TONY JONES, ANCHOR, LATELINE: Well, to discuss today's events in Iraq and the broader implications for the Middle East we're joined now by American foreign policy expert Daniel Pipes, who is in Philadelphia, and long-term critic of US foreign policy Tariq Ali, who's in Melbourne. Thanks to both of you for joining us.
Daniel Pipes, I'll start with you if I can and with the handover of sovereignty. As we've said, the new Iraqi Government's effectively been born [today] in a backroom. How optimistic are you that this nation-building exercise is going to work?
DANIEL PIPES, DIRECTOR, MIDDLE EAST FORUM: Well, Tony, I'm not very optimistic. I supported the war and I support the attempt to make Iraq into a modern and decent country but I think my Government, the US Government, went too far in looking to create a democratic new Iraq. I don't think that's possible.
What is possible is an Iraq that is ruled by someone with a strong arm for some years who will over time move towards democracy. With luck, this will be the first step towards that but I'm not confident of it.
TONY JONES: Daniel Pipes, it sounds like you're calling effectively for a new dictator?
DANIEL PIPES: I'm calling for someone who will be a transition between the hideous regime of Saddam Hussein and a brighter future. But you can't go from one to the other overnight.
I think the basic mistake that the US Government made was to assume that the Iraqis would be like the Germans or Japanese in 1945 and feel defeated and be ready to be guided, whereas in fact they felt liberated and as we can see, are not ready to be guided.
TONY JONES: Tariq Ali, what do you think about this experiment? Is there any hope at all in your opinion, you've just heard what Daniel Pipes said, Iraq needs a strong man, is there any hope in your opinion for developing a democracy in Iraq?
TARIQ ALI, AUTHOR & COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't think you can have democracy in Iraq with the present crew, which the United States have put in power. To pretend that this is a transfer of sovereignty is of course a grotesque joke and I think this will soon become very clear, but what Daniel Pipes said is of interest, because what it shows is that essentially what has been put into place is a regime which will be very dictatorial and authoritarian and will essentially see its main task as repressing, crushing, the resistance in Iraq.
Whether it will succeed is an open question. One thing is sure - it cannot succeed without the presence of American troops or NATO troops or whatever. And that will mean that in everything but name the occupation of Iraq will continue and the resistance will gather more strength.
TONY JONES: Daniel Pipes, let me get you first of all to respond so what you just heard. I suppose you're not suggesting that the strongman is probably going to come from within the interim Iraqi administration that's just been put in place?
DANIEL PIPES: I'm not quite sure Tony. It could be an ex-military man, it could be a tribal man, it could be someone from the new administration.
I think history shows that democracy does not emerge full blown, it can't simply be created. It takes time, it takes the development of civic society, you know, rule of law, minority rights, respect for the opposition. These will take time to develop and while I am hopeful that this will develop and I am hopeful that the radical ideologies, Islamist and Baathist and otherwise, can be fended off. I think we're just at the beginning of this [process], not at the end of it. June 28 does not mark a major event in my mind, it's just one more a small transition.
TONY JONES: There was one quite significant event, that is that NATO appears to have committed itself in some way to training and arming a new Iraqi army. What's your view of that?
DANIEL PIPES: My view is that the major divisions that existed a year ago and 15 months ago over going to war in Iraq have now somewhat been put in the past and we're looking at what to do about Iraq and its future. Where really the divisions between the NATO powers, or the Western powers, of the world, in fact, are less severe than they were over the decision to go to war, because we're now got a situation, a problem, and there's a fairly wide consensus that there needs to be some presence there of outside powers to ease the transition.
TONY JONES: Tariq Ali, what do you think about NATO's emergence in a new role in Iraq and does it indicate that some of the divisions before the war are beginning to evaporate?
TARIQ ALI: Well, I think this was pretty obvious once but now they've been occupied. The French and the Germans were desperate to clamber on the band wagon provided they were given a share of the loot. I don't know whether they are being given that, but there isn't much loot because the resistance has made the oil inaccessible. So I don't think it will make much difference if NATO force comes into Iraq to replace the United States.
That isn't going to stop the resistance. I think the resistance is gaining strength every single day until all foreign occupation troops are withdrawn an election will be pretty meaningless in any event, because it will be an election that takes place under occupation.
TONY JONES: How can you have an election at all in the current chaotic climate? If you withdrew the troops now, wouldn't you have a slide into chaos or possibly even a civil war?
