Joel Pollak, the Republican candidate for the 9th Congressional District seat that includes Evanston, was born in South Africa, and arrived in the United States with his parents as an infant. Pollak is campaigning for a more assertive U.S. foreign policy stance.

Joel Pollak, the Republican candidate for the 9th Congressional District seat that includes Evanston, was born in South Africa, and arrived in the United States with his parents as an infant. Pollak is campaigning for a more assertive U.S. foreign policy stance.

In an interview with Evanston Now, he contrasted his views with that of incumbent U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who opposed the American invasion of Iraq.

Here are some excerpts from the conversation.

Joel PollakJoel Pollak: I supported President Obama’s decision to reinforce the troops in Afganistan, but I thought it was unwise of him to announce a withdrawal date as he was announcing the arrival of the troops. Now we haven’t even sent all the soldiers there that he has scheduled to go be we’re already talking about withdrawing I think that undermined our whole effort to stabilize Afganistan. All we’ve delivered to Afganistan is another two years of instability.

So there’s a need for greater strategic clarity about what we’re doing there and why.

Evanston Now: Does that mean more troops and money?

Joel Pollak: Well, what is the purpose? Before we talk about the how, the question is the why. To me the purpose is to stabilize a a government that was previously dominated by extremists and terror groups and provided a haven for global terrorism. There’s also the issue of Iran next door, which is trying to undermine Afganistan now and is training Taliban fighters. And I think one purpose of being there is to serve as a check on Iran, until that can be resolved.

Evanston Now: You say until that can be resolved, but what are you thinking about — 20 years, 50 years?

Joel Pollak: The question of what the timeline is depends on how likely it is we can create a stable government in Afganistan. If that’s impossible then there’s no sense in being there. If on the other hand you’ve got a situation like the Korean peninsula where we’ve been since the early 50s and there is a successful, stable society, vibrant and democratic and prosperous that we’ve been able to help create, well then I think there is a case to be made for it.

Evanston Now: We lost something like 30,000 lives in Korea.

Joel Pollak: We did, we did. And defended many millions more.

Evanston Now: Do you think the American people are ready to sacrifice that many young men to Afganistan?

Joel Pollak: I’m not sure. I do know that the Iraq war, as costly as it was, was not as costly as the Korean conflict. In fact, although each of the lives that was lost, and every person wounded should be deeply regretted, I think that we lost less than 10 percent of the lives in Iraq that we did in Korea. And I think that Iraq has a chance to become a stable democracy in the heart of the middle east and that’s really an achievement, an achievement we shouldn’t abandon.

I think pulling out is the right thing to do when we can do so, and we are doing so, but I also think that we should leave behind something that’s better than what we had when we arrived.

Evanston Now: How do we decide how many of these conflicts we should get ourselves involved in. We have tremendous budget problems at home and these military adventures are extremely expensive.

Joel Pollak: I think we’ve just about reached our limit. I don’t think we can do any more. This is obviously a question of resources, and our strategy of being able to fight a war on two fronts is really being stretched to the limit.

That means we need to get the rest of the world to do its part. Unfortunately, I think, for all the emphasis that the administration placed on diplomacy, and that was its big selling point, we have not been able to convince our allies to pitch in more in Afganistan or even on smaller scale problems like taking prisoners from Guantanimo Bay.

Evanston Now: Is the fact we’re having so much trouble getting other countries involved perhaps an indication that we’re on the wrong path?

Joel Pollak: I don’t think so. If you look at what our allies are telling us for example on Iran, they wish we were being more assertive. The French, in sort of an irony of history, are now the most adamant about nuclear sanctions against Iran. When continental Europe is sitting underneath the firing range of an Iranian missile potentially topped with a nuclear warhead, I think we have to really take that very seriously.

Evanston Now: But what do we actually do? If we impose sanctions, that tends to harm the average citizen on the street, doesn’t make us any friends. The people in power still manage to get their bellies filled.

Joel Pollak: The lesson of the Iraq war, and I think the tragedy on the international stage was the lack of unity. I would argue that Saddam Hussein would probably never have risked going to war if he had seen the security council united. There was some unity for a moment, but then it fell apart quite substantially. And I think that’s what’s happened on Iran as well. We’ve really fallen out with some of our closest allies, people with whom we share very strong interests on this issue. And I think sanctions can work if they’re presented as a united front.

The purpose isn’t just to harm the regime economically. The purpose, as with South Africa, was to isolate the regime and make it understand that they didn’t have many friends at all. When the world can show a significant amount of unity on that front, I think that does have an effect, because Iran is not self-sufficient in essential goods like refined petroleum. It really, I think, would respond if it saw that unity there.

