In the end, Pollack's article can be boiled down to this: What we've done thus far hasn't actually worked, and doesn't have a good prospect of working, and may end up boxing us into a war instead - so lets do it some more because actually, genuinely engaging Iran is just not an option to be considered.
Following his super-successful prognostications about the invasion of Iraq, Kenneth Pollack (an "Iran expert" who has never actually been to Iran) has written article in (where else) The National Interest entitled "Pariahs in Tehran" in which he calls for yet harsher sanctions and covert actions against Iran. I didn't have the stomach to read through the whole thing but found it interesting as a standard restatement of some standard talking points popular amongs the anti-Iran hardliners in Washington:
First, he starts off proclaiming that the policy pursued thus far has been a glowing success. This is typical of the anti-Iran hardliners who "doth protest too much" in praising themselves in pushing this policy thus far:
Of greatest importance, in June 2010 the administration secured the passage of a new UN Security Council resolution (number 1929) that imposed a fourth round of sanctions on Tehran....All of this constitutes a tremendous turnaround from Bush
Really? A fourth round of applying the sanctions, and more than three decades of ceaseless hostility in the hopes that the regime in Iran will fall, is deemed by Pollack to be a "success"? Honestly?
Isn't it ironic that later in the same article, Pollack conceeds "Pressure is our only recourse. Even intense pressure may not be enough, but it is better than doing nothing" and that "In the end, all this may fail."
And you call begin reduced to this position a "success," Pollack?
As yet more evidence of the "success" of their hardline policies, Pollack then states:
Indeed, since the passage of the UNSCR, the Iranian regime has been broadcasting on all frequencies, overt and covert, that it is ready to talk seriously with Washington about its nuclear program.
Actually Iran has been saying that it was interested in genuine talks over the nuclear issue quite overtly since long before the sanctions, and offered to swap its uranium with Brazil and Turkey too (Pollack himself writes that this was "something it already agreed" before the sanctions - thus contradicting himself when he claims that the sanctions have caused Iran to desire talks.) But hey why let the facts get in the way of a nice story about the glowing "successes" of the hardline policy thus far?
Thus, today, Tehran’s hard-liners dominate Iranian decision making in ways that they have not since the early 1980s... some have openly supported the acquisition of nuclear weapons. Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, a member of the Assembly of Experts and an important adviser to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, wrote that Tehran “must” produce nuclear weapons even if Iran’s “enemies” don’t like it.
Gee, Pollack, if the Hardliners in Iran have become so dominant as you claim, then doesn't that yet again raise the question of whether and to what extent US policies to date can be claimed to have been a "success"?
Anyway, the claim that Iranian hardliners want nukes is baloney. Actually, support for Iran's nuclear program cuts across the Moderate/Hardliner divide. In fact, Ahmadinejad himself has favored compromise with the US on the nuclear enrichment issue, by backing the Uranium swap offer that the US torpedoed, and has offered to reduce uranium enrichment in Iran. And while Pollack quotes "moderate" Rafsanjani in saying that the sanctions are "no jokes" he fails to mention that the same Rafsanjani has compared giving up enrichment as akin to Iran giving up its territorial integrity.
Secondly, while Pollack tries to use a vague quote (from a self-published book printed in 2005) by Mesbah Yazdi to characterize the Iranians as nuke-hungry, he totally ignores that Iranian officials who are actually in charge of the foreign policy and nuclear affairs have consistently called for the creation of nuclear-arms free region in the Mideast and have offered to place additional restrictions and limitations on their nuclear program well beyond their legal obligations to further ensure that the program can't even theoretically be used to make bombs. These offers have been ignored by the US, as even IAEA head Elbaradei himself noted (and Pollack ignores):
I have seen the Iranians ready to accept putting a cap on their enrichment [program] in terms of tens of centrifuges, and then in terms of hundreds of centrifuges. But nobody even tried to engage them on these offers.
Pollack then continues
What’s more, the hard-liners overwhelmingly neither want nor care about having a better relationship with the United States. President Ahmadinejad is the exception that proves the rule: alone among the hard-liners, he has called for negotiations with the Americans, but only to demonstrate that Iran is so powerful and important that it must be seen as an equal by the United States. Ahmadinejad has been fiercely opposed by the rest of the Islamic Republic’s hard-line establishment, including (as best we can tell) by Khamenei himself.
Here we have the standard talking point promoted by the hardliners in Washington that Iran does not want to compromise with the US and so therefore the US should not try to compromise with Iran. Actually, in response to Obama's letter, Khamenei specifically said that Iran would judge the sincerity of the US desire to have better relations with Iran by judging US actions, not words...
