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The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America First Edition Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1400063154
ISBN-10: 1400063159
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When Pollack, formerly director for Gulf affairs at the National Security Council and a military analyst for the CIA, wrote The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq in September 2002, he both shaped the debate over the imminent invasion and helped persuade many reluctant Democratic policy makers to support the war. This time around, he is much more cautious, concluding that although "Iran is on the wrong path and marching down it quickly," invasion would be a serious mistake. Part history lesson, part current affairs primer and part party policy memo, Pollack's new book about the second Axis of Evil member revolves around an extremely pressing question: would the acquisition of nuclear capabilities prompt the Iranians to disregard the threat of American intervention and pursue a more aggressive, destabilizing and dangerous foreign policy? Pollack cautions that there are two ticking clocks: the first is internal regime change in Iran and the second is how long it will take Iran to go nuclear. Ultimately, and with many codicils, Pollack decides that the U.S. can live with a nuclear Iran, postulating that through strong multilateral engagement we can effectively deter Iran, if not yet welcome the country into the world community. Analyzing the assumptions behind both American and Iranian foreign policy, Pollack reminds us that behind Iran's tendency to blame "everything but the weather on foreign subversion" lies a kernel of truth. The CIA did, in fact, overthrow Mossaddeq in 1953, although Americans, conveniently, "are serial amnesiacs; as a nation, we forget what we have done almost immediately after doing it." For anyone wanting to understand the stark choices the U.S. faces concerning Iran, and how to respond to them, this is the place to start.
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From Booklist

The U.S. is understandably fixated on nation building in Afghanistan and Iraq. Meanwhile, Iran, with nearly four times the territory and three times the population of Iraq, continues to sponsor terrorist groups, seeks expanded influence in Iraq, and may be close to obtaining nuclear capability. Although Iranian "moderates" seemed ascendant a few years ago, the conservative, rabidly anti-American mullahs are now firmly in control. Pollack, a director of research at the Brookings Institute, regards Iranian-American relations as complicated, fraught with danger, and unlikely to be improved by so-called decisive actions. Pollack begins with a superbly written summary of several millennia of Persian history, then describes the ups and downs of our relations with Iran since American involvement intensified during World War II. He takes a balanced approach, indicating blunders and missed opportunities by both sides. As for solutions to the puzzle, Pollack suggests possible options while stressing the impossibility of a quick fix. This is a sharp analysis that must be given serious consideration by our foreign-policy establishment. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (November 2, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400063159
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400063154
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #274,509 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I approached this book not knowing really what to expect, i.e.: does the book try to justify past US policies or is it a rational discussion. It is the latter. The author tries to clear the political air in the introduction and set the record straight on why we have problems with Iran. He uses a direct quote from the Iranians regarding a speech from Secretary Albright who acknowledges the over 25 years of US interference in the politics and leadership of Iran starting with the shah in 1953 and ending with the aid to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq conflict in the 1980's. This of course is contrary to public posture at home that our actions are about promoting democracy abroad. It is clear that past actions against Iran were to promote US commercial, trade, and strategic defense interests at the expense of the Iranians. So that admission up front is refreshing. Many Iranians had expected help from the US, not a new imperial power to replace Britain and Russia that had dominated Iran for most of the 19th century and half of the 20th century. So the question now is simply this: can we build a new relationship, especially with that 200 history of mistrust with Russia, Britain, and America?

The book is somewhat long and can be described as comprehensive; it is well written suitable for the average reader and it is a fairly quick and light read. The pages seem to whiz by like a Jack London novel. It has about 428 pages of main text with five maps, and is followed by 60 pages of notes and a bibliography approximately 25 pages in length. It covers 13 subjects including a history of Iran, the shah, the rise of US influence in Iran, the hostage crisis, the Iran-Iraq war, and the post 1980 political developments in Iran.
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Format: Hardcover
I am halfway through this book and find it quite fascinating. The history of how Iran was abused through the ages is unheard of in our hemisphere.

Knowing how England and Russia played games with Iran helps understand the paranoia that Iran had thinking that we were pulling the strings of the Shah: Iranians had a right to be paranoid.

I just wish we were as powerful as they thought, we would have either propped up the Shah or brought down Khomeni.

This book is an easy read, well written, filled with facts and quotes from the time periods mentioned.

It is a scholarly book, not one for a sunny day unless you want to sit down and study it, it is a serious history, not a novel.

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is now a decade old and thus some parts are not current and some commentary not relevant as to current political leadership. However the first two thirds of the book is a "must read" in my opinion. The book was recommended by a cruise ship lecturer and was a good recommendation. I am not in a position to evaluate the qualifications of the writer or the accuracy of the political history but I found the book fascinating, particularly between the history between 1825 and 1985. If you are interested in Persia/Iran, get this book.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have read Bout 70 pages of this book , I'm guessing. I guess this because I just pick up and read wherever in the book and different places in the book as long as it is the start of a new chapter. It covers the 1953 coup, the taking of the U.S. embassy, in 1979. Also the revolution in Iran that 10 percent of the Iranian population participated in. I am not able to read that well but I am able to grasp some of what is said in this book.
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Format: Paperback
Just finished reading it -- great book!

The author's analysis is objective & professional. Probably 50% of policy books today have some kind of serious bias, but I found Mr Pollack's assumptions to be fair & his conclusions to be well-reasoned. He seems to have a good command on different sociological, psychological, political and religious aspects of the Iranian society, and he presents his case without relying on guess work or unsubstainted/dishonest assertions.

I do think, however, that Mr. Pollack should have included more material on the role of Sunni-Shiite tension within the Islamic world, and its effect on Iran's policies. In addition, the author could have focused more on the perceptions Muslims in other countries have about the US & Israel. After all, while devising a strategy for relations with Iran, it is imperative that such basic complexities are considered.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Kenneth Pollack worked for 7 years as a Persian Gulf military analyst at the CIA and for 3 years as Director for Gulf affairs at the National Security Council official.

As the reader may know, Pollack's previous work was "The Threatening Storm". In it, he provided a historical perspective to the relations between Iraq and the U.S., and thoroughly analyzed alternatives for engagement based on the information available.

With "The Persian Puzzle", Pollack sets again the standard in foreign policy books. He offers a technical and non-partisan perspective to the history of Iran, its relation with other countries (especially the UK, the USSR/Russia, the US and its Middle Eastern neighbors) and its internal political struggles and infighting. This takes almost 90% of the text. The remaining 10% (around 50 pages) is invested to detailing alternatives for future engagement with Iran. Different than with Iraq, Pollack suggest a combination of approaches might be the the best option to deal with Iran from an American standpoint.

I have found this a truly top-notch work. Here is why:

- Historical perspective: Pollack provides a historical background to Iran, starting with the Elamites (the first people to civilize what is Iran today, more than 1000 BC), and including the chaos brought by Gengis Khan, the ascendence of Shi'ism, the difficult relation with Russia and Great Britain in the first half of the XX century, Reza Khan and his son the Shah, the involvement of the US (positive and negative) starting mainly from World War II, Khomeini's revolution and the Embassy incident, the Rafsanjani, Khatami administrations and how they interacted with the US (and viceversa).
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