In addition, Pollack, from late September 2002 to mid-February 2003, wrote or co-authored three op-eds for the Times, each more insistent than the last on the need to invade. If Saddam were not ousted, Pollack warned, he was certain to gain a nuclear weapon in the second half of this decade, if not before. Pollack disparaged the efforts of UN weapons inspectors, dismissed assurances from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Mohamed ElBaradei that Iraq’s nuclear program was in check, and urged President Bush to avoid the “inspections trap.” “Yes,” he declared, “we must weigh the costs of a war with Iraq today, but on the other side of the balance we must place the cost of a war with a nuclear-armed Iraq tomorrow.” Pollack elaborated on NPR, CBS, Fox News, MSNBC, Charlie Rose, Oprah, and, most frequently, CNN, where he was a consultant.
In light of all this, Pollack’s effort to pass himself off as a harsh critic of the Bush administration seemed less than forthcoming. And it was disappointing to see the Times—which had published his earlier briefs for the invasion and thus knew his position—let him get away with it.
I was further disappointed to see the paper allow Pollack back onto its op-ed page at all, given how often he’d been wrong in the past. Saddam had no nuclear weapons program. His regime had been contained. The inspectors were doing an effective job of investigating potential weapons sites. Mohamed ElBaradei’s assurances proved well founded. (As late as June 2003, Pollack, in another op-ed for the Times, assured us, as the headline put it, SADDAM’S BOMBS? WE’LL FIND THEM.)
Pollack seemed no more prescient about the likely consequences of an invasion. “Being rid of Saddam Hussein,” he wrote in The Threatening Storm, “would be an enormous boon to U.S. foreign policy.” It would allow the United States to reduce its presence in the Gulf region. It would improve the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. And, while perhaps increasing anti-Americanism among Arabs in the short term, in the long run it would remove an important source of such antipathy (the confrontation with Saddam). “Imagine how different the Middle East and the world would be,” he wrote, “if a new Iraqi state were stable, prosperous, and a force for progress in the region.”
Achieving such a state, Pollack went on, would likely prove neither difficult nor costly. With contributions from wealthy allies, he wrote, “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.” While the United States “may not enjoy such incredible success in Iraq, neither should we assume that we would suffer large numbers of casualties.”
By the time Pollack and O’Hanlon arrived in Iraq to assess the surge, more than 3,600 U.S. soldiers had died and nearly 30,000 had been injured; total U.S. outlays in Iraq were approaching $330 billion, with another $3 billion being spent every week.
In a phone interview, I asked Pollack about these discrepancies. In his book, he said, he had made it clear that his predictions were based on the expectation that the Bush administration, or whoever else might invade Iraq, would mount a full-scale reconstruction of the country rather than pursue a quick-fix “pragmatic” approach. “My point was that if you rushed and used too few resources, which is what the Bush administration has done,” he said, “you’d get civil war and warlordism, which is exactly what we’ve got now.”