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A Path Out of the Desert: A Grand Strategy for America in the Middle East Hardcover – July 15, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

One certainty in an election year is that D.C. policy wonks publish their advice for the presidential victor (e.g., Madeleine Albright’s Memo to the President Elect, 2008). Pollack, another former Clinton official, here promotes his idea for conducting American foreign policy in the Middle East. On a fundamental level, it is similar to President Bush’s: foster democratization in order to preserve reliable access to oil. However, Pollack presents his program as enlightened change from Bush’s forceful export of democracy (though the author supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq) to one of supporting educational, legal, economic, and political reform. Admitting that his program would take decades to yield a less-volatile Middle East, Pollack finds fault with rival approaches, such as muddling along or making counterterrorism paramount. He writes that the former is risky because he assesses Arab countries of the Middle East to be in a prerevolutionary condition, and criticizes the latter as treating symptoms rather than social problems feeding terrorism. Analytically informed, Pollack illuminates specialists’ debates for general readers interested in the Middle East. --Gilbert Taylor


“Once again, Ken Pollack has plunged into the most complex and controversial issues of our time, offering cogent analysis, clear thinking, and very constructive proposals.”—Richard C. Holbrooke, special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan

“Thoughtful and informative . . . a powerful argument for continued, and perhaps even greater, American involvement in the Middle East.”—The Economist

“One of the most lively and accessible accounts of the modern Middle East and the policies that are needed to turn the region around.”—Peter Bergen, author of Holy War, Inc.

“Authoritative . . . spells out the full range of threats the United States faces in the region and offers prudent advice on how to defuse them.” —Washington Post Book World

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (July 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400065488
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400065486
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.5 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #931,446 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Keith A. Comess VINE VOICE on September 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Take the case of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche: just about every college freshman has heard of him, most have an opinion of his work, a few have read (or attempted to read) his books and a very small number have an informed opinion, derived from careful study and consideration of his thoughts in context. Analogously to Nietzsche, most everyone, well at least political blog readers, media pundits and avid conspiracy theorists, have heard of Kenneth Michael Pollack. Also analogous to Nietzsche, most have an opinion, but, at least based on my impressions of the majority of internet postings, few have actually read and attempted to understand his thinking. Such is the case with Pollack's latest book, "A Path Out of the Desert: a Grand Strategy for America in the Middle East".

By way of introduction, Pollack, a former CIA Middle East Iran specialist, analyst and National Security Council member in the Clinton Administration, who is now Director of Middle East Research at Brookings, was launched into media attention with the publication of, "The Threatening Storm: the Case for Invading Iraq". That book presented detailed arguments which addressed the problems presented by the Saddam Hussein regime. After careful consideration of the various alternatives, Pollack favored invading Iraq, as this option, which appeared to be the best of those available at the time when considering the level of evidence, presented the most expedient and reasonable method for dealing with the geostrategic problems posed by Saddam's government. Note that nearly one third of "Storm" detailed the likely consequences of military action and gave recommendations for managing the aftermath, namely, the efforts required to stabilize and rebuild the country after the war.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By MidEast Afficionado on January 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Since everyone else has posted their favorite review of Pollack's terrific book, here is LTG Dubik's from Army Magazine. Dubik was commander of MNSTC-I in Iraq when we finally turned the Iraqi Army around and built one that could fight.

Throwing Out a Challenge: A New Strategy for the Middle East

By Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik
U.S. Army retired

A Path Out of the Desert: A Grand Strategy for America in the Middle East. Kenneth M. Pollack. Random House. 543 pages; tables; index; $30.

If you're looking for a one-volume answer to the questions--"What is going on in the Middle East?", "Why should we care?" and "What should we do about it?"--then this is your book. Simply put, Kenneth Pollack's A Path Out of the Desert is a must-read for any serious strategist, military practitioner, student of the Middle East or informed citizen. Pollack starts with a clear description of America's vital interests in the Middle East, then presents a set of well-documented, cogent arguments demonstrating that those interests are threatened by the anger and frustration of the people in the region--anger and frustration caused by an interlocking set of crippling societal problems.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Lee L. on January 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover
On the subject of what the US should do in the Middle East, Ken Pollack has written perhaps the most ambitious and memorable book in recent years. Pollack acknowldedges the magnitude of redirecting American policy and constantly reminds his audience that it will not be easy and that it cannot happen overnight, but that it is absolutely necessary. One of his main criticisms of US policy in the Middle East to date is that we've tried to do 'too much with too little resources, time, and effort.' Pollack then sets out to identify America's interests in the Middle East and how our policy can protect those interests without selling out America's ideals.

An important aspect of Pollack's discussion of America's interests in the Middle East is that he doesn't confuse them with the threats we face from the region, such as terrorism. He speaks of the concept of stability and while many of our interests are served by the preservation of stability, it does not mean stability itself is one of America's interests. On that subject, Pollack identifies oil, Israel, our Arab allies, and nonproliferation as America's interests. Pollack makes convincing arguments on each of these topics, but does so in a way that doesn't adhere to any singular ideological framework. For example, he recognizes that in the short term, the preventing the sudden loss of oil production is absolutely in America's (and the world's) interests, but that keeping the price of oil low is not. On the matter of Israel, Pollack makes a very convincing argument that while America's partnership does cause problems for the US, it's not nearly as problematic as it's commonly portrayed to be.
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