certain type of autobiography has developed,
written by Chinese women mainly for a Western readership. Exemplified by Jung
Chang's superb memoir, "Wild Swans," these accounts focus on the suffering
higher-status Chinese women have endured, particularly during the cultural

Inside China, though, such autobiographies are often regarded as unpatriotic
and unremarkable. Given that dismissive attitude, one of the extraordinary
things about Xinran's new book, "The Good Women of China," is that the Chinese
themselves were shocked and moved by the true stories of contemporary women's
lives, lives of peasants, factory workers, students, entrepreneurs and
intellectuals, that she so vividly recalls here.

For seven years, beginning in 1990, Xinran hosted an evening radio show in
China called "Words on the Night Breeze." She started out by playing soothing
music, talking about her own life as a divorced single mother and reading from
listeners' letters. Soon she was being deluged with over 100 letters a day,
mostly from women. She was subsequently allowed to take nightly on-air phone
calls, again mostly from women. The Chinese had never heard personal stories
like these on radio before, and Xinran became a celebrity.

But despite her popularity, she was dancing on thin ice. Because the media is
still a mouthpiece of the Communist Party, Xinran had to self-censor. Listing
party officials in the wrong hierarchical order or responding sympathetically
to a lesbian caller, as she did on one program, could invite harsh
recriminations. Xinran ultimately gave up her career and left China for
England, but her listeners' voices and stories stayed with her and so she's
reproduced some of them in this disturbing book which has been translated from
the Chinese by Esther Tyldesley.

"The Good Women of China" consists of 15 short personal accounts and
interviews, almost every one of them haunting. There are stories here of
state-sanctioned sadism: educated women married off to peasants during the
cultural revolution, idealistic young girls raped by their male Red Guard
comrades as part of their political indoctrination. Xinran recalls the day at
work she received a letter adorned with a chicken feather, a sign of extreme
distress. That letter was from a boy reporting on an old man in his village
who had bought a wife, most certainly kidnapped, whom he kept chained so that
she couldn't escape. When the girl was finally rescued, it turned out that
she was only 12 years old.

Mercifully, Xinran also includes stories that pay tribute to humanity's better
instincts, like the interviews she conducted with women who run an orphanage
in the industrial city of Tangshan, a city where 300,000 people died in an
earthquake in 1976. The orphanage workers are all mothers who lost children
in that earthquake and, despite their horrific memories, they embody a shaky
determination to live and to nurture. Switching scenes, Xinran remembers
interviews she did with members of the new student generation in China,
strictly material girls who sexually barter themselves as personal secretaries
to businessmen. `Never think of a man as a tree whose shade you can rest in,'
one of these pragmatists tells Xinran. `Women are just fertilizer, rotting
away to make the tree strong. There is no real love.'

The women's stories, however, that Xinran says finally drove her out of
journalism emerged during a government fact-finding mission she took to a
remote village in the north-central plain of China. Prolapsed uteruses are
common among the women there, many of them collective wives, because they
routinely bear a child every year. The female villagers' only personal
possessions are the tree leaves they use as rough menstrual cloths. Because
she felt utterly helpless, Xinran gave one local woman a sanitary napkin as a
souvenir. The next day she spotted a man in the village displaying it proudly
in his belt. Of all the Chinese women she interviewed, Xinran says, these
women, little more than dumb animals, were the only ones who ever told her
they were happy.

It's the stark, stunned style of Xinran's narrative that lends to its
considerable power. Xinran says the question that obsessed her all the while
she was doing her nightly radio show was, `Just what is a woman's life worth
in China?' You get the feeling throughout her book that she's still reeling
from the answer.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "The Good Women of China" by Xinran.

(Soundbite of music; credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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