Sorry Not the Hardest Word For Ken P

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IMAGINE:
For a few years you were investing the money you had saved for your
daughter’s college education in one of those moderately conservative
plans that provided some increase in the value of the investment
without exposing it to major risks. But then your financial planner
— let’s call him Ken P — got in touch with you and came up with
a really great idea.

He
heard through the grapevine on Wall Street that there was a grand
company in Texas — it was called Enron — that was for practical
purposes a cash-cow. His recommendation was to take out the money
that was supposed to get your daughter through Harvard and that
was invested in that dead-end Fidelity fund and put it all in Enron
stocks. And since you trusted that guy, you ended up following his
advice — and let’s just say that you are still trying to figure
out how to pay for your daughter’s junior year.

Your
financial planner did call you to apologize. ‘I’m so, so sorry.
Really! Really!’ he said. ‘You have to understand that the conventional
wisdom on the Street at the time was that Enron was very big.’

Indeed,
major investment banks had forecast at the time a major rise in
the value of Enron, whose bosses were also close friends of a powerful
political family. Again, Ken P pleaded for your forgiveness and
expressed his hope that you would continue to use his services.

Would
you actually do that? I don’t think so. But now instead of a financial
adviser, imagine a foreign policy expert who tells you in 2002 that
you should invade Iraq because Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass
destruction (WMD) and links to Osama bin Laden and the perpetrators
of 9/11 and that the Iraqi people would welcome you as their liberators.
But it’s 2005 and with no WMD, no Saddam links to Osama, and not
to mention the more than 1,500 American casualties and the prospects
of a long quagmire in Mesopotamia, you would probably fire that
expert.

Now
let’s imagine that there was such an expert and his name is Kenneth
Pollack. A former US intelligence officer, he published in September
2002 a book with an ominous-sounding title, The
Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq
.

Mr.
Pollack, it should be emphasized, was a Democrat who worked on the
Middle East under President Bill Clinton and was well regarded among
the members of the US foreign policy establishment. In short, he
wasn’t a devout Bushie or a neocon ideologue. And when he assured
the readers of his book and op-ed columns — and the many television
viewers who watch our talking head on television news shows — that
Saddam had WMD and links to Al-Qaeda and called on the United States
to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein, people around Washington
listened.

If
ideas do matter in determining policies, Mr. Pollack clearly made
a difference when it came to the decision to go to war against Iraq.
Bill Keller, the editor of the New York Times, admitted that
he had been opposed to the invasion of Iraq and then he read The
Threatening Storm and changed his view.

More
importantly, some Democrat lawmakers on Capitol Hill who had been
wavering on the issue probably decided to give President George
W Bush a green light to invade Iraq after listening to Mr. Clinton’s
respected aide. So it won’t be an exaggeration to argue that if
a list were compiled of the 1,000 or so individuals who are responsible
for the mess America finds itself in Iraq these days, Mr. Pollack
would be on it.

But
don’t worry. Mr. Pollack has not fallen on his sword; he is not even
looking for work. After all, he did apologize for his pre-Iraq war
role as a leading wise man. Indeed, during a post-Iraq war TV appearance
he actually said that he was ‘apologizing’ for his mistakes and
that he was ‘sorry.’

He
was ‘really, really sorry!’ he told the television viewers in a
tongue-in-cheek sort of way. And you know, he explained, the conventional
wisdom among most ‘intelligence experts’ at the time was that Saddam
had all those things. And weren’t there
MI6 and Mossad reports in 2002 which made exactly the same point?
So who can really blame him?

Apologies
accepted, and so let’s close The Threatening Storm chapter. He is
now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who continues to
write op-ed columns in the New York Times, to make TV appearances,
and testify on Capitol Hill.

Mr.
Pollack has just published another best-seller, The
Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America
, in
which he provides Americans with recommendations on how to deal
with Iran. This time he doesn’t call for invading that country.

Thank
God for this and for other small favors.

March
23, 2005

Leon
Hadar [send him mail] is
Washington correspondent for the Business
Times of Singapore
and the author of the forthcoming Sandstorm:
Policy Failure in the Middle East
(Palgrave Macmillan).

Leon
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