A PATH OUT OF THE DESERT by Kenneth M. Pollack
Kirkus Star


A Grand Strategy For America In the Middle East
Email this review


A former supporter of the Iraq invasion, former National Security Council director for Gulf Affairs Pollack (The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America, 2004, etc.) now admits it was a terrible idea. Yet America must not only remain involved in the Middle East, he declares, it must bring harmony to that volatile region.

Oil is our overwhelming interest in the area, the author states bluntly. Western economies are addicted to it, price increases provoke recessions (including the present one) and exhortations to reduce our dependence on foreign oil are mindless platitudes since it will be impossible for decades. Today’s Middle Eastern leaders work responsibly to keep the supply stable, he adds. Unfortunately, all are autocrats, and their seething populations hate them no less than they hate the United States. Pollack emphasizes that America’s greatest threat from the region is not terrorism or oil blackmail by current governments but revolutionary chaos that would disrupt oil supplies and skyrocket the price. Perhaps the most disturbing chapters describe Middle Eastern demographics. Despite oil wealth, most of the region’s people are desperately poor, getting poorer and reproducing more rapidly than those in sub-Saharan Africa. Corrupt political systems discourage reform. Entrepreneurship is virtually absent. Tiny Israel exports more manufactured goods than 20 Islamic nations from Morocco to Iran. Readers may or may not agree with Pollack’s remedies, but they will certainly wonder about their practicality. All mandate decades of involvement and no small expense as we patiently guide these countries toward democracy, the rule of law, free markets and honest government. Our leaders must behave like statesmen instead of politicians (i.e., be willing to share unpleasant news with the public), and our citizens must be willing to sacrifice short-term benefits for long-term gains. Alas, readers may conclude that none of the current presidential candidates shows evidence of such statesmanship and it’s doubtful the electorate would vote for any who did.

A persuasive but painful solution for dealing with the mess in the Middle East.

Pub Date: July 22nd, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6548-6
Page count: 592pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2008