TARIQ ALI: Well I think there is a danger of that obviously because once you have a foreign occupation it creates a totally new situation in a country that is occupied, but we can't have a position of saying we invaded, that's made a mess, we can't believe because there will be a mess. It's a circular argument which doesn't work.
One of the leading Iraqi Ayatollahs, Sistani, called six months ago for elections to a constituent assembly to frame the future of Iraq and ultimately I think that will happen and I think often the divisions between Sunni and Shia are overstated. The big question is - is Iraq capable of governing itself and I think it will be capable of governing itself once the occupation troops withdraw. That is what has created the big divide now.
TONY JONES: Daniel Pipes, can I put that to you. What do you believe would happen in the occupation troops were withdrawn?
DANIEL PIPES: I think it needs to be done intelligently and carefully. The troops should withdraw to the desert first and then from the country as a whole. But were they simply to march out overnight I think the chaos would be terrible.
As far as democracy goes, we have an expression in the United States about electing someone to the position of dog catcher. I think it's a rather useful concept. One does not begin by electing the president and prime minister. One begins at the municipal level. One learns the methods and ideas behind democracy and that grows over time. This cannot be done overnight.
The most constructive thing that the occupation forces can do is to help move the Iraqis in that direction, but they can't do it alone. Iraqis ultimately are responsible for themselves.
TONY JONES: So, what is in your opinion, what's the most important thing to be happening right now? It sounds like we're caught between a rock and a hard place. If you listen to both of you it's hard to see a way out of this?
DANIEL PIPES: We do disagree philosophically, but I think practically we are in rough agreement, which is that the forces, the occupation forces, need to begin to withdraw in an intelligent way.
TONY JONES: Tariq Ali, if the forces were to withdraw, wouldn't that simply be encouragement to the al-Zarqawi's of Iraq?
TARIQ ALI: Or as your commentators have already said, al-Zarqawi is overplayed. If it were just him there wouldn't be any problems facing the occupation. The fact is in large swathes of the country you now have a population which does not want to be occupied. That's a basic reality which constantly amazes me that people in the West don't understand. People do not like being occupied and therefore the occupation has to end before Iraq moves forward.
TONY JONES: Daniel Pipes, let me bring you in to in to talk about this person Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Do you regard him as President Bush does as proof, in fact the most direct proof, of a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein?
DANIEL PIPES: Yes, I do think there's strong links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, but from my point of view they're not terribly important. I acknowledge them, but from my point of view the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein was distinct from the war on terror. The war on terror I understand is a euphemism for war on militant Islam. There was no militant Islam in the Iraqi Government pre-March of 2003. It was a distinct problem. It has somewhat melded together at this point.
But for me the real problem was that Saddam Hussein was a totalitarian maniac who was repressing his own population incredibly, aggressing against many of his neighbours and potentially being threat to ourselves. I would have dubbed the operation that American forces took place in a year and three months ago not Operation Iraqi Freedom, but Operation American Security.
I think it's our goal as it must be Australia's or any other country's goal, to go out and first secure its own security and then secondly worry about others. I do worry about others but I think to promote it as war undertaken to help Iraqis is or was a mistake.
TONY JONES: Tariq Ali, I'm somewhat surprised myself to hear you two gentleman so much in agreement on some of the critical points here. Let me if I can be a bit of a devil's advocate with you Tariq Ali. A sovereign Iraq backed by troops from a growing coalition of nations moving towards becoming a democracy. Why isn't that a better prospect for Iraqis than remains under the thumb of a tyrant like Saddam Hussein?
TARIQ ALI: We are told now we need a new tyrant? Excuse me. I think the best way to remove...
TONY JONES: To be fair, you were told that by Daniel Pipes.
TARIQ ALI: I think lots of people in the United States are thinking about this question seriously. It's not just an isolated position by Daniel Pipes that you need a strongman.
I mean, the point about Saddam Hussein is he was at his worst when he was a close ally of the West during the Iran-Iraq war and soon afterwards. The bulk of his actions against the Kurds were - hang on can I just finish - the bulk of his actions were carried out at that time. At that time Donald Rumsfeld was visiting him. Let's not forget all that. In any case, in my opinion the best way for authoritarian dictator, whatever sort, to be removed is by their own people. If you want to help you build up the strength of their people. This is the worst of every possible alternative.
TONY JONES: Daniel Pipes?
