Busloads of terrorists have been caught inside Iraq with Syrian passports, Syria provided military equipment to Iraq during the height of the war, Syria may be hiding Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, and now Syria may be offering asylum to Saddam Hussein and his partners in crime. Now the Bush administration has put Syria on notice that the U.S. will not sit idly by and watch as it may have done in the past. Pat Robertson spoke with Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, about America's tough new stance on Syria.
PAT ROBERTSON: These people are butchers and they're cut of the same cloth as Saddam Hussein. With us now to talk about Syria and terrorism is Daniel Pipes. He's the director of the Middle East Forum. He's one of the leading U.S. experts on Islamic terrorism. And it's a pleasure, Dr. Pipes, to welcome you back again to The 700 Club.
DR. DANIEL PIPES: Thanks so much, Dr. Robertson.
ROBERTSON: What do you think Syria's role has been in this war? Have they really been active in it?
PIPES: Well, it's hard to say exactly what they've been doing because we don't know enough yet, but let me put it in context. First, we have since June of 2000, a young man who took over in Syria, succeeding his father. He is basically a rookie. He's inexperienced and he's making a lot of mistakes. It's not clear, actually, how much power he has and how much is still in the hands of his father's barons. But from the looks over the last three years, it's basically a picture of incompetence, of uncertainty and inconsistency.
And, secondly, that applies to the situation in Iraq, where you may remember some six months ago, his government - his name is Bashar al-Assad - he voted with us at the Security Council against Iraq, and then in the last couple months has been increasingly antagonistic towards the United States and supportive of Saddam Hussein. It's unclear what the Syrian regime's goals are, but it is clear that they have increasingly identified with Saddam Hussein and have been helping him. Now to what extent, I can't specify it for you, but we will be finding that out in the days and weeks to come, I suspect.
ROBERTSON: Well, assuming that Iraqi scientists have gone over into Syria and weapons of mass destruction have been funneled into Syria from Iraq and they're existing there, I mean, is this another cause to take action against them, or what should we do?
PIPES: Well, let me, again, put it into a little bit of perspective. The United States used to have a fairly hostile relationship with Syria, and then in January of 1984, the Syrian regime shot down two American planes, killing one pilot and capturing the other. Since that time, since January of 1984, our government, whether Democratic or Republican, has had a very accommodating, a very almost appeasing approach towards the Syrian regime, trying to jaw-jaw, to bring them in, to convince them to change their policies, and really hardly ever exerting any pressure.
What we've seen in the last few days from both the Department of Defense and the Department of State is a really startling change, where we are telling the Syrians, "Watch out." I'm very encouraged by it. I think our policy of accommodation has not worked. And I think a tougher policy - especially at this time when we have the credentials, the bona fides of having virtually destroyed the regime in Iraq - is very welcome and a really important signal for the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.
ROBERTSON: You know, when I was in southern Lebanon, and I, of course, learned that arms were coming in and money from Iran through Syria into southern Lebanon to arm the Hezbollah against Israel. Syria, as you know, moved in and took over Lebanon. They just seized the country and we've done nothing about it.
ROBERTSON: And now it looks like it's a time to make them behave. I understand there are 11 terrorist organizations headquartered in Damascus.
PIPES: All correct. Yes. Lebanon is today the only captive nation, the only satellite country. It is run by agents of Syria. And we, the United States, have been accepting that for now over, well, 20 years or so. The time has come to say to the Syrian government "No" - "No" about repression of its own people, "No" about its anti-Zionism and fervid antagonism towards Israel, "No" towards its policy of aggression towards Turkey, "No" to its support towards Saddam Hussein. Time to put pressure. I'm not calling for anything military, at least not initially, but a really top-to-bottom reassessment of our relationship with Syria, and signaling to the Syrian regime that it's no longer business as usual.
ROBERTSON: You know, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt said, well, if the United States goes into Iraq, there'll be a thousand Osama bin Laden's. There've been all these demonstrations in the Arab street, and now, the demonstrations we're seeing on television are the happiest people you could imagine jumping for joy. What is this going to do in our so-called war against terrorism, this victory we're having in Iraq?
PIPES: Well, it's in some ways a repeat of a year and a half ago in Afghanistan. You may remember there was enormous antagonism toward the United States at that time, too, in the Muslim world. And then the sight of the joyous Afghans and the realization that no, we were not there for their oil, supposedly, in Afghanistan, created a very different sense and a real kind of calming down.
I think something similar to that's going to happen now. While there's huge animosity towards the United States, real anger, I think the sight of jubilant Iraqis, and the fact that an Iraqi government is going to take over the oil, and this is not imperialism, and this is not an oil grab, and this is not against Islam, it's not a crusade, is going to penetrate into their consciousness and they will calm down and this antagonism will deflate. So I'm quite optimistic. I think President Mubarak was wrong. There'll not be a hundred bin Laden's. If anything, there'll be fewer bin Laden's as a result of our taking decisive action.
ROBERTSON: Al Najaf, as I understand, is the headquarters, the holy site, the holiest site of the Shia Muslims. And their top cleric has issued a fatwa saying, "Do not oppose the American troops." And it seems like that there's a tremendous division between the Shiite version of church and state and what is held by Ayatollah Khameini and his followers in Iran. Is there a possibility that this thing will spill over so that the Iranians will overthrow the mullahs and establish freedom in Iran as well?
PIPES: Well, what's going on in Iran is actually very encouraging. As you remember, in the 1980s, Iran was our most deadly enemy in some sense - the terrorism, the rhetoric coming out of there, it was really quite horrible. And the Shiite Muslims were the ones who were blowing up Americans. Well, that's then. Today, Iran has changed. Iranians have become deeply disillusioned with this fundamentalist rule, this Islamist rule, militant Islamic rule, in Tehran. And what you see is, especially with the young and the women, but really across the population, is a disillusionment and a turning away from militant Islam and a turning towards the United States.
I compare Iran today to the Soviet Union under Brezhnev. Yes, the state is strong and threatening, but the people don't believe in it anymore. It's a hollow, hollow regime, in other words. And what is taking place in Afghanistan a year and a half ago and Iraq today is only encouraging this sentiment that, you know, the enemies of the Iranian republic are strong. You need not live in this tyrannical state forever. You can do something to change it. And I'm encouraged. You know, the one place in the Muslim world where one does not see militant Islam burgeoning is Iran.
ROBERTSON: Daniel Pipes, thank you very much. Daniel Pipes. He's director of the Middle East Forum. We appreciate his appearance here on The 700 Club.