Kenneth Pollack, Iran Expert Who’s Never Been There

I just got a copy of Ken Pollack’s latest book on Iran, The Persian Puzzle, and was shocked on flipping to page 429, the Author’s Note at the end of the book, to read that Pollack has never been to Iran and doesn’t speak Persian, has only dribs and drabs of Arabic. You’d think a book that purports to explain the “Persian Puzzle” might have offered that disclaimer at the front.

Pollack is an influential intellectual. As a scholar at the liberal Brookings Institution, whatever liberal means these days, he advocated invasion of Iraq in the book The Threatening Storm, back in 2002, thereby giving crucial centrist support to the neocons. Pollack argued that the way to peace in the Middle East lay through Baghdad. I.e., convert the Arabs to democracy there and everything else will fall into place. That book begins with Pollack’s bona fides: he was in the CIA “on the Iran-Iraq account.” Now we know he’s never been to Iran. Has he ever been to Iraq?

This is one of the problems with our arrogant war policy. People who are experts on a place they’ve never been to. The intellectual equivalent of the smart bomb—you judge without ever having to hit the ground. Maybe we ought to do more to actually look around the countries we’re thinking of invading. Because, surprise, we might end up living there for a long time.