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"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

February 28, 2012

Lying the World Into War Is Always an Option

This is from p. 84-5 in Which Path to Persia?: Options for a New American Strategy toward Iran, a June, 2009 book edited and co-authored by Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution:

...absent a clear Iranian act of aggression, American airstrikes against Iran would be unpopular in the region and throughout the would be far more preferable if the United States could cite an Iranian provocation as justification for the airstrikes before launching them. Clearly, the more outrageous, the more deadly, and the more unprovoked the Iranian action, the better off the United States would be. Of course, it would be very difficult for the United States to goad Iran into such a provocation without the rest of the world recognizing this game, which would then undermine it. (One method that would have some possibility of success would be to ratchet up covert regime change efforts in the hope that Tehran would retaliate overtly, or even semi-overtly, which could then be portrayed as an unprovoked act of Iranian aggression.) ... [T]he use of airstrikes could not be the primary U.S. policy toward Iran...until Iran provided the necessary pretext.

You may remember Pollack from The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, the 2002 book cited by all the nice liberals who sadly and reluctantly supported war. What you don't remember—because none of the nice liberals mentioned it—is that on p. 364-5 of The Threatening Storm Pollack presented exactly the same option regarding Iraq:

Assembling a [] coalition would be infinitely easier if the United States could point to a smoking gun with Iraqi fingerprints on it—some new Iraqi outrage that would serve to galvanize international opinion and create the pretext for an invasion...

There are probably [] courses the United States could take that might prompt Saddam to make a foolish, aggressive move, that would then become the "smoking gun" justifying an invasion. An aggressive U.S. covert action campaign might provoke Saddam to retaliate overtly, providing a casus belli...

What matters about this is that Pollack is right at the heart of the Democratic Party's foreign policy establishment, and he's completely comfortable proposing that he and his friends lie the world into war after war in the mideast. (The other authors of Which Path to Persia? are Daniel L. Byman, Martin Indyk, Suzanne Maloney, Michael E. O’Hanlon and Bruce Riedel.) No one he hangs around with will find anything jarring about this. And he knows he can count on the media to never mention this option is being openly kicked around before the war starts. (Pollack is Ted Koppel's son-in-law.)

To understand how seriously the U.S. government takes this kind of thing, here's some of the relevant history involving Iraq and Iran:

1. In 1997, a Clinton cabinet member (probably Madeleine Albright) suggested that the Air Force fly a U-2 so slowly and low over Iraq that Iraq would be able to shoot it down. This would be a "precipitous event—something that would make us look good in the eyes of the world" and enable us to invade.

2. On February 16, 2002, George W. Bush authorized parts of "Anabasis", a CIA plan to fly Iraqi exiles into southern Iraq, where they would seize a military base in hopes Saddam would fly troops south to retake it. According to one of the CIA operatives involved, "The idea was to create an incident in which Saddam lashes out... you'd have a premise for war: we've been invited in."

3. In 2002, the U.S. and U.K. doubled their rate of bombing Iraq "in an attempt to provoke Saddam Hussein into giving the allies an excuse for war."

4. On January 31, 2003, in a White House meeting with Tony Blair, Bush proposed painting a U.S. plane in the colors of the UN in hopes it would draw Iraqi fire, thus providing a pretext to invade.

5. In early 2008, Dick Cheney and friends discussed how to create a casus belli for attacking Iran. One of their bright ideas was to build some speed boats that looked like the ones belonging to the Iranian navy, put Navy SEALs on them, and then have the SEALs start shooting at American ships. (Note that with this concept we'd give up on secretly goading Iran into responding to our aggression, and just provide both sides of the war ourselves.)

Given that someone like Barry McCaffrey is privately telling NBC executives that Iran is going to "further escalate" hostilities in next few months, it's a good time to pay attention to all this.

P.S. If you're hungry for more of Kenneth Pollack's acute political insights, this is from Which Path to Persia?:

Iranian foreign policy is frequently driven by internal political considerations...More than once, Iran has followed a course that to outsiders appeared self-defeating but galvanized the Iranian people to make far-reaching sacrifices in the name of seemingly quixotic goals.

And this is from The Threatening Storm:

Saddam's foreign policy history is littered with bizarre decisions, poor judgement, and catastrophic miscalculations...Even when Saddam does consider a problem at length...his own determination to interpret geopolitical calculations to suit what he wants to believe anyway lead him to construct bizarre scenarios that he convinces himself are highly likely...

[100 pages later]

Imagine how different the Middle East and the world would be if a new Iraqi state were stable, prosperous, and a force for progress in the region...Imagine if we could rebuild Iraq as a model of what a modern Arab state could be...Invading Iraq might not just be our least bad alternative, it potentially could be our best course of action.

—Jon Schwarz

Posted at February 28, 2012 09:14 PM

From a “review” at of Pollack’s Gathering Storm.

Examining all sides of the debate and bringing a keen eye to the military and geopolitical forces at work, Pollack ultimately comes to this controversial conclusion: through our own mistakes, the perfidy of others, and Saddam’s cunning, the United States is left with few good policy options regarding Iraq. Increasingly, the option that makes the most sense is for the United States to launch a full-scale invasion, eradicate Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, and rebuild Iraq as a prosperous and stable society—for the good of the United States, the Iraqi people, and the entire region.

Funny thing is the NYT still quotes Pollack as if Pollack’s opinions were pure gold. Of course the NYT can’t recall what it reported ten minutes ago either.

Posted by: rob payne at February 28, 2012 11:32 PM

Would that be this Ken Pollack?

The infamous Iran/Mexican Drug Cartel manages to rear its head. Also, you might have to write your 100th blog post about the history of the US and its dealings with Iraq.

