The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America

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The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America

By Kenneth M. Pollack
Random House, 2004
576 pp. $26.95

After a broad-brush historical background "from Persepolis to the Pahlavis," this informed and eminently readable study provides a detailed narrative of that turbulent quarter-century of U.S.-Iranian relations from the advent of the Islamic Republic to the present. Having tracked this subject since the late 1980s, as a U.S. government analyst until 2001 and at the Brookings Institution since, Pollack writes as an insider just far enough down the pecking order to be able to describe the official thinking and action without the compulsion to defend past policy. He is especially good in recounting Washington's different efforts to reach arrangements with Iran, from the ill-fated Iran-contra affair to the carpets, caviar, and pistachios initiative in the later Clinton years. Pollack gives considerable attention to the pressing problem of trying to keep Iran from going nuclear: he lashes out against Washington's European allies for their "perfidy," accepts that Iran's rulers so badly need to present the United States as the existential enemy that a settlement is unlikely, and rejects pre-emptive military action against Iran, instead advocating a three-track diplomatic approach as the least bad of the unpromising options available.

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