Kenneth Pollack

Kenneth M. Pollack

Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy

About the Speaker

Kenneth M. Pollack is an expert on Middle Eastern political-military affairs, with particular emphasis on Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the other nations of the Persian Gulf region. He is currently a senior fellow in the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. He served as the director of the Saban Center from 2009 to 2012, and its director of research from 2002 to 2009. His most recent book is Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy.

Pollack began his career as an Iran-Iraq military analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency, where he was an employee from 1988 until 1995. During that time, he was the principal author of the CIA’s classified post-mortem on Iraqi strategy and military operations during the Persian Gulf War of 1990-1991. Pollack received the CIA’s Certificate of Distinction for Outstanding Performance of Duty for work before and during the Persian Gulf War. He also twice received the CIA’s Exceptional Performance Award, also for work related to the Persian Gulf War.

Pollack has twice served on the staff of the National Security Council. In 1995-1996, he was director for Near East and South Asian affairs, and in 1999-2001 he served as director for Persian Gulf Affairs. In this latter capacity, he was the principal working-level official for U.S. policy toward Iraq, Iran, Yemen and the Gulf Cooperation Council States at the White House.

In addition to these positions, Pollack has been a senior research professor at the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University where he principally worked on long-term issues related to Middle Eastern political and military affairs for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He has been the director for National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and a research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

In 2011, in response to the remarkable events in the Middle East, Pollack brought together 18 Brookings scholars to write The Arab Awakening: America and the Transformation of the Middle East, published in November 2011 by the Brookings Institution Press. This work is the first comprehensive look at these epochal events. The book examines the dynamics of the Arab Awakening, from the role of new media to the role of Islamists and from the impact of economics to the impact of the Arab militaries. It also addressed virtually every country in the Middle East and what the Arab Awakening meant for it, as well as other regional players like Iran, Israel and Turkey, in addition to key non-regional powers like China, Russia, Europe and the United States. Pollack was both the lead author of the book and responsible for drafting nine of its 36 chapters.

Pollack’s latest commercial book, A Path Out of the Desert: A Grand Strategy for America in the Middle East was published in July 2008, by Random House. This book warned that the economic, social and political stagnation of the states of the Muslim Middle East had pushed all of these countries into a pre-revolutionary state that could trigger revolutions, civil wars, insurgencies and failed states at any time. It also prescribed a long-term, overarching approach for the United States to pursue to secure its interests by enabling a process of gradual, indigenously-driven reform throughout the Muslim Middle East. It has been a Washington Post and Foreign Affairs best-seller and was chosen as one of the Washington Post’s “Best Books of the Year” for 2008 as well as an editor’s choice of the New York Times Book Review.

Pollack is also the author of six other books: Unfinished Business: An American Strategy for Iraq Moving Forward (Brookings, 2010) co-authored with Raad Alkadiri, J. Scott Carpenter, Frederick Kagan, and Sean Kane; Which Path to Persia: Options for a New American Strategy Toward Iran(Brookings, 2009) co-authored with Daniel Byman, Martin Indyk, Suzanne Maloney, Michael O’Hanlon and Bruce Riedel; Things Fall Apart: Containing the Spillover of a Civil War in Iraq, co-authored with Daniel Byman, published by the Brookings Press in 2007; The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America, published by Random House in November 2004; Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness, 1948-1991, published in 2002 by the University of Nebraska Press; and The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, published in 2002 by Random House, which was a New York Timesand Washington Post bestseller.

Among his other work, Pollack was the principal author of “A Switch in Time: A New Strategy for America in Iraq,” a Saban Center monograph published in February 2006, which laid out a comprehensive, alternative U.S. policy toward the military, political, economic and bureaucratic reconstruction of Iraq along the lines of the “surge” strategy adopted by the United States in 2007. He is also the author of numerous articles including “The Seven Deadly Sins of Iraqi Reconstruction,” in the December 2006 edition of Middle East Review of International Affairs; “What Iran Really Wants,” in the November 2006 issue of Current History; “Iraq Runneth Over: What Next?” co-authored with Daniel Byman in the Washington Post Outlook section, on August 20, 2006; “Taking on Tehran,” co-authored with Ray Takeyh in the March/April 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs; “Spies, Lies and Weapons: What Went Wrong?” in the January 2004 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, and “Securing the Gulf,” in the July/August 2003 issue of Foreign Affairs.