- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2008




If Barack Obama wins the presidential election in November, this book will be worth reading and keeping as a reference volume for a few years. If Mr. Obama loses, bet on all surviving copies of it to be rapidly pulped.

That is because Kenneth M. Pollack, a leading liberal Democratic hawk who is director of research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and who strongly supported the invasion of Iraq, has written the classic kind of pseudo-strategic, supposedly coherent overview that presumes to offer rational, reasonable solutions within the accepted party orthodoxy in question for whichever bunch of tired old retreads is angling for another chance at running what remains of America’s national interests in the Middle East into the ground.

Mr. Pollack has already rounded up the usual plaudits from Clinton administration officials. Former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger have all weighed in on the dust-jacket, noting its “cogent analysis” (Mr. Holbrooke), that it is “important and thought-provoking” (Mr. Berger) and that, in sum, it is a “sound, reasoned assessment” (Mr. Ross).

But what in fact does Mr. Pollack actually have to say? He urges the United States to press to intervene more in the domestic affairs of nations throughout the Middle East - a policy that President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have already energetically followed with uniformly disastrous or futile results.

Mr. Pollack argues that the U.S. involvement in the wider world in general and in the Middle East in particular “should be conditioned for American values.” In the face of all the actual evidence, he claims that hatred-feeding, anti-American movements throughout the Middle East would magically dry up if the United States withdrew support from its traditional, conservative allies in the regime.

Then-President Carter energetically followed that prescription in Iran in 1978-79 and the result was the Islamic Republic whose nuclear ambitions cast an ominous shadow over the region today.

It is now widely forgotten that U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia only began to seriously deteriorate during Bill Clinton’s second presidential term - an administration of which Mr. Pollack was a relatively prominent member.

In 1999, then-Crown Prince Abdullah, Saudi Arabia’s current monarch, became so disillusioned with the meddling and unpredictable (as he saw them) policies of Mr. Clinton and his second secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, that he started the ominous rise in global oil prices by negotiating a production-limiting deal with Iranian President Mohammed Khatami. Prince Abdullah was, of course, reacting against precisely the kind of “American values”-based policies and internal meddling that Mr. Pollack argues for at such length in this interminable book.

Mr. Pollack, in fact, reveals that the liberal Democrats, like their neo-conservative cousins, are true children of the 18th and 19th century Bourbon rulers of France, of whom it was said that they remembered nothing and forgot nothing.

Mr. Pollack assumes many things: He assumes that Middle East governments will sit back passively and let the United States actively pursue policies that will only undermine them, and put their countries and their own lives at stake.

He assumes that the governments in question will have no recourse but to heed whatever lectures they receive from the next Democratic administration in Washington. He does not appear to be capable of imagining that these governments are perfectly capable of cutting their own deals with Russia, China, Iran or major Western European nations by themselves. And, needless to say, there is no anticipation whatsoever of the scale of the financial crisis that the United States is now facing.

Mr. Pollack also cheerfully libels the entire Arab world in a way any neo-con would envy by describing it was being defined by political repression and economic stagnation. However, in reality, there is effective democracy, freedom of the press and of the electronic media most certainly in nations ranging from Morocco and Tunisia to Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain. Free expression of political comment carried on satellite television now reaches every corner of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Traditional monarchies in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco and the Gulf emirates have proved to be exceptionally responsible, skillful and adaptive at opening the doors of modernization, economic growth and cultural freedom without unleashing nihilistic revolutionary forces. Mr. Pollack has a lot more to learn from them than they from him.

Martin Sieff is chief political correspondent for United Press International.

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