If these are zombie lies, would this be Night of the Living Dead, or Dawn of the Dead?

Posted by: Happy Jack at February 29, 2012 01:50 AM

Option 5 mistakenly says "Iraq."

Posted by: Save the Oocytes at February 29, 2012 03:39 AM

This is monstrous. How can Pollack write it and how can anyone accept it? Isn't the result of this kind of speculation a screaming two-year-old with her face caked in blood? You'll have to forgive me; I tend to skip the big poliical picture in favor of the tiny human one.

Posted by: Rosemary Molloy at February 29, 2012 06:37 AM

WHY do I have to start my day feeling THOROUGHLY disgusted with these devious, pseudopundits and their so called Think tanks and some govt officials ( former or current ).

Posted by: Rupa Shah at February 29, 2012 08:36 AM

Rupa Shah: the five minutes of hate is good for you.

In 1997, a Clinton cabinet member (probably Madeleine Albright) suggested that the Air Force fly a U-2 so slowly and low over Iraq that Iraq would be able to shoot it down. This would be a "precipitous event—something that would make us look good in the eyes of the world" and enable us to invade.

Didn't we hear about this because of some general whose blood this boiled? I probably read about it here (man I love this blog). Incidentally, for a great fictional depiction of this kind of spineless bureaucratic chicanery, check out Torchwood series three, "The Children of Earth", featuring the fabulous Peter Capaldi of "In the Loop" and "The Thick of It" (which you should also watch).

Posted by: saurabh at February 29, 2012 11:09 AM

You know, Pollack jokes were offensive 30 years ago when I was in junior high school, but then as now, they were popular. :-(

Posted by: tom allen at February 29, 2012 12:25 PM

Can't have a war unless ya gots a pretext. Well I guess ya could but it looks bad on yer resume. Which, if ya think about it, shouldn't really matter to US by now, what with torture and GITMO and the rest of the last 10 years worth of shit WE've pulled. Hey, I see WE got a GITMO PRISONER to PLEA AGREE so's he can get out in 25-40 years instead of being in GITMO FOREVER. Sweet!!!

Posted by: Mike Meyer at February 29, 2012 12:49 PM

@ saurabh
I do not hate anyone or anything. "HATE" is a VERY STRONG word and fortunately I have not felt that kind of emotion and I hope, I never will though I have observed it and read about it in actions of others. I just feel disgusted by what these people ( described in the post) do. One would think they would spend their lives doing better things than hatching such sick plots.
And thanks for your recommendations. Will check them out.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at February 29, 2012 01:42 PM

I don't see what the big deal is here. Obviously it's just a matter of using the "Find"->"Replace" function and changing a Q for an N.

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at February 29, 2012 02:58 PM

Aaron Datesman: Ah yes, the infamous "Calculus Of War". If I may, be sure to include -wallet/blood=SOFA+oil.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at February 29, 2012 03:15 PM

Inevitability is becoming inescapable. A good plan, for those with a view from above.

Posted by: Jack Crow at February 29, 2012 03:41 PM

Rupa: sorry, I was too long by three:

Posted by: saurabh at February 29, 2012 05:58 PM

I don't condone lies.

Posted by: Charles Edward Frith (@charlesfrith) at February 29, 2012 08:55 PM

Pollack, along with Powers and the Obama administration and Bush administration, are massively evil.

Posted by: Susan at February 29, 2012 10:28 PM

something about a bowling shirt and a wedding, as i recall - it's been a while since i heard it

Posted by: Freddy el Desfibradddor at March 1, 2012 12:05 AM

Mere amateurs when compared to their predecessors. Still, at least the guys behind Operation Northwoods had the decency to see that their ideas were so appalling they'd have to remain a secret.

Posted by: BenSix at March 1, 2012 09:11 AM

Dave Lindorff claims "President Obama and His Key Advisors are a Gang of War Criminals".

Posted by: mistah 'MICFiC' charley, ph.d. at March 1, 2012 02:43 PM

Jon-as delightful a read as our kamph promises too be(in the bunker-reclining on the canned goods with the foam topper.),Your account fails too-'remember the maine','54or fight',or the-'canada's our our's for the marching'.
My personal favorite has grown too be 54or fight.After pres and congress decided too liberate canada,your army duefully marched off too do it-southward.I'd love too learn when what officer noticed that-Kingston didn't have a pyramid of the moon in its nothern suburbs-though both were beside(different)lakes at that time.
Good thing the 'percision triangulated' grape and cannister round eliminated collateral damage-practicaily.
If you have time,I would be delighted too learn what a certian circumsized nazi with a nuc arsenal located in the middle east means exactly with his declaration that-'the new mid east map has no lebaenon'.Sounds too me that your just the man for the job.
Todd Millions
Y=ranch SK

Posted by: Todd Millions at March 1, 2012 04:42 PM

mistah charley, pd.d. WE ALL are war criminals, now.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at March 1, 2012 07:06 PM

Two Minutes of Hate.

Posted by: Butch in Waukegan at March 1, 2012 08:09 PM

That's what you get for UNCONDITIONALLY voting for the two corrupt, corporate-funded parties, who see war as bringing windfall profits to their corporate paymasters.

The Green Party is the progressive alternative. The Green Party doesn't accept corporate money and represents the 99%.

5% of the vote will get the Green Party matching Federal funds.

Your Green vote sends a message to the corporate parties that going along with the fascist lies to start yet ANOTHER unnecessary and insane war will cost them votes.

And this message is sent even if the Green you vote for loses.


Posted by: Alan8 at March 6, 2012 11:24 AM