As it is we are creating gaps for the Iranian regime at every turn, not just between ourselves and western Europe. For example, between ourselves and Israel where we’re showing that there’s a deterioration in the closeness of the U.S.-Israel alliance which I think is, in a sense, a provocation to Iran, I mean there’s a reason they’re buzzing U.S. warships in the Gulf of Oman, they’re really taking quite an assertive stance. I think it’s because they sense an opportunity, and if they can create a new geo-political reality, I think they will.

Evanston Now: We have certain goals that are fundamentally shared with Israel. It’s a democracy in that part of the world, it’s progressive in many ways in educational and social issues. It has a strong economy and and very much western-looking. While at the same time what some would say is our blind devotion to Israel, when the Israeli government is expanding settlements and and doing other things that are provocative and very distressing to Israeli Arabs and to Arabs elsewhere, and we to a large extent have traditionally pretty much rolled over on those issues. How does that benefit us?

Joel Pollak: The issue of settlements is not the stumbling block to peace. If it were, the history after 2005 would have been very different. After they pulled out all of their settlements from Gaza the Israeli’s would have enjoyed greater peace. And instead htey’ve suffered rockets, kidnappings, and the Palestinians also suffered in the sense that Hamas has staged a coup and kicked out the elected executive head of the Palestinian Authority and is running a reign of terror in Gaza, essentially.

The key to middle east peace has always been the strength of the U.S.-Israel alliance. We don’t agree with everything Israel does.

I don’t think that we’ve been uncritical. I think what is damaging — not just to Israel, but the United States, is when you turn a press release, which is what happened over this housing development, when Biden visited, into an international incident. It makes Israel look contemptible, and it makes the United States look hysterical. A superpower does not flip out over a press release.

Technically the neighborhood is across the green line, the armistice line in 1949, and became known as the 1967 border, but it is completely integrated into the city of Jerusalem, it is not considered by the Israelis to be a settlement, and it was never on the bargaining table in the previous rounds of negotiations.

The part of Jerusalem that the Palestinians had been contemplating as a capital under the Camp David process is east of the city. That neighborhood is actually north, part of North Jerusalem. So its very interesting to look at a map and see what we’re actually arguing about.

Evanston Now: There’s a key conflict between our trying to be as aggressive on the world stage as you are proposig that we should be, and also getting agreement with other countries which may prefer a less aggressive, or less interventionist or less militarily driven policy. And also trying to achieve the kind of economic solutions that we need at home in order to get ourselves out of this huge budget mess that we’re in. So, how do you reconcile those?

Joel Pollak: I think that there are ways to do it. I think that what the world doesn’t want is for the United States to write military and political checks that we can’t cash. There’s a shared perception by our allies of a threat of terrorism, of a threat of nuclear rogue states, and what our allies want to do is control and contain that risk.

There are two ways to make the world riskier. One is by military adventurism where you go in where you’re not prepared to go and build and so on and destabilize. I think that’s was one I think, legitimate argument about what the effects of the Iraq war were. I don’t think that was a good enough reason for pulling out precipitously. But, I think, with hindsight, it was one of the more cogent criticisms of the Iraq war.

But it also means we don’t withdraw from the world stage. And that’s what we did after World War I. We withdrew completely and left our allies to confront the growing threat of totalitarianism, both from Stalin in the Soviet Union and from Hitler’s Germany.

There are ways to build coalitions around shared interests. We have a shared interest with the Arab world in preventing a nuclear Iran. We have a shared interest with Western Europe. And if we focus on that I think then you begin to find ways to solve problems.

I think we’ve let the pendulum swing so far in the other direction that its leading a lot of our potential allies to side with whom they perceive as the ascendant force, which is Iran and its proxies in Hamas and Hesbolah.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. We get it

    We get it, Bill Smith, you absolutely LOVE Joel Pollak. You don’t need to have a lengthy article about him every day. Trying to shove the Tea Party down our throats is the last straw. Good job turning this advocate into an enemy.


    1. Know your candidates

      A closed mind is a terrible thing, jj.

      You don’t have to read about the candidate you hate … but others might want to know his views before they accept or reject him.

      Will you conclude I "love" Rep. Schakowsky if she sits down for a similar interview with Evanston Now and I do stories based on that?

      — Bill


  2. Incumbents Typically Get the Most Press

    I think it’s great to learn about alternatives. Incumbents get free publicity all the time. I don’t agree with Joel’s stance on foreign policy, but I’m glad to know about it. 

