Capsule Review

Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy

In This Review

Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy
Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy
By Kenneth Pollack
Simon & Schuster, 2013, 560 pp. $30.00 Purchase

This book will be read carefully in Tehran, Washington, and Tel Aviv. Pollack lays out the strategic factors the United States must take into account when deciding how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program, covering nearly all contingencies, including military action. He argues forcefully that, should negotiations fail, Washington should opt for containment instead of military action. His case is lucid and compelling; he reminds readers that a U.S. air campaign that failed to set back Iran’s nuclear development for more than several years would probably lead to a U.S. ground invasion that would make the Iraq war look relatively simple. More provocatively, Pollack advocates combining containment with efforts at regime change, arguing that Iran does not moderate when the pressure is off but rather when it is high. He dismisses the idea that so long as Iran’s supreme leader believes the United States seeks to end the Islamic Republic, he and his supporters will have little incentive to reach agreement with Washington on the nuclear issue. Iran, Pollack argues, is aggressive but rational. It would not use nuclear weapons unprovoked. It would not share them with third parties such as Hezbollah. It would only use them to defend itself.

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