In a televised address in the city of Mashhad, a day after U.S. President Barack Obama called for a new beginning in the troubled U.S.-Iran relationship, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said: “We have no experience with the new American government and the new American President. We will observe them and we will judge. If you change your attitude, we will change our attitude.”
And thus far, Obama's actions have not shown any real desire for improved relations, so one has to ask which side "neither want nor care about having a better relationships" and to what extent the Obama administrtion is constrained by its own "hardliners" who are themselves "fiercly opposed" to improve US-Iran relations - including Pollack himself.
Ultimately, Tehran’s hard-liners insist that Iran is strong enough to withstand and outlast any sanctions ... Muammar el-Qaddafi once believed much the same about Libya.
And here we get into the standard talking point that scaremongers about Iran. The difference is that Libya actually had a nuclear weapons program, but Iran doesn't. Pollack himself conceeds that Iran is obtaining "the capability" to make nukes, which is inherent in having a technologically-advanced country. In fact, depending on how you interpret the vague "capability to build nukes" standard, the only way that Iran would not have this "capability" is if had no domestic nuclear program and was totally reliant on foreign sources for nuclear power. Pollack goes in to say this more plainly:
"Within a few years, Iran is likely to have the capability to produce nuclear weapons and, should the regime so desire, could deploy a full-blown arsenal soon after."
Actually, according to the IAEA and Green Peace about 40 nations already have this immediate "capability" and another 100 countries have the same capability to build nukes on a longer-term basis. To couch the issue in terms of "capabilities" is to be deliberately ambiguous in order to scaremonger. Like I said, note that Pollack refuses to apply this "capability" standard to any country other than Iran, and he also ignores the fact that unlike other countries, Iran has offered to place additional limits on its nuclear program (including opening it to joint participation with the US) in order to further ensure that it can't secretly make nukes.
This "capability to make nukes" claim is deployed to make up for the fact that there is no real evidence of any nuclear weapons program in Iran. So, an argument has to be cooked up to scare you about Iran anyway, by somehow making up for that crucial bit of missing fact. In the past, Pollack and others put forth other arguments to similarly make up for the lack of evidence of any Iranian nuclear program. For example, in 2006, Patrick Clawson explained the absence of evidence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran thusly:
Iran has no particular reason to actually do the bomb work yet; first, it has to complete the nuclear fuel cycle and make the fissile material. So it is possible that Iran has not started to work on how to put together a bomb because there is no need to do so yet.
And in his 2004 book entitled Persian Puzzles, Pollack wrote:
The Iranians have always denied that they had a weapons program, and though Western intelligence agencies had determined that they were lying, the Iranian program was believed to be so rudimentary that it did not require very much to keep it hidden from the IAEA—thereby explaining why no one had found more evidence of Iranian progress.
Yup, THAT must be explanation -- not that htere simply IS no nuclear weapons program, huh?
Anyway, Pollack continues,
Moreover, a different group of leaders might decide that having once been attacked for pursuing nuclear enrichment, the smart thing would be to give up this effort
Note how this sentence gives-away the built-in assumption underlying Pollack's article: that the dispute between Iran and the US is merely due to Iran "pursuing nuclear enrichment", which is not only highly questionable (has the US threatened to attack Brazil for developing the same technology?) but is contradicted by another sentence in the same article:
The whole point of a policy of pressure is to convince Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions and its efforts to overturn the Middle Eastern status quo
...also known as Iran's refusal to become Israel's bitch.
So what does Pollack propose?
First, we must expand the focus of the pressure: from ire at the nuclear program to ire at Iran’s abuse of human rights. There are lots of countries that abuse human rights, and the Iranians will doubtless claim a double standard. But the past thirty years have demonstrated that the world is actually quite comfortable with double standards, harshly punishing some human-rights abusers while ignoring others. This is not to condone such hypocrisy, only to point out that it should not be seen as a practical obstacle to pressing the Iranian regime for its increasingly authoritarian behavior.
In otherwords: Yes, we're going to exploit the issue of human rights to cynically promote our own agenda. -- thus discrediting any genuine and legitimate concerns about human rights, while also not actually improving anyone's human rights one bit. Iranian human rights organizations, take note: you're a tool.
IN THE end, all this may fail. With its hard-liners firmly in charge, Tehran may choose further suffering, isolation and weakness rather than give up its nuclear program. If so, the United States will then face a choice between military operations and a containment strategy meant to limit or prevent a nuclear Iran from making mischief beyond its borders until the regime finally collapses from its own dysfunctions.
And here we have the standard restatement of the false-choice fallacy that I have written about before, conveniently leaving out the option of actually engaging Iran.
In the end, Pollack's article can be boiled down to this: what we've done thus far hasn't actually worked, and doesn't have a good prospect of working, and may box us into a war - so lets do it some more because actually, genuinely engaging Iran is not acceptable.