  3. The usual boilerplate on Israel

    I’d never heard of Joel Pollack, so when I saw the headline about assertive foreign policy I was hoping to see something different about Israel. Though I was encouraged by the fact that he had been born in South Africa, alas, he left as an infant before he could see apartheid in action.

    What he says is more of the same – that what is happening in the occupied territories is inconsequential to peace. This could only be said in America to an American audience. It would not be taken seriously elsewhere. It appears there is no difference between Jan Schakowsky and Mr. Pollack on this topic.

    I urge readers to go to any of a number of human rights organizations, particularly those located in Israel, to find out what is going on. I recommend B’tselem in particular because it has been publishing outstanding information for years that should indicate to any American who reads them that what Israel is doing in the West Bank and Gaza has nothing to do with American values, not to mention being illegal. How can the U.S. possibly make a case for justice and human rights anywhere in the world, not least Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, when it supports without question a country that flouts them, providing a steady, dependable supply of billions of dollars even as we are wondering how to fund our own national obligations?

    Don’t settle for the accepted wisdom that you will get from Jan and Joel. Learn the truth from Israelis on the scene who will have nothing to do with the policies of their government in the occupied territories, good examples being authors Haim Watzman and Gershom Gorenberg at their blog South Jerusalem.

  4. Joel has my vote

    Joel has my vote. He’s not the career politician and doesn’t have tax and spend in his vocabulary and his foreign policy is sound. By 2016, with the healthcare bill, according to some econonic professors, friends of mine, the US Treasury will be bankrupt. We won’t be able to pay social security, medicare and other entitlement programs any longer.

    As it is we are borrowing $500 Billion a year from China. How long can we continue to get deeper into debt until our economy collapses just like what happened to Greece?


  5. Pollak interview

    Joel is well informed on issues and it is good to read an interview that approaches the subject objectively. I do agree with Joel’s assessment of where we are regarding Isreal and the other Middle Eastern countries. The US and our allies need to get to a focus on containing Iran and the other bad actors (AQ, Taliban), with agreements internationally. Obama seems too content to let Iran pursue their nuclear capabilities, as if he knows it is probably too late to stop it and wants to step aside and let Isreal take out the Iranian nuclear facilities. We got a glimpse of Obama’s contempt for our Isreali ally through the tawdry way Obama treated Isreali leadership just recently.

    The administration propensity to cozy up to dictators and cold shoulder our allies is more than troubling. The dictators will not respect us any more for being kow-towed to. They will, however, busy themselves to take advantage of our weakness.

    Joel is admirable for his willingness to take on an entrenched machine-backed politician. Also, he clearly states his views without regard to what town or audience he is addressing.

    It is in our interest to be open and deal with our enemies from a position of strength. I am disgusted with the current apology tours and America-bashing. This is very dangerous. Let us not repeat history with appeasement.

    1. Anonymous wrote “Obama seems

      Anonymous wrote

      "Obama seems too content to let Iran pursue their nuclear capabilities, as if he knows it is probably too late to stop it and wants to step aside and let Isreal take out the Iranian nuclear facilities…

      The administration propensity to cozy up to dictators and cold shoulder our allies is more than troubling. "

      Roger Cohen  in the New York Times  writes:

      "….. Iran and the United States are unnatural enemies with plenty they might agree on if they ever broke the ice……. Poisonous history gets in the way. So do those that profit from poison.

      I believed Obama was ready to think anew on Iran. It seems not. Presidents must lead on major foreign policy initiatives, not be bullied by domestic political considerations, in this case incandescent Iran ire on the Hill in an election year. "

      Cohen describes the efforts by Brazil and Turkey to reach a diplomatic agreement with Iran, and the way Obama has snubbed them by pursuing aggressive policies against Iran.

      Last year, at the United Nations, Obama called for a new era of shared responsibilities. “Together we must build new coalitions that bridge old divides,” he declared. Turkey and Brazil responded — and got snubbed. Obama has just made his own enlightened words look empty.

      We got into a big mess when George Bush followed the advice of the neocons and got us into Iraq.  Aside from the fact that we can’t afford a war with Iran, destabilizing Iran will have serious consequences in Afghanistan and Iraq, where we have American soldiers. 

        I also agree with ‘Anonymous’ about the need not to ‘cold shoulder our allies’.    Turkey  has provided support for our mission in Afghanistan, and we cannot dismiss their concerns lightly, as Cohen warns. We also need the support of the EU, Russia, and China to make any sort of sanctions on Iran work.

        I hope that President Obama will not be bullied by domestic political considerations, and will   be reasonable and pragmatic, consult with our allies (the ones who are helping in Afghanistan ), and be careful before engaging in military action, not letting   ‘those that profit from poison’ get in the way.

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