Kenneth Pollack was educated at Yale University, earning a B.A. in 1988. He went on to MIT, where he earned a Ph.D. in 1996. In government, Kenneth Pollack has served in a variety of roles. From 1988 until 1995, he was analyst on Iraqi and Iranian military issues for the Central Intelligence Agency. He spent a year as Director for Near East and South Asian Affairs with the United States National Security Council. In 1999, he rejoined the NSC as the Director for Persian Gulf Affairs. He also served two stints as a professor with the National Defense University.
Outside of government, he worked for the Brookings Institution as the director of research at its Saban Center for Middle East Policy. He previously worked for the Council of Foreign Relations as their director of national security studies. He has also written four books, the first two both being published in 2002. The first, Arabs at War, looks at the actions and lack of effectiveness of six Arab nations in the years between World War II and the Persian Gulf War.
Pollack is married to the well-known television journalist Andrea Koppel.
In his second book, The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq (pub. 2002), Pollack details the history of United States actions against Iraq since the Persian Gulf War of 1991. He discusses the need to invade Iraq, and the possible ways of going about it. Pollack argued that Saddam Hussein was simply too volatile and aggressive in his policies to be trusted not to begin another conflict in a volatile region. In The Threatening Storm, Pollack argued "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, depose Saddam’s regime, and rid the country of weapons of mass destruction.” Pollack predicted, “It is unimaginable that the United States would have to contribute hundreds of billions of dollars and highly unlikely that we would have to contribute even tens of billions of dollars.” Likewise, he wrote, “we should not exaggerate the danger of casualties among American troops. U.S. forces in Bosnia have not suffered a single casualty from hostile action because they have become so attentive and skillful at force protection.”
Pollack is credited with persuading liberals of the case for the Iraq war. New York Times columnist Bill Keller, in supporting the Iraq war in 2003, wrote “Kenneth Pollack, the Clinton National Security Council expert whose argument for invading Iraq is surely the most influential book of this season, has provided intellectual cover for every liberal who finds himself inclining toward war but uneasy about Mr. Bush.” Liberal writer Matthew Yglesias in the LA Times also attested to Pollack’s influence:
Of course, those of us who read Pollack's celebrated 2002 book, "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq," and became convinced as a result that the United States needed to, well, invade Iraq in order to dismantle Saddam Hussein's advanced nuclear weapons program (the one he didn't actually have) might feel a little too bitter to once again defer to our betters.
In 2004, his third book, The Persian Puzzle, was published. In contrast to his views on Iraq, in The Persian Puzzle he argued that though the threat of force is necessary in dealing with Iran, diplomacy rather than regime change by force is the best way of dealing with Iran because Iran's policy-makers are divided between pragmatists who are motivated by a desire to improve the economy and hardliners who fear U.S. attack and so seek a nuclear deterrent, - the United States can thus exploit this divide to negotiate a favourable agreement. He also argued that the hardliners leader, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, was, unlike Saddam Hussein, rational and risk-averse and so, even if Iran did acquire a nuclear capability, Iran could be deterred in a way that Saddam Hussein could not be. He does not speak Persian and has never visited the country.
In 2007, Pollack co-authored the book Things Fall Apart: Containing the Spillover from an Iraqi Civil War with Daniel L. Byman. This book analyzed 12 recent civil wars to derive six common ways in which fullscale ethnic civil wars "spillover" to affect neighboring states. Pollack and Byman argued that while spillover can range from modest effects to very severe problems (like causing other civil wars or triggering regional wars among neighboring states) that the early evidence so far suggested that the United States should be prepared for Iraq's potential descent into all-out civil war to be on the worse end of the spectrum. The book went on to lay out thirteen different ways that the United States and its allies might fashion a "containment" strategy for Iraq, which offered some chance of preventing all-out civil war in Iraq from destabilizing the wider Persian Gulf region in the event that American efforts to stabilize the country failed. While Pollack and Byman argued that such a containment strategy would be very difficult to make work given the historical problems of doing so and the specific problems created by previous American actions in Iraq, they also concluded that containment would likely prove America's least bad option because U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf were so important that Washington would have to try to mitigate the impact of spillover.
He has written numerous articles for publications such as the Atlantic Monthly and Foreign Affairs. He has also repeatedly testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He currently teaches Security Problems of the Middle East / Persian Gulf and Military Analysis at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service.
Pollack's fifth book, A Path Out of the Desert: A Grand Strategy for America in the Middle East, was published in July 2008.
A U.S. government indictment alleges that Pollack provided information to former American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) employees Steve J. Rosen and Keith Weissman during the AIPAC espionage scandal.
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