A Path Out of the Desert: A Grand Strat­e­gy for Amer­i­ca in the Mid­dle East

Ken­neth M. Pollack

  • Review
By – January 11, 2012

Ken­neth Pol­lack is one of the country’s lead­ing experts on the Mid­dle East, albeit a tar­nished one. His 2002 book, The Threat­en­ing Storm, argued for the neces­si­ty of the Unit­ed States to invade Iraq because he believed Sad­dam Hus­sein too aggres­sive in his poli­cies to be trust­ed not to begin anoth­er con­flict in the region. In his new book Pol­lack admits that he was duped by his col­leagues in the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty when they assert­ed that Sad­dam was recon­sti­tut­ing his weapons of mass destruc­tion pro­grams, includ­ing his nuclear weapons. 

In A Path Out of the Desert Pol­lack again turns his exper­tise to the Mid­dle East, offer­ing his strat­e­gy for America’s role in this volatile region for the 21st cen­tu­ry. Of par­tic­u­lar inter­est is Pollack’s defense of America’s con­tin­u­ing sup­port for Israel, an espe­cial­ly impor­tant defense giv­en the noto­ri­ety and con­tro­ver­sy sur­round­ing John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s 2007 book, The Israel Lob­by. Among his many argu­ments, Pol­lack cites Pres­i­dent Har­ry Truman’s advi­sor Clark Clif­ford who wrote, in oppo­si­tion to both the State Depart­ment and the Depart­ment of Defense rec­om­men­da­tions not to rec­og­nize the new Jew­ish state, “…In an area as unsta­ble as the Mid­dle East, where there is not now and nev­er has been any tra­di­tion of demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­ern­ment, it is impor­tant for the long range secu­ri­ty of our country…that a nation com­mit­ted to the demo­c­ra­t­ic sys­tem be estab­lished there…The new Jew­ish state can be such a place. We should strength­en it in its infan­cy by prompt recog­ni­tion.” Pol­lack argues that what was true then, is true today. Pol­lack fur­ther states, that the State of Israel is not only the only true democ­ra­cy in the Mid­dle East but is also our only depend­able ally in this volatile region. 

In addi­tion to the polit­i­cal and moral rea­sons Pol­lack offers for Amer­i­can sup­port for Israel, he lists six rea­sons why it is also impor­tant for the U.S. to get involved in bring­ing about a real­is­tic peace between Israel and the Pales­tini­ans. In ben­e­fit­ing both peo­ple, states Pol­lack, a real peace would not only ensure the secu­ri­ty and exis­tence of Israel as the only democ­ra­cy in the Mid­dle East, but it would also remove the con­flict as a source of inter­na­tion­al strife. (Pol­lack may be on to some­thing; high lev­el Iran­ian offi­cials, for exam­ple, have recent­ly stat­ed that in regard to the Israeli-Pales­tin­ian con­flict, they would accept what­ev­er terms the Pales­tin­ian peo­ple set­tle for in a peace agree­ment with Israel.) 

Sec­ond, peace between the Pales­tini­ans and Israel also means peace with the Arabs, thus remov­ing a source of ten­sion in the region that can still threat­en war, for exam­ple, a pos­si­ble war between Israel and Syr­ia, and cer­tain­ly it would under­mine the influ­ence of al-Qa’ida in the region, as exem­pli­fied by its recent sup­port for the cause of the Palestinians. 

Third, Pol­lack argues an Arab-Israeli peace would elim­i­nate the abil­i­ty of Arab lead­ers to use the con­flict as an excuse not to engage in vital reform that their soci­eties so bad­ly need. 

Fourth, peace between both sides would relieve the U.S. of hav­ing to choose between sup­port­ing our Israeli ally, or being pop­u­lar in the Arab world.

Final­ly, peace between Israel and the Pales­tini­ans would dra­mat­i­cal­ly reduce the inci­dents of ter­ror­ist attacks against Amer­i­ca, although sup­port for Israel is not the only rea­son for the anger toward the U.S. Pol­lack argues, “…to the extent that such anger can be mit­i­gat­ed by an Israeli-Pales­tin­ian peace treaty, it can only help dimin­ish sup­port for the Salafists (Mus­lim fun­da­men­tal­ists), even if this alone does not lead to their ulti­mate eclipse.” 

Pol­lack con­cludes his impor­tant book by ask­ing whether the U.S. is will­ing to help the Mid­dle East down the road to peace. If so, then the U.S. must brace itself for the region to remain one of our biggest for­eign pol­i­cy headaches for the first half of this cen­tu­ry. If we are not, states Pol­lack, we had bet­ter be ready for the Mid­dle East to remain one of our biggest for­eign headaches for all of it.”

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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