DANIEL PIPES: Well, you've got your disagreement [here], Tony. First of all, there was no close alliance between the United States and Iraq at any point.
TARIQ ALI: What?
DANIEL PIPES: Saddam Hussein was always seen as a threat and a problem. There was never, never...
TARIQ ALI: This is not true. Who armed him?
DANIEL PIPES: You made your point. We did not arm him. Look at your statistics. But more important for the present is that I'm not calling for a Saddam clone - I'm saying Saddam Hussein was horrific and thank god he is out of power from everybody's point of view. What I'm calling for is what I deem a democratically minded strongman, someone who helps make the transition. If it were possible to go immediately to democracy I would say hooray. I am sceptical of it and looking for someone to make that transition.
We find that all over the world that has happened. That's how democracy - everywhere you look where there's full scale democracy it only got there through a long process of increasing democratisation and that is what I think is reasonable and hopeful for Iraq.
TONY JONES: Can I just ask quickly a quick question of Daniel Pipes before I come back to you Tariq Ali. The question is - do you believe, your own government is absolutely genuine about attempting to create democracy in the Iraq?
DANIEL PIPES: Oh, I think very much so. To the point that I'm disagreeing with it. I think it was as I said, premised on the wrong model of Japan and Germany in 1945, that they had been defeated and they were willing to follow our guidance.
Iraq, I would argue, having gone through a three week war against the Government, they were liberated and they're in no mood as we've seen for 15 months to follow the lead of the West. They have their own ideas about what they are going to do. I say OK, let them follow it. We're not their guardians, they're not our wards.
TONY JONES: Tariq Ali, what if your pessimism is finally disproved by the Iraqi people themselves. They do get their country functioning again, they do move towards a democratic elections early next year, build a constitution later in the year and have subsequent elections and it all works?
TARIQ ALI: Well, I don't think it's going to happen while you have occupying armies in the country, Tony. I really don't believe that. I think it's perfectly possible to have democracy in Iraq. I think Iraq was a very advanced country in terms of level of education, level of women educated etc, it's got a country with a culture.
I think democracy would come there much sooner than you think, but it might not produce a government which is pro-Western, that's what Sam Huntington now calls the democratic paradox. This is something which is happen in a number of those countries if you have democracy. At present the United States has the Saudis, the Egyptians - countries which are not democratic. In any of these countries, if democracy comes, and I think people in the Arab world want democracy, you could have governments hostile to US interests in the region.
TONY JONES: Daniel Pipes, you are a bitter enemy of Islamism yet it seems the US in Iraq must now rely on the good will of Ayatollahs like Sistani to have any chance of success at all? Does that worry you?
DANIEL PIPES: Fortunately Sistani is not an Islamist.
Yes, it does worry me and the democratic paradox is something I'm very well aware of and my answer to it is don't go immediately to full-scale elections. We saw that in Algeria in 1982. Snap elections after decades of authoritarian rule and the Islamists were on their way to rule.
What needs to happen is something far slower and more gradual with the evolution and the development of such notions as minority rights, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, democracy at the municipal level and then going up, more and more power to the parliament and that will take years if not decades. It cannot be done overnight.
TONY JONES: Tariq Ali I think you probably agree on the timing question, you just hear there. Let me ask you this - will you continue to speak out in favour of what you refer to as the resistance in Iraq, even though there's been a transfer of sovereignty?
TARIQ ALI: I don't believe there has been a transfer of sovereignty. It's an illusion. That's what you want to us to believe, but no one in Iraq is going to believe it - that a former CIA agent has been appointed prime minister of Iraq and we're all meant to sit back and applaud. It's just a joke and certainly most Iraqis won't believe it, which is why the resistance will continue and NATO training Iraqi soldiers is fine, but what if the soldiers desert and join the resistance which has been happening and which could happen tomorrow.
TONY JONES: Daniel Pipes, let me get you to respond to that. Do you expect the resistance, the terrorism, the al-Zarqawi's, the kidnappings etc, the suicide bombings to continue in spite of the fact we now have an Interim Government?
DANIEL PIPES: Let me start by saying I condemn the so-called resistance, this terrorism. I think it's an abomination. I do worry that it will continue, yes. I do believe that there's a widespread perception, as Mr Ali alludes to, that the Government is a creature of the occupying forces and is not autonomous and is not independent and is not truly representative of Iraqis.
TONY JONES: We are going to have to leave it there. I thank you both, Daniel Pipes and Tariq Ali.